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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/514

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MONASTICISM


460


MONASTICISM


Advent of Christ (cf. I Cor., vii, 29-31; I Pet., IV, 7, etc.). That this boliof was widespread is admitted on all hands, and obviously it would afford a strong motive for renuneiation sinee a man who cxpeits tliis iircsent order of things to end at any moment, will lose keen interest in many t alters conunonly held to be im- portant. This belief however hsul ceased to be of any great influenee by the fourth century, so that it can- not be regarded as a determining factor in the origin of mona.-it ieism which then too!: visible shape. A sec- ond cause more operative in leading men to renounce the world was tlu' viviilncss of their belief in evil spirits. 'I"he first Christians saw the kingdom of Satan actually realized in the political and social hfe of heatJHMidom around them. In their eyes the gods whose tcMMples shone in every city were simply devils, and to participate in their rites was to join in devil worsliip. Wlien Christianity first came in toucli with the Gentiles the Council of Jerusalem by its decree about meat offered to idols (Acts, xv, 20) made clear the line to be followed. Consequently certain profes- sions were practically closed to believers since a sol- dier, schoolmaster, or state official of any kind might be called upon at a moment's notice to participate in some act of the state religion. But the difficulty ex- isted for private incUviduals also. There were gods who presided over every moment of a man's life, gods of house and garden, of food and drink, of health and sickness. To honour these was idolatry, to ignore them would attract inquiry and possibly persecution. And so when, to men placed in this dilemma, St. John wrote, "Keep yourselves from idols" (I John, v, 21) he said in effect "Keep yourselves from public life, from society, from politics, from intercourse of any kind with the heathen", in short "renounce the world".

Hy certain writers the communistic element seen in the Church of Jerusalem during the first years of its existence (.Acts, iv, 32) has sometimes been pointed to as indicating a monastic element in its constitution, but no such conclusion is justified. Probably the community of goods was simply a natural continua- tion of the practice, begun by Jesus and the Apostles, where one of the band kept the common purse and acted as steward. There is no indication that such a custom was ever instituted elsewhere and even at Jerusalem it seems to have collapsed at an early pe- riod. It must be recognized also that influences such as the above were merely contributory and of compara- tively small importance The main cause which be- got monachism was simply the desire to fulfil Christ's law literally, to imitate Him in all simplicity, following in His footsteps whose " kingdom is not of this world". So we find monachism at first instinctive, informal, unorganized, sporadic; the expression of the same force working differently in different places, per- sons, and circumstances; developing with the natural growth of a plant according to the environment in which it finds itself and the character of the individual listener who heard in his soul the call of "P'ollow Me".

(2) Means to the End. — It must be clearly under- stood that, in the case of the monk, asceticism is not an end in itself. For him, as for all men, the end of life is to love God. Monastic ascetism then means the removal of obstacles to loving God, and what these obstacles are is clear from the nature of love itself. Love is the union of wills. If the creature is to love God, he can do it in one way only; by sinking his own wnll in God's, by doing the will of God in all things: "if ye love Me keep my commandments". No one understands better than the monl; those words of the beloved disciple, "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life", for in his case life has come to mean renunciation. Broadly speak- ing this renunciation has three great branches corre- sponding to the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


(a) Poverty. — There are few subjects, if any, upon which more sayings of Jesus have been preserved than upon the su|)eriority of poverty over wealth in His kingdom (cf. Matt., v, 3; xiii, 22; xix, 21 sq.; Mark, X, 23 sf).; Luke, vi, 20; xviii, 24 sq., etc.), and the fact of their preservation would indicate that such words were frequently quoted and presumably frequently acted upon. The argument based upon such pas- sages as Matt., xix, 21 sq., may be put briefly thus. If a man wish to attain eternal life it is better for him to renounce his possessions than to retain them. Jesus said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God", the reason being no doubt that it is difficult to prevent the affections from be- coming attached to riches, and that such attachment makes admission into Christ's kingdom impossible. As ,St. Augustine points out, *he disciples evidently understood Jesus to include all who covet riches in the number of "the rich", otherwise, considering the small number of the wealthy compared with the vast multitude of the poor, they would not have asked, "Who then shall be saved"? "You cannot serve God and Mammon" is an obvious truth to a man who knows by experience the difficulty of a whole-hearted service of God; for the spiritual and material good are in immediate antithesis, and where one is the other cannot be. Man cannot sate his nature with the tem- poral and yet retain an appetite for the eternal; and so, if he would live the life of the spirit, he must flee the lust of the earth and keep his heart detached from what is of its very nature unspiritual. The extent to which this voluntary poverty is practised has varied greatly in the monachism of different ages and lands. In Egypt the first teachers of monks taught that the renunciation should be made as absolute as possible. Abbot Agathon used to say, "Own nothing which it would grieve you to give to another". St. Macarius once, on returning to his cell, found a robber carrying off his scanty furniture. He thereupon pretended to be a stranger, harnessed the robber's horse for him and helped him to get his spoil away. Another monk had so stripped himself of all things that he possessed nothing save a copy of the Gospels. After a while he sold this also and gave the price away saying, "I have sold the very book that bade me sell all I had".

As the monastic institute became more organized legislation appeared in the various codes to regulate this point among others. That the principle re- mained the same however is clear from the strong way in which St. Benedict speaks of the matter while mak- ing special allowance for the needs of the infirm, etc. (Reg. Ben., xx.xiii). "Above everything the vice of private ownership is to be cut off by the roots from the monastery. Let no one presume either to give or to receive anything without leave of the abbot, nor to keep anything as his own, neither book, nor writing tablets, nor pen, nor anj-thing whatsoever, since it is unlawful for them to have their bodies or wills in their own power". The principle here laid down, viz., that the monk's renunciation of private property is abso- lute, remains as much in force to-day as in the dawn of monasticism. No matter to what extent any indi- vidual monk may be allowed the use of clothing, books, or even money, the ultimate proprietorship in such things can never be permitted to him. (See Poverty; Mendicant Friars; Vow.)

(b) Chastity .^If the things to be given up be tested by the criterion of difliculty, the renunciation of material possessions is clearly the first and easiest step for man to take, as these things are external to his nature. Next in difficulty will come the things that are united to man's nature by a kind of necessary affinity. Hence in the ascending order chastity is the second of the evangelical counsels, and as such it is based upon the words of Jesus, " If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters yea and his own soul also, he