Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/515

This page needs to be proofread.




cannot be my disciple" (Luke, xiv, 26). It is obvious that of all the ties which bind the human heart to this world the possession of wife and children is the strong- est. Moreover the renunciation of the monk includes not only these but in accordance with the strictest teaching of Jesus all sexual relations or emotion aris- ing therefrom. The monastic idea of chastity is a life like that of the angels. Hence the phrases, " angelicus ordo", "angelica conversatio", which have been adopted from Origen to describe the hfe of the monk, no doubt in reference to Mark, xii, 25. It is pri- marily as a means to this end that fasting takes so important a place in the monastic life. Among the early Egyptian and Syrian monks in particular fast- ing was carried to such lengths that some modern writers have been led to regard it almost as an end in itself, instead of being merely a means and a subordi- nate one at that. This error of course is confined to writers about monasticism, it has never been countenanced by any monastic teacher. (See Celi- bacy OF THE Clergy; Chastity; Continence; Fast; Vow.)

(c) Obedience. — "The first step in humility is obe- dience without delay. This befits those who count notliing dearer to them than Christ on account of the holy service which they have undertaken . . . with- out doubt such as these follow that thought of the Lord when He said, I came not to do my own will but the will of Him that sent me" (Reg. Ben., v). Of all the steps in the process of renunciation, the denial of a man's own will is clearly the most difficult. At the same time it is the most essential of all as Jesus said (Matt., xvi, 24), "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me". The most difficult because self-interest, self- protection, self-regard of all kinds are absolutely a part of man's nature, so that to master such instincts requires a supernatural strength. The most essen- tial also because by this means the monk achieves that perfect liberty which is only to be found where is the Spirit of the Lord. It was "Seneca who wrote, " parere deo libertas est", and the pagan philosopher's dictum is confirmed and testified to on every page of the Gos- pel. In Egypt at the dawn of monasticism the cus- tom was for a young monk to put himself under the guidance of a senior whom he obeyed in all things. Although the bond between them was wholly volun- tary the system seems to have worked perfectly and the commands of the senior were obeyed without hesi- tation. "Obedience is the mother of all the virtues": "olsedience is that which openeth heaven and raiseth man from the earth": "obedience is the food of all the saints, by her they are nourished, through her they come to perfection": such sayings illustrate suffi- ciently the view held on this point by the fathers of the desert. As the monastic hfe came to be organized by rule, the insistence on obedience remained the same, but its practice was legislated for. Thus St. Bene- dict at the very outset, in the Prologue to his Rule, re- minds the monk of the prime purpose of his life, viz., "that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from whom thou hadst departed by the sloth of disobedience". Later he devotes the whole of his fifth chapter to this subject and again, in detailing the vows his monks must take, while poverty and chas- tity are presumed as implicitly included, obedience is one of the three things explicitly promised.

Indeed the saint even legislates for the circumstance of a monk being ordered to do something impossible. "Let him seasonably and with patience lay before his superior the reasons of his incapacity to obey, without showing pride, resistance or contradiction. If, how- ever, after this the superior still persist in his com- mand, let the younger know that it is expedient for him, and let hi'm obey for the love of God trusting in His assistance" (Reg. Ben., Ixviii). Moreover "what is commanded is to be done not fearfully, tardily, nor

coldly, nor with murmuring, nor with an answer show- ing unwillingness, for the obedience which is given to superiors is given to God, since He Himself hath said, He that heareth you, heareth Me" (Reg. Ben., v). It is not hard to see why so much emphasis is laid on this point. The object of monasticism is to love God in the highest degree possible in this life. In true obedience the will of the servant is one with that of his master, and the union of wills is love. Wherefore, that the obedience of the monk's will to that of God may be as simple and direct as possible, St. Benedict writes (ch. n) "the abbot is considered to hold in the monastery the place of Christ Himself, since he is called by His name" (see Obedience; Vow). St. Thomas, in chapter xi of his Opusculum" On the Per- fection of the Spiritual Life", points out that the three means of perfection, poverty, chastity, and obedience, belong peculiarly to the religious state. For religion means the worship of God alone, which consists in offering sacrifice, and of sacrifices the holo- caust is the most perfect. Consequently, when a man dedicates to God all that he has, all that he takes pleasure in, and all that he is, he offers a holocaust ; and this he docs pre-eminently by the three religious vows.

(3) The. Different Kinds of Monks. — It must be clearly understood that the monastic order properly so-called differs from the friars, clerks regular, and other later developments of the rehgious life in one fundamental point. The latter have essentially some special work or aim, such as preaching, teaching, lib- erating captives, etc., which occupies a large place in their activities and to which many of the observances of the monastic life have to give way. This is not so in the case of the monk. He lives a special kind of life for the sake of the life and its consequences to him- self. In a later section we shall see that monks have actually undertaken external labours of the most varied character, but in every case this work is extrin- sic to the essence of the monastic state. Christian monasticism has varied greatly in its external forms, but, broadly speaking, it has two main species (a) the eremitical or solitary, (b) the cenobitical or family types. St. Anthony (q. v.) may be called the founder of the first and St. Pachomius (q. v.) of the second.

(a) The Eremitical Type of Monasticism. — This way of life took its rise among the monks who settled around St. Anthony's mountain at Pispir and whom he organized and guided. In consequence it prevailed chiefly in northern Egj'pt from Lycopolis (Asyut) to the Mediterranean, but most of our information about it deals with Nitria and Scete. Cassian (q. v.) and Pal- ladius (q. v.) give us full details of its working and from them we learn that the strictest hermits lived out of ear- shot of each other and only met together for Divine wor- ship on Saturdays and Sundays, while others would meet daily and recite their psalms and hymns together in little companies of three or four. There was no Rule of Life among them but, as Palladius says, "they have different practices, each as he is able and as he wishes". The elders exercised an authority, but chiefly of a personal kind, their position and influence being in proportion to their reputation for greater wisdom. The monks would visit each other often and discourse, several together, on Holy Scripture and on the spiritual life. General conferences in which a large number took part were not uncommon. Gradu- ally the purely eremitical life tended to die out (Cas- sian, "Conf.", xix) but a semi-eremitical form contin- ued to be common for a long period, and has never ceased entirely either in East or West where the Car- thusians and Camaldulese still practise it. It is need- less here to trace its developments in detail as all its varieties are dealt with in special articles (see Anchor- ites; Anthony, St.; Anthony, Orders of St.; Cam- aldolese; Carthitsians; Hermits; Laura; Mo- nasticism, Eastern; S-ti'lites or Pillab Saints; Paul the Hermit, St.).