The New Student's Reference Work/Monasteries

Monasteries, literally, are dwellings in which persons live alone. The name is usually applied to the homes of companies of monks; but is often extended to the dwellings of less rigid and ancient clerical orders than those of monks properly so called. The idea of the monastery developed out of the older idea of the sanctity of a religious life led in the solitude of the desert, which may be traced back to the cell of Paul, the first hermit (250 A. D.). Monasteries have played a most important part in history, especially as centers for the transmission of learning and civilization. In such countries as Saxon England the monks not only taught Latin and the arts of the Romans, but improved methods of agriculture and modes of living. In the middle ages they took on themselves the function of schools, especially for children of gentle birth. They gained very extensive lands, which were exempt from the feudal dues. Their success in this direction made the monasteries an object of jealousy and cupidity to the nobles; and one finds their property in England confiscated under Henry VIII. Similar confiscations took place all over Europe in connection with the property of the Knights of the Temple. In general, monasteries are classed as belonging either to monks, friars, military orders, regular canons or regular clerks. The most important order of monks was the Benedictines, who acted as the chief educative and missionary force in the medieval church, though in postreformation days they were surpassed in these respects by the famous order of Jesuits. Monasteries express an ascetic ideal of life which is not in harmony with modern thought; and the recent attacks upon them in France are only the culmination of a movement which included the suppression of the Jesuits and the blows struck at the religious orders by Joseph II of Austria. But the freedom allowed in America to religious orders has in this country led to a rapid increase in the number of inmates of monasteries, of whom there are now said to be about 9,000 men and 50,000 women.