Tree of Life Lessons
Level 1 Lesson 7 World Religions
Monasticism has always been present in Christianity. The
Many of these early monks were protesting against the increasing drift of the Church away from the teachings of Jesus Christ. High taxes, persecutions, and piety without pagan temptation were also factors.
The deserts were the first centers of monasticism. The Nitrian desert groups were inaugurated by Amoun about 325 C.E. There was no discipline or organized community life at first. They did assemble for Eucharist but the rest of the time was spent on individual study and meditation.
Egyptian monasticism developed into the cenobitic form. In Greek this means “common life”. The pioneer was a monk by the name of Pachomius who gathered about him a hundred monks who followed a common rule of work and abstinence, but without vows. Another leader in Egyptian monasticism was Shenoute (born c. 333 C.E.) who formed communities of both cenobite and eremitical (Hermit) monks.
In the West, Athanasius played a leading role. When he was exiled from
his See, he formed many communities in the desert. Martin of Poitiers is said to
have formed the first community in the West about 360 C.E. in southern
Western monasticism developed much differently than Eastern
monasticism. The East became very mystical and those often failed to function as
a part of the larger Christian community. But thanks to such men as St. Basil,
The Council of Ephesus in 431 C.E. had to suppress the Messalians. These were monks, or “praying folk” who did not believe in work and believed that each soul is attached to an individual demon who could only be expelled by constant prayer. The need was arising for the monastic life to be defined.
The leader in developing the science of the spiritual life was Evagrius
of Pontus. He defined the whole of monastic life as a ladder ascending with
rings clearly labeled. Egyptian spirituality was carried to the West by John
Cassian, who founded a monastery at
In Benedict, Western monasticism found its greatest organizer and legislator. His Rule was written not only for his community, but as a general model. In it, Council was replaced by command, generalization by detailed direction, and exhortation by administrative procedure. All this was done to preserve and inculcate the idea of the growth of Christ Jesus within each of the Brothers. The vows taken were poverty, obedience, chastity, humility and service.
One monk showed the extremes to which monasticism could go. Simeon
Stylites climbed on top of a pillar and stayed there for some thirty years.
These were few. So, at the fall of
By the time of Charlemagne, monasticism was the bearer of education and culture. He used the monks as his advisors and counselors and he tried to learn how to write all his life.
From the fall of
At this time, it must also be noted that the lower clergy and monks were living in horrible conditions. They were often uneducated, unpaid and were moved about as political pawns. Often a bishop was never in his See which meant the priests had no guidance. Bishops married, quite often held secular jobs and were only “prince of the Church” so that they could receive the money from their See.
second abbot of
pope Hildebrand (Gregory VII) championed the ideas of
Many of those who are called “mystics” were found in religious Orders. It was simply that those who sought growth, of any kind, had to come within the monastic framework for it was here that learning and culture were kept alive.
We will now cover the life of two religious movements which have greatly influenced Christianity, the Orders of Friars Minor, or Franciscans; and the other that of the Society of Jesus. There were other monastic groups from the time of Francis to that of St. Ignatius, but these two Orders were the most important. Even Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk before he broke with the Roman Church.
Bernadone was born in 1182, the son of a cloth merchant of
Francis himself says his conversion was a gradual process. “When I was yet in my sins, it did seem to me too bitter to look upon the lepers, but the Lord Himself did lead me among them, and I had compassion upon them. When I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy.” Compassion on others was one of the first aspects of Francis which came forth.
then went on a pilgrimage to
following two years, Francis wandered around
At Portiuncula on February 24, 1208, the words of Christ to the Apostles came to him:
And as ye go, preach, saying, The
Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,
Nor script for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
And when ye come into a house, salute it.
And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (Matthew 10:7-14)
He would follow this as his “Rule” and imitate Christ and obey Christ’s commands, in absolute poverty, in Christ-like love, and in humbled deference to the priests as the Master’s representatives. Francis said, “The Most High Himself revealed to me that I ought to live according to the model of the Holy Gospel.”
Soon, like-minded men gathered around him. They drafted a simple “Rule” based on Christ’s commands. He and his twelve Brothers went to Pope Innocent III for approval to start a new Order. They were not refused. At first, they called themselves the Penitents of Assisi. Shortly after, Francis changed it to that of Minor, or Humbler, Brethren, by which they were to be henceforth known.
Francis’ association was a union of imitators of Christ Jesus. They were bound together by love and practicing the utmost poverty. Francis believed that only this way could the world be denied and Christ really followed. Two by two they went out preaching the Good News. They sang much, aiding farmers at their work and caring for lepers and outcasts. Francis had said, “Let those who know no trade learn one, but not for the purpose of receiving the price of their toil, but for their good example and to flee idleness. And when we are not given the price of our work, let us resort to the table of the Lord, begging our bread from door to door.”
small group had grown so that missionary plans were laid out. Francis was unable
to reach the Mohammedans through
cared little about organization. The free association was growing to the point
where a “Rule” was needed which would cope with this growth--in 10 years to
several thousand Brothers! This work was brought about faster by Cardinal
The Rule was revised three times between 1219 and 1223. Francis’ real leadership ceased in this period. By 1219, provinces had been established and a “minister” in charge of each. From the Pope came word that obedience to the Order’s officers was required. The directive also set-up novitiates, fixed costumes and irrevocable vows.
Francis withdrew increasingly from the Order as these changes came about. He prayed much and sang songs to the birds and flowers. His love for Nature grew in these years as it never had before. Francis’ body became very feeble and this drove him even harder to become one with Christ, his Master. Soon after he received the stigmata, on October 3, 1226, Francis, Saint of the Church Universal and Son of God, passed through transition in his beloved Portiuncula. Pope Gregory IX proclaimed him a saint two years later.
The organization of the Franciscans was similar to that of the Dominicans. At the head was a “minister general” who was chosen for twelve years. Over each province was a “provincial minister” and over each house was a “custos”.
feminine branch was founded by Clara Sciffi of
Soon after Francis’ death, the Order was split between those who wanted to follow a simple Christ-like life, and those who valued numbers, power and influence. Brother Leo headed the party who wanted to return to the simplicity of Francis. Brother Elias of Cortona headed the other party. There is a long history of the conflict between these two parties. Brother Leo’s party was eventually called the “Spirituals.” Finally, Pope Leo X formally recognized the division of the Franciscans in 1517 into “Observant” and “Conventual” with different chapters and officers.
The Society of Jesus was founded by Ignatius Loyola. Lopez de Recalde
was born of a noble family in northern
he undertook a pilgrimage to
Ignatius then decided
that he must have an education. He thereupon entered a boy’s class in
suspicion of the Spanish inquisition now turned on him and for a while it looked
like his life might be in danger. In 1528, he entered the
On August 15, 1534, these men took
a vow to go to
they moved to
There was much ecclesiastical opposition, but Paul III was impressed. He liked Ignatius’ skill at organizing and on September 27, 1540, he gave him permission to start organizing the Society. The only structure they had was that they would give absolute obedience to their “general” who would give his absolute obedience to the Pope. In April, 1541, Ignatius was chosen first “general” and held the office until his transition on July 31, 1556.
The structure was gradually worked out and was not finished until a number of years after Ignatius’ transition. The “general” is given absolute obedience, but is watched by assistants who are appointed by the Order, and, if necessary, can dispose of him. There is a “provincial” appointed by the “general” over each district. For those who want to enter, there is a longer period before their novitiate even begins. Then they are carefully watched. After extensive and exhaustive training, they take vows of absolute obedience as long as it doesn’t involve sin. After vows, the member is assigned to work which his superiors have selected as being best for him.
There are no fixed hours of worship, or no fixed dress. As a result, members are much freer than monks would be to develop themselves in their work.
Each member of the Society is disciplined by the Spiritual Exercises. During the final period of training, the member is drilled in the spiritual manual of arms by four weeks of intense contemplation of the principal facts of the life and work of Christ. This is done under the guidance of a spiritual drillmaster. Out of this comes a member trained and disciplined for his individual work, willing to sacrifice self in complete obedience to the spirit of the whole Society.
The history of the Society which followed is one of growth in missions, education and preaching. This was followed by a period of political involvement and the banishment of the Society by Papal order and reinstatement a number of years later. The Society of Jesus might be considered the “shock troops” of the Roman Catholic Church.