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CHRISTIAN Monasticism was a natural outgrowth of the earlier Christian asceticism, which had its roots in the gospel. For it is now recognised that such sayings as: “If thou wouldest be perfect, go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor ... and come, follow me”; and: “There are eunuchs, which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake: he that is able to receive it, let him receive it”; and the teaching of St Paul on celibacy, did as a matter of fact give an impetus to the tendency so common in seriously religious minds towards the practice of asceticism. These tendencies are clearly discernible among Christians from the beginning; and not only among the sects, but also in the great Church. Celibacy was the first and always the chief asceticism; but fasting and prayer, and the voluntary surrender of possessions, and also works of philanthropy, were recognized exercises of those who gave themselves up to an ascetical life. This was done at first without withdrawal from the world or abandonment of home or the ordinary avocations of life. At an early date female ascetics received ecclesiastical recognition among the virgins and widows, and there are grounds for believing that at the middle of the third century there already were organized communities of women—for in the Life of Anthony we are told that before withdrawing from the world he placed his sister in a pantheon or house of virgins, the name later used for a nunnery. At this date there was nothing of the kind for men; but, at any rate in Egypt, the male ascetics used to leave their homes and dwell in huts in the gardens near the towns. For when, c. 270, St Anthony left the world, it was this manner of life he embraced at first.             

St Anthony was born in middle Egypt about the year 250. When he was twenty, on hearing in church the gospel text “If thou wouldest be perfect”, as cited above, he took the words as a personal call to himself and acted on them, going to practice the ascetical life among the ascetics who dwelt at his native place. After 15 years so spent, he went into complete solitude, taking up his abode in a deserted fort at a place called Pispir, on the east bank of the Nile opposite the Fayum, now called Der-el-Memun (c. 285). In this retreat Anthony spent twenty years in the strictest seclusion, wholly given up to prayer and religious exercises. A number of those who wished to lead an ascetic life congregated around him, desiring that he should be their teacher and guide. At last he complied with their wishes and came forth from his seclusion, to become the inaugurator and first organizer of Christian monachism.

This event took place about the beginning of the fourth century —305 is the traditional date; only a few years later did Pachomius found, in the far south, the first Christian monastery properly so called. It will be convenient to trace separately the two streams of monastic tradition that flowed respectively from the two great founders, Anthony and Pachomius.

The form of monachism that drew its inspiration from St Anthony prevailed throughout Lower or Northern Egypt. All along the Nile to the north of Lycopolis (Asyut), and in the adjacent deserts, and on the sea-board near Alexandria, there were at the end of the fourth century vast numbers of monks, sometimes living alone, sometimes two or three together, sometimes in large congregations — but even then the life was semi-eremitical.

Antonian monachism reached its greatest and most characteristic development in the deserts of Nitria and Scete, and it is here that we have the most abundant materials for forming a picture of the life of these monks. Palladius and Cassian both lived in this district for many years during the last decade of the fourth century; St Jerome, Rufinus, and the writer of the Historia Monachorum visited it; and they have left on record their impressions. Nitria, the present Wady Natron, is a valley round some nitre lakes, lying out in the desert to the west of the Nile, some 60 miles due south of Alexandria. Those who began the monastic life here were Amoun and Macarius of Egypt, himself a disciple of Anthony. A few miles from Nitria was the desert called Cellia from the number of hermits' cells that studded it, and further away still, out in the “utter solitude”, was the monastic settlement of SceteRufinus and the writer of the Historia Monachorum describe Cellia: “The cells stood out of sight and out of earshot of one another; only on the Saturday and Sunday did the monks assemble for the services; all the other time was spent in complete solitude, no one ever visiting another except in case of sickness or for some spiritual need”. Palladius says that 600 lived in Cellia.

This was a purely eremitical life; but in Nitria it was otherwise. The following is Palladius’ account, as he saw it in 390.

“In Mount Nitria 5000 monks dwell following different manners of life, each according to his power and desire; so that anyone could live alone, or with another, or with several. In the mountain there are seven bakeries and a great church by which stand three palm trees, each with a whip hanging from it; one is for the monks who misbehave themselves, one for thieves, and one for chance corners: so that anyone who offended and was judged worthy of stripes, embraced the palm tree and made amends by receiving on the back the fixed number of blows. Close to the church is the guest house, and any guest who comes is entertained until he goes of his own accord, even if he stay for two or three years. For the first week they let him stay, in idleness, but after that they make him work, either in the garden or the bake-house or the kitchen. Or if he be a man of position they give him a book to read, but do not allow him to have intercourse with anyone till noon. Physicians dwell in this mountain, and confectioners; they use wine, and wine is sold. They all make linen with their hands, so that they have no needs. And about three in the afternoon one may stand and hear how the psalmody arises from each habitation, and fancy oneself rapt aloft into Paradise. But they assemble at the church only on Saturday and Sunday”.

Palladius tells, too, of one Apollonius, a merchant, who became a monk in Nitria, and being too old to learn a handicraft, purchased medicines and stores at Alexandria and cared for all the brotherhood in their sicknesses, for twenty years going the round of the cells from daybreak till three in the afternoon, knocking at the doors to see if anyone was sick: and of another who on becoming a monk retained his money and devoted it wholly to works of hospitality towards the poor, the aged and the infirm, and was judged by the fathers to be equal in merit to his brother, who had dispossessed himself of his belongings and given himself up wholly to a life of strict asceticism.

What has been said will bring out the special feature of this type of monasticism—its voluntariness: even when the monks lived together, there was not any common life according to rule. A large discretion was left to each one to follow his own devices in the employment of his time and the practice of his asceticism. In short, this form of monachism grew out of the eremitical life, and it retained its eremitical or semi-eremitical character even in the great monastic colonies of Nitria and Scete.

We may now pass to the Pachomian monachism dominant in the southern parts of Egypt. Pachomius was a pagan by birth; he was born about 290, and became a Christian at the age of twenty. He adopted the eremitical life under Palaemon, a hermit who lived by the Nile in the diocese of Tentyra (Denderah). The legend of his call to be the creator of Christian cenobitical life is thus told by Palladius.

“Pachomius was in an extraordinary degree a lover of mankind and a lover of the brotherhood. While he was sitting in his cave an angel appeared unto him and said: Thou hast rightly ordered thy own life; needlessly therefore dost thou sit in the cave; come forth and bring together all the young monks and dwell with them, and legislate for them according to the exemplar I will give thee. And he gave him a brazen tablet whereon was engraved the Rule”. There follows what probably is the most authentic epitome of the earliest Christian Rule for Monks.

St Pachomius founded his first monastery at Tabennisi near Denderah c. 315-320, and by the time of his death in 346 his order counted nine monasteries of men and one of women, all situated between Panopolis (Akhmim) to the north and Latopolis (Esneh) to the south, and peopled by some 3000 monks in all. After his death other monasteries were founded, one at Canopus near Alexandria, and several in Ethiopia; so that by the end of the century Palladius tells us there were 7000 Pachomian or Tabennesiot monks—St Jerome’s 50,000 may safely be rejected.

Palladius visited the Pachomian monastery at Panopolis (Akhmim) and has left us what is by far the most actual and living picture of the daily life. He tells us that there were 300 monks in this monastery, who practiced all the handicrafts and out of their superabundance contributed to the support of nunneries and prisons. The servers of the week got up at daybreak and some worked in the kitchen while others laid the tables, getting them ready by the appointed hour, spreading on them loaves of bread, mustard leaves, olive salad, cheeses, herbs chopped up, and pieces of meat for the old and the sick.

“And some come in and have their meal at noon, and others at 1 or at 2 or at 3 or at 5, or in the late evening, and others every second day. And their work was in like fashion: one worked in the fields, another in the garden, another in the smithy, another in the bakery, another at carpentry, another at fulling, another at basket-making, another in the tanyard, another at shoe­making, another at tailoring, another at calligraphy”; he mentions also that they keep camels and herds of swine: he adds that they learn by heart all the Scriptures. From the Rule it appears that they assembled in the church four times a day, and approached Communion on Saturday and Sunday.

Here we have a fully constituted and indeed highly organized cenobitical life, the day being divided between a fixed routine of church services, Bible reading, and work seriously undertaken as an integral factor of the life. Herein lies one of the most significant differences between Pachomian and Antonian monachisms. In the latter the references to work are few, and the work is of a sedentary kind, commonly basket-making and linen-weaving, which could be carried on in the cell; and the work was undertaken merely in order to supply the necessaries of life, or to fill up the time that could not be spent in actual prayer or contemplation or the reading of the Bible. Palladius’ picture of the Pachomian monastery, on the other hand, is that of a busy, well-organized, self-supporting agricultural colony, in which the daily religious exercises only alternated with, and did not impede, the daily labour that was so large an element of the life: and so this picture is of extraordinary, value. Whatever may be thought of the life led by the hermits or quasi-hermits of northern Egypt, there will hardly be two opinions as to 0 the strenuousness and virility of the ideal aimed at by St Pachomius. The Antonian ideal is the one that (even in accentuated forms) has been in all ages dominant in the East, and it was the form of monachism first propagated throughout Western Europe. It was not the least of St Benedict's contributions to Western monachism that he introduced, with the modifications called for by differences of climate and national character, a type of monachism more akin to the Pachomian, in which work of one kind or another, undertaken for its own sake, forms an essential part of the life.

Having thus traced in the briefest manner the external phenomena of the earliest Christian monachism, we must say a word on its inner spirit. The theory or philosophy of primitive Christian monachism finds its fullest expression in Cassian’s Collations. These are 24 conferences of considerable length, which purport to be utterances of several of the most prominent of the Nitriot and Scetic monks, made in response to queries and difficulties put by Cassian himself and his, friend Germanus, who lived for a number of years in Scete between 390 and 400. The Collations were not written till 25 years later, and the question has been raised how far they reproduce actual discourses uttered by the various monks named; or are compositions of Cassian’s, a literary device for presenting the teaching and ideas current in Scete. In any case, there can be no reasonable doubt that they do faithfully represent the substance and spirit of that teaching — and this is all that is of historical importance. Cassian puts into the foreground, in his first Collation, an exposition of the purpose or scope of the monastic life: Abbot Moses declares it to be the attainment of Purity of Heart, so that the mind may rest fixed on God and divine things: for this purpose only are fastingswatchings, meditation of Scripture, solitude, privations to be undertaken: such asceticisms are not perfection, but only the instruments of perfection. This conference supplies the key to the fundamental conception of the monastic state. It is a systematic and ordered attempt to exercise the tendencies symbolized by the terms Mysticism and Asceticism—two of the most deeply rooted religious instincts of the human heart, but which beyond most others need regulation and control. Egyptian monachism was probably at its highest point of development about the year 400, just when Cassian and Palladius came in contact with it. Without accepting the probably apocryphal figures given by some of the authorities, there can be no doubt that there were at that date very many thousands of monks in Egypt. And the original enthusiasms and spirituality of the movement still, on the whole, held sway. But with the fifth century the decay set in, which has gone on progressively till our day. The Egyptian monks, who had been the great adherents of the Catholic faith in the Arian times, became the chief supporters of Dioscorus in making the Egyptian Church Monophysite. As the Mahommedan invasion swept over Egypt the monasteries were in great measure destroyed, and Egyptian monasticism has ever since been gradually dying out; at the present day only a few monasteries survive, and the institution is in a moribund condition, unless some unlooked-for revival come about.

When we pass from Egypt to the oriental lands, we find that in Palestine monastic life was introduced from Egypt by Hilarion early in the fourth century. He had been a disciple of Anthony, and the life he led in Palestine was purely eremitical. There are traces of cenobitic monasteries in Palestine during the fourth century, especially those established under Western influences—as by St Jerome and Paula, Rufinus and the two Melanias. But the glimpses of Palestinian monachism the end of the century given us by Palladius in the Lausiac History, reveal the fact that it remained in large measure eremitical.

In Syria and Mesopotamia, whether in the Roman or in the Persian territories, there was at the beginning of the fourth century what appears to have been an indigenous growth of asceticism analogous to the pre-monastic asceticism found in Egypt and elsewhere. The institution was known as the Sons of the Covenant, and the members were bound to celibacy and the usual ascetical practices, but they were not monks properly so called. We hear much of them from Aphraates (c. 330); and Rabbula, bishop of Edessa a century later, wrote a code of regulations for priests and Sons of the Covenant. As he wrote also a Rule for monks, it seems clear that the Sons of the Covenant did not develop into a monastic system, but the two institutions existed alongside of each other till at any rate the middle of the fifth century. The beginnings of monachism proper in the Syrian lands are difficult to trace. It is probable that the story of Eugenius, who was said to have introduced monasticism from Egypt in the early years of the fourth century, must be rejected as legendary. Theodoret opens his Historia Religiosa, or lives of the Syrian monks, with an account of one Jacob who lived as a hermit near Nisibis before 325; but as this was a century before Theodoret’s time, the facts must remain somewhat doubtful. He gives accounts of a number of Syrian monks in the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth: most of them were hermits; and even when disciples gathered around them, the life continued to be strongly individualistic and eremitical. This has continued to be the tendency of Syrian monachism, both Nestorian and Monophysite. Cenobitical life was commonly only the first stage of a monk's career; the goal aimed at was to be a hermit; after a few years each monk withdrew to a cell at a distance from the monastery, to live in solitude, frequenting the monastic church only on Sundays and feasts. Rabbula’s Admonitions for Monks (c. 425) are of great interest: he lays down that no one is thus to become a hermit until he has been proved in a monastery for a considerable time. The following regulation is of special interest: “Those who have been made priests and deacons in the monasteries, and have been entrusted with churches in the villages, shall appoint as superiors those who are able to rule the brotherhood; and they themselves shall remain in charge of their churches”. The practice here indicated, of monks serving churches, is probably unique in the East; it has been done in the West in later times, but has always been regarded as abnormal.

Thus while in Egypt the tendency was to abandon the eremitical life for the cenobitical, in Syria the opposite tendency set in. In another respect, too, Syrian monachism developed along lines different from those that prevailed in Egypt. Egyptian monks practiced, it is true, austerities and mortifications of the severest kind; but they were what may be called natural, as prolonged abstinence from food and sleep, exposure to heat and cold, silence and solitude, heavy labour and physical fatigue. In Syria on the contrary austerities of a highly artificial character became the vogue: the extraordinary life of the pillar hermits, who abode for years on the summits of pillars, at once presents itself in illustration. Theodoret and the other authorities speak as if it were a common practice that monks should carry continually fastened to their backs great stones or iron weights—Rabbula forbids this except to hermits. Sozomen tells us of a kind of Syrian monk called ‘Grazers’, who used to go out into the fields at meal-times and eat grass like cattle. A good picture of the lines on which Syrian monachism settled down after the sixth century is afforded by Thomas of Marga’s Book of the Governors, or history of the great Nestorian monastery of Beth Abhe in Mesopotamia.

All the evidence shows that the ingrained oriental hankering after asceticism, still found in Hindu fakirs, asserted itself in Syrian monachism from the beginning, and it has there at all times been a characteristic feature of the system.

Monasticism seems to have made its entry into Greek-speaking lands from the East. It first appears in the Roman province of Armenia in connection with Eustathius of Sebaste, c. 330-340. The claim has been made, indeed, that monasteries were established in Constantinople by Constantine, but this must be regarded as legend; there probably were none there before the end of the fourth century. The monasticism of Eustathius was of a highly ascetical character, with strongly developed Manichaean tendencies, which were condemned at the Council of Gangra, c. 340. Similar in character, but carrying the same tendencies to still greater extremes, were the Messalians or Euchitae, in Paphlagonia, described by Epiphanius.

The real father of Greek monachism was St Basil. After spending a year in visiting the monks of Egypt and Syria, he retired, c. 360, to a lonely spot near Neocaesarea in Pontus, and there began to lead a monastic life with the disciples who quickly gathered round him. His conception of the monastic life was in many important points a new departure, and it proved epoch-making in the history of monachism: it has continued to this day the fundamental conception of Greek and Slavonic monasticism; and St Benedict, though he borrowed more in matter of detail from Cassian, in matter of principles and ideas owed more to St Basil than to any other monastic legislator. Thus in the monasticism of both East and West, St Basil's ideas still live on. For this reason it will be proper to give a somewhat full account of his monastic legislation. The materials are to be found chiefly in the two sets of Rules (the Longer and the Shorter), the authenticity of which is now recognised, and in certain of his Letters, supplemented by letters of St Gregory Nazianzen to him.

St Basil's construction of the monastic life was fully cenobitical, in this respect advancing beyond that of St Pachomius. In the Pachomian system the monks dwelt in different houses within the monastery precincts; the meals were at different hours; and all assembled in the church only for the greater services. But St Basil established a common roof, a common table, a common prayer always; so that we meet here for the first time in Christian monastic legislation the idea of the cenobium, and common life properly so called. Again, St Basil declared against even the theoretical superiority of the eremitical life over the cenobitical. He asserted the principle that monks should endeavour to do good to their fellow men; and in order to bring works of charity within reach of his monks, orphanages were established, separate from the monasteries but close at hand and under the care of the monks, in which apparently children of both sexes were received. Boys also were taken into the monasteries to be educated, and not with the view of their becoming monks. Another new feature in St Basil's conception of the monastic life was his discouragement of excessive asceticism; he enunciated the principle that work is of greater value than austerities, and drew the conclusion that fasting should not be practiced to such an extent as to be detrimental to work. All this represents a new range of ideas.

The following is an outline of the actual daily life in St Basil’s monasteries. A period of novitiate or probation, of indeterminate length, had to be passed, at the end of which a profession of virginity was made, but no monastic vows were taken: Palladius, writing in 420, says in the Prologue to the Lausiac History, that it is better to practice the monastic life freely, without the constraint of a vow. But though there were no vows, St Basil's monks were considered to be under a strict obligation of persevering in the monastic life, and of abiding in their own monastery. Their time was divided between prayer, work, and the reading of Holy Scripture. They rose for the common psalmody while it was still night and chanted the divine praises till the dawn; six times each day did they assemble in the church for prayer. Their work was field labour and farming—St Gregory Nazianzen speaks of the ploughing and vine-dressing, the wood-drawing and stone-hewing, the planting and draining. The food and clothing, too, the housing and all the conditions of life, he describes as being coarse and rough and austere. The monastic virtues of obedience to the superior, of personal poverty, of self-denial, and the cultivation of the spiritual life and of personal religion, are insisted on.

The Basilian form of monachism was the one that spread in the adjacent provinces of Asia Minor and in Armenia; and under the influence of the Council of Chalcedon, which passed several canons regulating the monastic life, and of the civil law, it gradually made its way and became recognised throughout the Greek portion of the Empire as the official form of monastic life. But the Eastern tendency towards the practice of extreme austerity and the eremitical life has always struggled to find expression, and to this day there are hermits on Mount Athos and at other monastic centers of the Orthodox Church.

In the fifth century the Holy Land became the head centre of Greek monachism, and monasteries of two kinds arose in considerable numbers. There were the cenobia, or monasteries proper, where the life was according to the lines laid down by St Basil; and there were the lauras, wherein a semi-eremitical life was followed, the monks living in separate huts within the enclosure. St Sabas, a Cappadocian, was the great organizer of this manner of life—he founded no fewer than seven lauras in Palestine, and drew up a Typicon or code of rules for their guidance.

Sabas was appointed Exarch of all the lauras of Palestine, while his compatriot and contemporary Theodosius became Archimandrite of all the cenobia of Palestine. Under the stress of the Origenistic controversy and of the Arab invasion Palestinian monachism waned, and in the seventh century the centre of gravity of Greek monasticism shifted to Constantinople, where in the early years of the ninth century it underwent a reorganization at the hands of Theodore, abbot of the monastery of the Studium. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the centre of gravity again shifted, this time to Mount Athos, where it has ever since remained.

Since the time of Theodore the Studite Greek and Slavonic monachism has undergone little change: it is still St Basil's monachism, but the elements of hard labour and of works of charity have been almost wholly eliminated from the life, and intellectual work has not, as in the West, taken their place on any large scale — indeed, it has usually been discouraged; so that for the past thousand years Greek and Slavonic monks have been almost wholly given up, in theory at any rate, and in great measure in practice too, to a life of purely devotional contemplation. They do not call themselves Basilians, but simply Monks, and St Basil's Rules scarcely hold a leading place in the code of monastic legislation that regulates their life.

While the monastic system was in its primitive unorganized state it lent itself to certain obvious abuses. Anyone who chose could become a hermit and live according to his own devices. Impostors and charlatans under the guise of pretended austerities deceived the simple and lived upon alms received on false pretences. These abuses seem to have attained a great magnitude in Syria at the middle of the fifth century, if we may judge from the vigorous protests of Isaac of Antioch; but they existed everywhere. They led to the gradual regulating of the monastic life and the subjecting of the monks to the authority of the bishops. In this way a body of legislation, both ecclesiastical and civil, grew up, which restricted the voluntariness of the system, and made it an integral part of the general polity of both Church and State.

This ‘ecclesiasticizing’ of the monks is often deplored; but it was part of the inevitable march of events and a condition of the continued existence of the institution. In the fifth and sixth centuries other tendencies made themselves felt, and the monks in great numbers became embroiled in the ecclesiastical politics and the theological controversies of the time. Sometimes they were on the orthodox side, sometimes on the heterodox; but on whatever side they stood, they were only too often violent and fanatical, and some of the most discreditable episodes of Church history in those days were the work of Eastern monks — as the murder of Flavian at the Robber Synod of Ephesus.

Before we pass to the West, it will be well to speak of the nuns in Egypt and the East. It has already been said at the beginning of this chapter, when speaking of the premonastic Christian ascetics, that communities of women existed at an earlier date than communities of men—in Egypt as early as the middle of the third century. The records of Egyptian monachism agree in representing women as taking part in great numbers in every phase of the monastic movement. There were women who lived as hermits and as recluses, shut up in tombs; there are various stories of women disguising themselves as men and living in monasteries, and being discovered only after death. Pachomius founded two nunneries, one, under his sister, at Tabennisi, the other, which numbered 400 nuns, near Panopolis (Akhmim); and after his death many others were founded in his order. The famous Coptic abbot Senuti of Atripè governed a great community of nuns in addition to the monks of the White Monastery. We learn from Palladius that at the end of the fourth century there were numerous nunneries in all parts of monastic Egypt, and the glimpses he lets us see of their inner life are graphic and interesting. He tells us of one Dorotheus who had the spiritual charge of a nunnery, and used to sit at a window overlooking the convent, “keeping the peace among the nuns”; also of an old nun, Mother Talis, superioress of a convent at Antina, so beloved by her nuns that there was no need of a key in that convent, as in others, to keep the nuns from wandering, “as they were fast tied by love of her”.

In Syria there were at the beginning of the fourth century ‘Daughters of the Covenant’, analogous to the ‘Sons of the Covenant’, spoken of above. Whether they led a full community life is uncertain; but in one of Rabbula's regulations, at the beginning of the fifth century, it is prescribed that ‘Sons or Daughters of the Covenant who fall from their estate be sent to the monasteries for penance’, which implies the existence of convents of women. In all probability there were in Syria, as elsewhere, fully organized nunneries, though there is not much Syrian evidence concerning them. Certainly in Palestine at this time there were many convents of women, including those established under the influence of the Roman ladies Paula and Eustochium and the Melanias. When St Basil began his monastic life about 360, his mother and sister were already living in a community of nuns in the immediate vicinity, with a river between them; and throughout Greek-speaking Christendom, in Asia Minor and above all in Constantinople, women practiced the monastic life hardly less than men. No Eastern nuns, however, have at any time devoted themselves to external works of charity like the modern active congregations of women in the West.

There is a considerable body of evidence showing that the ascetical life was pursued in the West—notably at Carthage and Rome—as in the East, before the introduction of monasticism proper; but there is no sufficient reason for questioning the tradition that attributes the knowledge of the monastic life in Western Europe to the influence of St Athanasius. In the year 339 he came to Rome, accompanied by two Egyptian monks, and thus spread in the City and its neighbourhood the knowledge of the manner of life that was then being practiced in Egypt. Many candidates presented themselves, and we learn from Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine that in the last quarter of the fourth century there were numerous monasteries of men and of women in Rome. Among the high-born patrician ladies the movement had a great vogue and became so fashionable that an agitation against it arose, of which St Jerome had to bear the brunt. These ladies, brought up in every luxury, gave up all things and surrendered themselves to lives of hardship and devotional exercises. The most famous of them, as Paula and Melania, even left Rome and went to the Holy Land, where they established sisterhoods. Monasteries rapidly spread over Central and Southern Italy, and the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea were peopled by hermits. In North Italy, too, monasteries existed by the end of the fourth century at the chief cities —at Aquileia, where Rufinus and Jerome were trained in the monastic life; at Milan, where Ambrose had a great monastery of men; at Ravenna and Pavia and many other towns.

Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli (d. 371), introduced a change in the idea of the monastic life that merits for him a more prominent place among monastic legislators than is commonly accorded to him: he combined the clerical and monastic states, making the clerics of his cathedral live together in community according to the monastic rule. This was the starting-point of the practice destined to prevail both in West and East, whereby monks as by ordinary rule become priests, though it was several centuries before the custom was established.

It was in the form initiated by Eusebius at Vercelli that the monastic life was introduced into Africa by St Augustine on his return from Italy in 388. In 391 he was ordained presbyter at Hippo and established a community of clerics living together according to rule; and when in 396 he became bishop of Hippo, he continued to follow the same manner of life along with his clerics. Several bishops went forth from this community to other sees, and in most cases they established similar monasteries of clerics in their episcopal cities. This union of the clerical and monastic lives was widely prevalent in Africa, and it became the exemplar both of the institution of secular canons in the Carolingian reform, and of that of canons regular, or Augustinian canons, in the Hildebrandine.

Monasteries of the type normal in those days also arose in Africa. In the times of Tertullian and Cyprian veiled virgins were recognised; but it is doubtful whether they had developed into a proper monastic system before St Augustine's time. During his episcopate there certainly were many nunneries, one being presided over by his sister; and his Letter 211—the only authentic ‘Rule of St Augustine’—was written for the guidance of a nunnery. Thus in the early years of the fifth century monachism was strong and flourishing in the African Church.

The beginnings of Spanish monachism are obscure, and the records scanty. The first reference is a canon of the Council of Zaragoza in 380, forbidding clerics to become monks: this shows that the monastic institute must by that date have spread considerably in Spain; but there seems to be no extant evidence of the existence of a monastery in Spain till the beginning of the sixth century. There is a tradition that then one Donatus carried monasticism from Africa into Spain; but the names to be associated with early Spanish monachism are Martin, bishop of Braga, a Pannonian and the apostle of the Arian Sueves, who died in 580, and Fructuosus, also bishop of Braga, about a century later. The latter was the great organizer and propagator of monachism in the Peninsula, establishing several monasteries and writing (probably) two rules for their guidance. It is chiefly from these rules that we get glimpses of the earlier Spanish monachism. It seems to have been a common practice for a man to call his house a "monastery," and to live in it with his wife, children and servants: against this abuse, and others, St Fructuosus legislates. One feature of his Rule is unique: it contains a pact between the abbot and monks, whereby the latter bind themselves to the performance of the duties of the monastic life under the abbot, and empower him to inflict specified punishments for certain offences; and on the other hand reserve to themselves, in case the abbot should act in an arbitrary or tyrannical way, the right of appeal to other abbots or to the bishop. St Fructuosus lived a century after St Benedict's death; but throughout the Gothic period there is no trace of Benedictine monachism in Spain. In the extant rules of Spanish origin—those of Leander, of Isidore, and of Fructuosus—it is possible to discern certain reminiscences which betray a knowledge of the Benedictine Rule; but Mabillon greatly exaggerates their significance. These rules are in no sense declarations or commentaries on St Benedict's, and Spanish monachism was not at all Benedictine before the time of the Christian Reconquest. Early Spanish monachism was indigenous, and it retained its individuality till the fall of the Gothic kingdom. Our only glimpses of it have to be obtained through these later rules, and so it has been necessary to carry our view forward beyond the strict limits of this survey. It may be doubted whether monasteries were numerous in the Gothic period: the Councils of Toledo throughout the seventh century used to be attended by fifty or sixty bishops; but there were never more than ten abbots present, and often only six, or five, or four.

We have little information concerning the origins of monachism in the Celtic lands, though the system played a prominent part in the Christianizing of most of them. It seems that the earliest Celtic monasteries were missionary stations, closely connected with the tribal system. St Patrick, who had passed some years as a monk in Lerins, built up the Irish Church in large measure on a monastic framework, and this initial tendency became more and more accentuated, till the bishops came to be subordinated to the abbots of the great monasteries. Our first definite knowledge of an organized cenobitical life in Ireland comes to us from the sixth century, during the course of which several great monasteries were established in various parts of the island, some of them counting more than a thousand monks. But any full knowledge of early Irish monachism has to be gathered, not on Irish soil, but from the documents connected with St Columba, who towards the end of the sixth century established a great monastery in the island of Iona or Hy, the missionary influence whereof spread over southern Scotland and northern England; and from the documents connected with St Columbanus, who early in the seventh century founded a number of Irish monasteries in Central Europe. St Columbanus’ Rule is the only Irish monastic rule, properly so called, that has come down to us from the early period of Irish monachism: it was not composed in Ireland, but undoubtedly it embodies the Irish traditions of monasticism and ascetical discipline. Irish cenobitical life as seen in these documents, was one of extreme rigor and austerity. At all times the eremitical life had a great vogue in Celtic monachism; and in spite of all difficulties of climate, the Irish hermits successfully rivalled in their extraordinary penances and austerities and vigils, the hermits of Egypt, and even those of Syria. In Ireland, where the population continued purely Celtic, the Irish rules and Irish monasticism maintained themselves throughout the Middle Ages; but in England and on the Continent, where they came into contact with populations Teutonic or teutonized, they succumbed before the Roman Rule of St Benedict.

Gaul is the country of Western Europe in which early monachism was most widely propagated and flourished most, and for which the records of pre-Benedictine monachism are the most abundant. It is said that St Athanasius introduced the knowledge of the monastic life at Trier during his exile there (336-7); and the well-known story of St Augustine's conversion shows that before the end of the century there were monks living an eremitical life there.

But it is with the name of St Martin of Tours that the beginnings of Gallic monachism are rightly associated. A Pannonian by race, born early in the fourth century, he had practiced the monastic life for some years before becoming bishop of Tours in 372. Nearly ten years earlier he had established a monastery near Poitiers, and on becoming bishop of Tours he formed one just outside of his episcopal city, at the place afterwards called Marmoutier. Here he gathered together eighty monks, and lived with them a life of great solitude and austerity. They dwelt singly in caves and huts, meeting only for the church services and for meals; they fasted rigorously and prayed long — it was indeed a reproduction of the life of the Egyptian monks. Our information concerning this earliest Gallic monachism is mainly derived from the writings of St Martin's biographer, Sulpitius Severus, and from his correspondence with St Paulinus of Nola. From these sources we learn that by the end of the fourth century monasteries and monks and nuns were already numerous not only in the province of Tours, but in Rouen and the territory that afterwards became Normandy and Picardy.

The beginning of the fifth century witnessed the inauguration of monachism in Provence, at Marseilles under the influence of John Cassian, and in the island of Lerins under that of Honoratus. From Lerins went forth a number of monk-bishops, who throughout the fifth and sixth centuries, by the monasteries they set up in their episcopal cities, and by the monastic rules they composed for their government, spread far and wide through south-eastern Gaul the influence and ideas of Lerins. In other parts of Gaul, too, monasteries arose in the fifth century, the most famous being Condat in the Jura mountains.

After the Frankish conquest of Gaul and under the early Merovingian kings the monastic movement continued throughout the sixth century to spread all over Frankland. A twofold tendency set in—one towards relaxation of life and observance; the other towards the eremitical life and the extremest forms of asceticism, such as are met with among the Syrian hermits. Gregory of Tours gives numerous examples of hermits, especially in Auvergne, who in their fantastic austerities equalled those of Syria; and his evidence is corroborated by other documents. It was not till the seventh century that Benedictine monachism got a foothold in Gaul, and about the same time St Columbanus imported his Rule and manner of life from Ireland. For a time the three forms of monachism—the old Gallic, the Colum­banian, and the Benedictine—existed side by side in Gaul. In order to understand why the Benedictine gradually and inevitably supplanted the earlier monachisms in France, in Italy, and in England, and was destined to become the only monachism of Teutonic Europe, it is necessary to survey the character of the earlier types. The early African and Spanish monachisms were swept away by Vandals and Moors; the Irish remained insular and isolated from the great currents of monastic development; so that Italy, France and England are the countries in which the transformation of the earlier types of Western monachism into the Benedictine was worked out.

It has to be remembered that in those days neither in the West nor in the East, outside the Pachomian system, was there anything resembling the present Western idea of different ‘Orders’ of monks—there was only the monastic order. Monasteries were autonomous, each having its own practices and its own rule, or selection of rules, depending mainly on the abbot's choice. Before St Benedict's time there were current in the West translations of certain Eastern rules—that of Pachomius, translated by Jerome; that of Basil, translated by Rufinus; and a rule attributed to Macarius. There was a rule made up out of the writings of Cassian; there was St Augustine’s Letter (No. 211) on the government of a nunnery. It is doubtful whether Honoratus of Lerins wrote a rule. The only extant Western rules, properly so called, which are certainly earlier than St Benedict's, are that of Caesarius of Arles for monks and his somewhat longer rule for nuns; but these are quite short, and not one of the rules that came into contact with St Benedict's in his own time, or for a century afterwards, not even the Rule of Columbanus, could claim to be an ordered and practical code of laws regulating the life and working of a monastery. This St Benedict’s Rule pre-eminently was; and the fact that it supplied' so great a want doubtless was one of the chief reasons why it supplanted all its rivals.

But there was another and still more powerful reason: St Benedict was the man who adapted monasticism to Western ideas and Western needs. Monasticism in Italy and Gaul was an Eastern importation, and up to St Benedict it bore the marks of its origin. The life of the hermits of the Egyptian deserts, with their prolonged fasts and vigils and their other bodily austerities, was looked upon as the highest ideal—the true ideal—of the monastic life; and the monks of Italy and Gaul endeavoured to emulate a manner of life hard enough in oriental climes, but doubly hard in Western Europe. This straining after severe bodily austerities can clearly be discerned in the fragmentary records that have survived of pre-Benedictine monachism in Italy and France, where the practice of a purely eremitical life was very common.

St Benedict, while recognizing the eremitical life, says definitely that he legislates for cenobites only; moreover, he did away with the oriental spirit of rivalry in asceticism, whereby the monks used to vie with one another in their mortifications. St Benedict laid down the principle that all should live by the Rule and conform themselves in all things to the life of the community; and even during Lent, when the undertaking of some extra mortification was recommended, it was all to be under the abbot's control. Moreover, the common community life which St Benedict established in his monasteries was not one of great severity: a hard life it was of course, and one of self-denial; but if judged by the ideals and ideas current in his day, his Rule must have appeared to his contemporaries to be in the matter of diet, of sleep, of work, and of hours of prayer, nothing else than what he describes it—“A little rule for beginners”. Italian and French monks were at that time trying to live up to ideals that were impossible for most in the Western lands, and the general failure was producing a widespread disorganization and decay. St Benedict came and eliminated these incongruous Eastern elements, and made a reconstruction of the monastic life admirably suited to Western, and especially to Teutonic, conditions. To this must be attributed in greatest measure the success achieved by his Rule.

St Benedict’s Life

St Benedict was born in Nursia, near Spoleto, probably about the year 480; he was of a noble Umbrian family, and he was sent to Rome to follow the courses in the schools. The licentiousness there prevalent made him determine to withdraw not only from Rome, but also from the world, and to become a monk. Full of this idea he fled away from Rome to the Sabine hills, and buried himself in a cave overlooking Nero's artificial lake on the Anio at Subiaco, forty miles from Rome. It is probable that he was not a mere boy, but a youth old enough to have become enamoured with a lady in Rome: consequently the date was within a few years of 500. There can be no doubt that the Sacro Speco at Subiaco is the cave inhabited by St Benedict during the first years of his monastic life; its solitude was complete, and the wild severe grandeur of the surrounding scenery was well calculated to inspire his young heart with deep religious feeling. In this cave he lived for three years, only a single monk of a monastery in the neighbourhood knowing of his existence and supplying him with the necessaries of life. It is not a little remarkable that he who was destined to turn Western monasticism definitely away from the eremitical ideal, should himself, as a matter of course, have gone to live as a hermit on determining to become a monk: it was only after very thorough personal experience of the hermit's life that St Benedict decided it was not to be for his disciples.

In another matter also did he turn his back on his own early ideas: after passing three years of solitude in his cave, his existence gradually became known and disciples flocked to him in such numbers that he was able to establish not only a monastery ruled over by himself, but also twelve others in the neighbourhood, over which he exercised the sort of control which the superior-general of a group or congregation of monasteries would now be said to exercise. But when he was compelled to leave Subiaco, and migrated to Monte Cassino, he confined himself exclusively to the government of his own community there, without continuing to exercise control over the other monasteries he had founded. And so his Rule is concerned with the government of a single monastery only, without any provision for the grouping of monasteries into congregations or orders, as became the vogue later on in the West. This continued the Benedictine practice for many centuries; during the greatest period of Black Monk history the great Benedictine houses stood in isolation, each self-governed and self-contained. It was not till the thirteenth century that, under the inspiration of Cluny and Citeaux, the policy was adopted of federating the Benedictine abbeys of the different ecclesiastical provinces; and to this day the essential autonomy of each house is the foundation stone and central idea of Black Monk polity.

It is impossible to fix the date at which St Benedict founded his monastery at Monte Cassino — probably about 520. He lived there till his death, and Monte Cassino is the place above all others associated with his name. The rest of his life was quite uneventful; in 543 he was visited by Totila, and he died about the middle of the century.

As Benedictine life soon became, and for well-nigh seven centuries continued to be, the norm of monastic life in the Latin Church, it will be to the point to give a rough picture of the daily life that obtained in St Benedict's monasteries, as it may be reconstructed from the Rule.

St Benedict’s monks rose early in the morning—usually about 2, but the hour varied with the season of the year. They had had, however, an ample period of unbroken sleep, usually not less than 8 hours: the midnight office between two periods of sleep, so common a feature of later monasticism in the West, had no place in Benedictine life as conceived by St Benedict. The monks repaired to the church for the night office, which consisted of fourteen psalms, and certain readings from Scripture; it was chanted throughout, and must have taken from an hour to an hour and a half. It was followed by a break, which varied from a few minutes in the summer to a couple of hours at mid­winter, and which was devoted to private reading of Scripture, or prayer. The Matin office, now called Lauds, was celebrated at dawn, and Prime at sunrise; each took about half an hour. Prime was followed by work —i.e. field work for most of the monks—or reading, according to the time of the year; and these exercises filled up the time till dinner, which was at 12 or at 3, the short offices of Tierce, Sext, and None being celebrated in the church at the appropriate hours. In summer, when the night sleep was short, the usual Italian siesta was allowed after dinner. The afternoon was passed in work and reading, like the forenoon. Vespers or Evensong was sung some time before sunset, and in the summer was followed by an evening meal. Before dark, while there yet was enough light to read by, they assembled once again in the church, and after a few pages had been read, Compline was said, and they retired to rest in the dusk, before there was need of an artificial light. On Sundays there was no work, and the time assigned to the church services and to reading was considerably lengthened.

According to St. Benedict's scheme of the monastic life, work occupied notably more time daily than either the church services or reading; and this work was manual, either in the fields or garden, or about the house. This element of work was intended to be an integral part of the life; not a mere occupation, but a very real factor of the monk’s service of God, and from six to seven hours were devoted to it daily. These long hours of manual labour, coupled with the unbroken fast till midday, or 3 p.m., or even till sunset during Lent, and the perpetual abstinence from flesh meat, may convey the impression that, after all, the life in St Benedict's monastery was one of great bodily austerity. But it has to be remembered that though members of patrician families were to be found in his community, still the great majority was recruited from the ranks of the Italian peasantry, or from those of the Goths and other barbarians who were then overrunning Italy. Neither the fasting nor the abstinence from meat would appear to Italian peasants in the present day, and still less in the sixth century, so onerous as they do to us in northern climes.

The other exercise of the monks, outside the direct worship of God, was reading, to which from three to five hours were assigned daily, according to the season. There can be little doubt that this reading was wholly devotional, confined to the Bible and the writings of the fathers, St Basil and Cassian being recommended by name. Out of this germ grew in the course of ages those works of erudition and of historical science with which the Benedictine name in later ages became associated: the first step forward along the path of monastic studies was taken not by St Benedict, but by his younger contemporary Cassiodorus in his Calabrian monastery at Squillace.

But the chief work of the monk was, in St Benedict's eyes, neither field work nor literary work: all the services of Benedictines to civilization and education and letters have been but by-products. Their primary and essential work is what St Benedict calls the ‘Work of God’—Opus Dei—the daily chanting of the canonical Office in the choir. To this work he says nothing is to be preferred, and this principle has been the keynote of Benedictine life throughout the ages. The daily "course" of psalmody ordinarily consisted of 40 psalms with certain canticles, hymns, responses, prayers, and lections from Scripture and the fathers. It was divided into the eight canonical hours, the Vigils or night office being considerably the longest. It is probable that this daily common prayer took some 4 hours, being chanted throughout, and not merely recited in a monotone. Mass was celebrated only on Sundays and holydays. Private prayer was taken for granted, and was provided for, but not legislated for, being left to personal devotion.

The abbot governed the monastery with full patriarchal authority. He was elected by the monks, and held office for life. All the officials of the monastery were appointed by him, and were removable at his will. He should take counsel with his monks—in matters of moment with the whole community, in lesser matters with a few seniors. He was bound to listen to what each had to say; but at the end, it rested with him to decide what was to be done, and all had to obey. The great—in a sense it might be said, the only—restraining influence upon the abbot to which St Benedict appeals, was that of religion—the abiding sense, impressed on him again and again by St Benedict, that he was di­rectly and personally responsible, and would have to answer before the judgment seat of God for all his actions, for all his judgments, nay, even for the soul of each one of his monks as well as for his own. But his government must be according to the Rule, and not at his own mere will and pleasure, as had been the case in the earlier forms of monachism; and he is warned not to overburden his monks, or overdrive them, but to be considerate always and give no one cause for just complaint. The chapters specially written for the abbot (2, 3, 27, 64) are the most characteristic in the Rule, and form a body of wise counsel, not easily to be surpassed, for anyone in office or authority of any kind. This formation of a regular order of life according to rule, this provision for the disciplined working of a large establishment, was St Benedict's great contribution to Western monachism, and also to Western civilization. For as Benedictine abbeys came gradually to be established more and more thickly in the midst of the wild Teutonic populations that were settling throughout Western Europe, they became object-lessons in disciplined and well-ordered life, in organized work, in all the arts of peace, that could not but impress powerfully the minds of the surrounding barbarians, and bring home to them ideals of peace and order and work, no less than of religion.

Another point of far-reaching consequence was that St Benedict laid upon the monk the obligation of abiding till death, not only in the monastic life, but in his own monastery in which he was professed. This special Benedictine vow of stability cut off what was the very common practice of monks, when they grew dissatisfied in one monastery, going to another. St Benedict bound the monks of a monastery together into a permanent family, united by bonds that lasted for life. This idea that the monks of each Benedictine monastery form a permanent community, distinct from that of every other Benedictine monastery, is a characteristic feature of Benedictine monachism, and a chief distinction between it and the mendicant and other later Orders; without doubt it has also been the great source of the special influence and strength of the Benedictines in history.

Another distinction lies in the fact that St Benedict, in common with the early monastic legislators, set before his monks no special object or purpose, no particular work to be done, other than the common work of monks—the living in community according to the ‘evangelical counsels’, and thereby sanctifying their souls and serving God. "A school of the service of the Lord" is St Benedict's definition of a monastery, and the one thing he requires from the novice is that “in very deed he seek God”. Nothing probably was further from his thoughts than that his monks were to become apostles, bishops, popes, civilizers, educators, scholars, men of learning. His idea simply was to make them good: and if a man is good, he will do good. The ascetical side of the training in the Rule lies chiefly in obedience and humility. The very definition of a monk is “one who renounces his own wishes, and comes to fight for Christ, taking up the arms of obedience”; it is the temper of renuncia­tion and obedience rather than the actual obeying that is of value. The chapter on humility (7), the longest in the Rule, has become a classic in Christian ascetical literature; it embodies St Benedict's teaching on the spiritual life. The general spirit of the Rule is beautifully summed up in the short chapter “on the good zeal which monks ought to have” (72): “As there is an evil and bitter emulation which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good spirit of emulation which frees from vices and leads to God and life everlasting. Let monks therefore practice this emulation with most fervent love; that is to say, let them in honour prefer one another. Let them bear most patiently with each other’s infirmities, whether of body or of character. Let them contend with one another in their obedience. Let no one follow what he thinks most profitable to himself, but rather what is best for another. Let them show brotherly charity with a chaste love. Let them fear God and love their abbot with sincere and humble affection, and set nothing whatever before Christ, Who can bring us unto eternal life”.

In view of the great influence exercised on the course of European history and civilization in things both ecclesiastical and civil, from the sixth century to the thirteenth, by St Benedict and his sons, it seemed proper to supply the foregoing somewhat detailed account of the Benedictine Rule and life. With an outline sketch of the steps whereby St Benedict’s supremacy in Western monachism was achieved, this chapter will be concluded.

Though the Rule was written as a code of regulations for the government of one monastery, it is evident that St Benedict contemplated the likelihood of its being observed in different monasteries, and even in different countries. Besides Monte Cassino, his own monastery at Subiaco, and perhaps the twelve others, continued after he had left them; and there is mention of one founded by him from Monte Cassino, at Terracina. These are the only Benedictine monasteries of which there is any record as existing in St Benedict's lifetime, for the stories of the missions of St Placidus to Sicily and St Maurus to Gaul must be regarded as apocryphal. It is said of Simplicius, the third abbot of Monte Cassino, that “he propagated into all the hidden work of the master”; and this has been understood as indicating that the spread of the Rule to other monasteries began in his abbacy. But the historical determining point was the sacking of Monte Cassino by the Lombards about 580-590, when the monks fled to Rome, and were placed in a monastery attached to the Lateran Basilica, in the heart of Latin Christendom, under the eyes of the Popes. It is now generally agreed by critical students of the period that the monachism which St Gregory the Great established in his palace on the Coelian Hill, wherein he himself became a monk, was in an adequate and true sense Benedictine, being based on that Rule which St Gregory eulogises as “conspicuous for its discretion”. From the Coelian Hill it was carried to England by Augustine, the prior of the monastery, and his companions (596), and it is probable that the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul, later St Augustine's, Canterbury, was the first Benedictine monastery out of Italy. As has been said above, it was not till the seventh century that Benedictine monarchism got a foothold in Gaul; but during that century it spread steadily and at last rapidly throughout Gaul and England, and from England it was carried into Friesland and the other Germanic lands by the great English Benedictine missionersWillibrod, Boniface, and the rest. Being well adapted to the spirit and character of the Teutonic peoples then overrunning Western Europe, the Benedictine Rule inevitably and quickly absorbed and supplanted all those previously in vogue—so completely that Charles the Great could ask the question, if there had ever been any other monastic Rule than St Benedict's? The Benedictines shared fully in the effects of the Carolingian revival, and from that date, for three centuries, St Benedict's spirit ruled supreme throughout Western monachism, Ireland alone excepted.

All through the Benedictine centuries, Benedictine nuns flourished no less than Benedictine monks, and nowhere more than in England.