Monasticism Pros and Cons
Monasticism and Europe
Monasticism is a concept that developed early in Christianity, not found anywhere in the Bible. It was probably formed due to the desire of people to offer a religious sacrifice to God. The greatest “thing”, so to speak, one can lose for God or give Him is one’s life and the persecutions made people feel they were fulfilling this, thus when they were gone, people wanted to achieve that holiness the martyrs had attained. Many did it in undoubtedly erroneous ways, like mutilating one’s flesh, and others did it in more astute ways like separating themselves from the “good” pleasures offered in this world. This is when monasticism is born.
There are basically two types of monasticism: eremitic and cenobitic. Eremitic monasticism is a rather extreme one were the participant isolates completely from the world and a social life to “get closer to God”, in other words, he or she is an utter hermit. Cenobitic monasticism is the more commonly known type to practically everybody that thinks about monasticism. This last one is to the one we associate words as “monk” and “monastery”. By mentioning those two words you can perhaps already guess what type of monasticism the cenobitic type is; a company of hermits living together.
Monks and monasteries, unlike popular belief, did not only collect relics or lived quietly in dark chambers, but they actually made lots of scientific and cultural contributions to Europe. The most important of these companies of hermits is maybe the one founded by a man known as Saint Benedict. He gave a breath to those who wanted to become monks but were afraid of the grievous life they were forced by others to live.
St. Benedict’s Rule presented ideas that proportioned with opportunities to really help societies, like changing the thought of manual labor from being a despicable thing to an honorable and “sanctified” one. Moderation is the word that describes this Rule, for it balanced the labor, study, food intake, prayer, etc. monks had to do in order to be “holy” without making it a severe and extreme task. Benedict didn’t want to take people to live a sacrificial life that took you to the verge of death, but guided you to a comprehensible sacrifice, e.g. always abstain from animal derived food. Obviously this balanced restraint of things helped propagate the monastic tradition.
Monks gave an agricultural uplift in Europe, specially Benedictine monks were the agriculturists of Europe. They also provided advances in technology, like the Cistercian factories of the Cistercian monasteries. These used waterpower to activate machines that crushed wheat, sieved flour, filled cloth, tanned, etc. Monks also engaged in metallurgy (studying, producing, and purifying metals), aided travelers that were shipwrecked or lost, copied manuscripts, and supplied people with education. Monasteries played a crucial role in the economic growth of all Europe.
The Counter of Monasticism
The martyrs, namely the apostles and the primitive church understood why they were dying; for love of God and for love of the people. They were not sacrificing themselves unto God, but they were giving themselves to Him. This is very important to understand in order for us to analyze the idea of there being monasteries. Apart from them contributing to society, we must ask ourselves if the idea of there being such things is pleasing to God. Perhaps, many might say, “who cares”, but I know there are others that care about the heart of God.
Chastity, poverty, and obedience were the main vows monks took. The first two to sacrifice pleasures of the world, and the last one to live morally correct. To accomplish this we know they had to depart from society and live isolated with others from the same sex and same desire. However, does God really want that? Basing ourselves in the scriptures of the Bible we can come to comprehend that He thinks differently.
Jesus came to restore the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. (Luke 17:21) He did it by suffering all things here on earth to pay the price so that those who receive and believe in Him to honor Him will not suffer them ever again HERE ON EARTH. (Isaiah 53:2-5) Jesus went through poverty, hunger, thirst, sickness, all sorts of rejection, all sorts of abuse, gave His body, gave His blood, gave His soul, and even gave His spirit (Matthew 27:50) in sacrifice for humanity to pay the price of our iniquities that we may never have to live that again.
Believing in Jesus necessarily means that a manifestation of who He is will become palpable within or around us. As Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. This means that real faith proves that which it believes. Therefore, if I have faith in Jesus I must prove it by receiving His Kingdom and manifest all it contains, like all sorts of physical and spiritual (invisible or heavenly) riches, supernatural health, love and things like these. Hence, poverty is not a condition of the Kingdom of Heaven, because Jesus Christ paid the price in the cross for us to prosper spiritually, physically, mentally, and economically.
When it comes to chastity, most of the religious minded people excuse it by misinterpreting Jesus’ and Paul’s words. For what it’s worth, Peter was a married man (Matthew 8:14). And when apostle Paul writes in one of his letters (1 Corinthians 7:7) about his desire of men staying like him (single), but because of the temptations of this world to get married so that they don’t get burned, he is writing this because of what the primitive church was going through historically speaking. This is the persecutions and the terrible destruction that was about to take place in Jerusalem in the year 70.
Then, when Jesus is asked by the Sadducees whom where greatly influenced by Greek thought and didn’t believe in the resurrection, who would marry a seven-husband widowed woman in the resurrection, Jesus answers, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:23-32) Jesus is not, by any means whatsoever saying, “You shall not marry to be holy or heavenly.” But on the contrary, He is answering an ignorant question very wisely. The resurrection of the dead, has nothing to do with the flesh, but with the spirit. Marriage is for this world; the flesh.
Now, when it comes to obedience, the monk philosophy contradicts itself. The Bible clearly says, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) If monks understood this, they would not do both things, sacrifice themselves and obey at the same time. Apostle John writes something about obedience and righteousness, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” (1 John 2:4-5) Being perfected in the love of God takes obedience to God’s word and the Word is Jesus. (John 1:14)
Jesus was sacrificed once and for all (Hebrews 7:27), any other human effort we do to literally or symbolically die for Him is useless. Why, because it is human or carnal. The monks did those things to get closer to God not understanding that obeying what He says is already hard enough and it has nothing to do with chastity, poverty, or living apart from society. It has to do with perfect love because “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16) Perfect love is in obedience to the Word of God.
Conclusively, manifesting the culture of the Kingdom of God here on earth gives you enough enemies, being your ego the main one. That is just it, monks didn’t manifest the power of God and that’s why the only changes they gave were of no difference than those of a successful atheist capitalist. The struggles of Europe prevailed, because monks did everything religiously and by human strength, not the power of God.