Medieval Monasticsm Essay, Research Paper
Since humankind had its first inkling of spiritual awareness, there have been certain individuals who have a greater attraction and understanding of the spiritual world than the rest of their society. These human beings bring greater levels of understanding of spirituality both to themselves and to the world. Those who partake in the monastic life of Christianity are no exception to these. These men and women own no material possessions, remain abstinent, and never partake in any sort of earthly extravagance. Their purpose is to become God s most faithful, perfect, earthly servants. In order to achieve this they believe it necessary to relinquish their earthly goods so as to not be distracted from the worship of God. They also seek the fulfillment of Christ s demands of his servants through constant prayer and personal self-reflection. In the medieval society, these people were looked upon with the utmost respect and seen as role models subject to council for much of the townsfolk. Religion was seen as a way to find the hope of eternal salvation from a harsh, threatening world, an explanation from human suffering, and a promise of a better life here and now (Hollister History, 210.) Because those of a monastic order were considered to be closer to God than common folk, monastic persons were asked to pray for people, and reached out to the community by listening to the sins of the people and forgiving the sinners through Christ. During Medieval Christianity, there were three especially important figures in the monastic life. These three men, Saint Daniel the Stylite, Saint Benedict, and Saint Augustine significantly impacted the way Christianity would be seen forever. St. Daniel the Stylite, born in Syria in 409, exemplified the strict discipline of the monks at the time. For 33 years he stood at the top of a column preaching and giving advice to people of the neighborhood and travelers from afar. The idea came to him in a ecstatic vision, where God and St. Simeon (a man who before Daniel lived and preached from atop a pillar) said to Daniel Stand firm and play the man. St. Daniel saw this vision as a calling from God and from this, he decided to live a mode of life where he would be supported by angels (Hollister Sourcebook 33). This way of life that he practiced was discipline which he thought was destine to bring perfection in servitude to the Lord. Up on this high column all of his actions and teachings were in constant public witness, and he was always available for council. By placing himself atop a column he remained in a constant state of purpose, a position that would not allow him to forget that he was a servant, and under the direction of God. By living atop the column, he was able to exemplify and even surpass the strict discipline of monastic life through the mortification of the flesh, to endure suffering as a means of expression his devotion to the Lord. While on the column, “Daniel blessed all men, prayed on behalf of all, he counseled all not to be covetous, he instructed all in the things necessary to salvation, he showed hospitality to all, yet he possessed nothing on earth beyond the confines of the spot on which the enclosure and the religious houses had been built (Hollister Sourcebook 33). Much like St. Daniel, St. Benedict was also a very pious and devout monk. He believed that monastic life, and the ways of society in the world during the sixth century was not what they should be. St. Benedict felt that it was necessary to find a means for all people of withdrawing form the world and devoting full time to communion with God (Hollister History, 210.) Like St. Daniel, he understood that he needed to go one step further than the traditional ways to better serve the Lord. To resolve this he wrote The Rule, which was used to govern the lives of countless monks and nuns of the Middle Ages and beyond. St. Benedict was called the father of Western monasticism because of his tremendous impact of the new order which he founded. The Benedictine movement was itself a protest against the inadequacies and excesses of earlier monasticism. Benedictine monasticism provided for a busy, closely regulated, simple life whose aim was a life dedicated to God and the attainment of personal sanctity through prayer and service (Hollister History, 67.) Unlike Saint Daniel, Saint Benedict was strongly committed to life in a community as a way of supporting each individual s religious endeavor. The typical monastic day was filled with carefully regulated communal activities: devotional reading, household and field work, communal prayer, manuscript copying ect. All of these activities were aimed at an attempt to fulfill and enable the perfection of the servants of the Lord, for those whose sole purpose was to be the holy followers of God.
As was St. Benedict, St. Augustine of Hippo was a very important figure in the development of Christianity. In his Confessions, which was the first major autobiography every written, Augustine describes his long moral and intellectual journey from youthful hedonism to Christian piety (Hollister History, 26.) This life journey was narrated through prayer, confessions to God, in the hope that others who read his writings be affected spiritually as he was, and be able relate to their own lives, the struggles he faced and obstacles he had overcome into a better life of Christianity. The Confessions is a work that has significant philosophical impact, through the personal reflection of inquiries and concerns that has, and will face every human. The answer Saint Augustine finds to these concerns comes through his encounter with The Life of Saint Anthony, the readings of scriptures, and personal reflection. In his encounter with Ponticianus story of the two officials converted by the life of Saint Anthony, Saint Augustine said so the two of them, now Your servants, built a spiritual tower at the only cost that is adequate, the cost of leaving all things and following You (Augustine Confessions, 8.VI.) These Confessions are, for Augustine, the catharsis of his sins, the final relief for the uncertainty he had felt throughout his life. The Confessions are the fulfillment of what Augustine was seeking, and eventually found through the monastic life, a sense of peace, with himself, and with God. For it was Augustine who wrote at the end of the Confessions Of you we must ask, in You we must seek, at You we must knock. Thus only shall we receive, thus shall we find, thus will it be opened to us. These three individuals, Saint Daniel, Saint Benedict, and Saint Augustine, each in their own ways attempted to become the perfect earthly servants to the Lord. Through their writings and teachings they affected the lives of the people of not only their time, but have continued to impact the lives of Christians still today. By following the most intense, strict spiritual doctrines of monastic ways, they were able to attain a sense of peace through their beliefs to themselves, bring a sense of peace to others, as well as bring glory to God.