New Monasticism Chapter 3: A Glimpse at History

A vision “so old it looked like new.”

Mr. Wilson-Hartgrove opens with these words, and I think they effectively set the stage for this chapter. For most of the chapter he takes us through an admittedly brief history of pivotal monastic movements and the men and women credited with their beginnings. As the stories unfold, they present a picture of separate monastic movements, but common threads. Here are a few of the threads I noted as I read.

  • A desire to align one’s self with the image of Christ and a resolution to seek God. To point to Antony’s example, he responded to Jesus by selling all he had and giving it to the poor. He then sought discipleship, emulating hermits in order to learn the disciplines of godly living. And when he realized his battle with the devil, a battle with temptation stemming from the “power and favors of the Roman Empire”, he retreated to the wilderness seeking God’s help to fight.”
  • Setting a example for living differently and providing a place to pursue that life. Benedict called the monastic community a “school for the Lord’s service”. As the author points out, Benedict’s Rule was summed up in these words, “to pray and to work.”
  • Being counter cultural in the true sense of the word. Each movement was a response to the present state of the world they lived in that was in line with God’s teaching. I believe these words he quotes from Kelly Johnson stand as a good example of this. Speaking of Francis, she writes, “Francis’s poverty, from the beginning, was about publicly calling for gifts which reveal Christ’s church. The metaphor for religious life had shifted from a renunciation of war that witnesses to Christ’s peace toward a renunciation of profit-taking that witnesses to Christ’s plenty.”
  • Principles for godly life and community. To this end, there are two lists he gives that I fully intend to mark and return to in the future. First, as regarded the Anabaptists, they were “calling for… voluntary membership in community, a common way of life, the disciplined pursuit of holiness, and leaders elected by the community.” And in another list he draws from the slave church of the Christian South, he says of black Christians that they “founded an underground community in which holiness was stressed, citizenship in heaven defined allegiance, economic sharing and hospitality were practiced, and church was understood to be “first family”, where God alone is Father.”

In the end, I agree with the author that this is humbling. We cannot pretend that this is something new, or something that we’ve done. It is a common pursuit shared with many who have gone before us using the blueprint of Christ’s teachings and his life. The result of a life that lives out the great commandments to love God and love others, and the life that recognizes its need for God and others.

Thoughts?

-Kirk

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