Yesterday, a new (and hopefully returning) commenter, Michele remarked on an older post in which I was reading some theologically inspired economic ideas which originated with one Chad Myers. I disagreed strongly with these ideas. Michele offers:

I wanted to mention New Monasticism: is my understanding that Chad Myers is read by many people involved in this. Whatever Chad Myers is pushing for, it seems to have had a good outcome. These new monastics are out there taking the commandments of Christ to help the poor and share with each other. They are a fine group of people. There are a lot of singles in these groups as well. They may marry later, but I’m really impressed with what they are doing. Many people spend their 20’s trying to find spouses and building their careers. This is on the back burner for many of these people.

Before I begin my short remarks on this, I want to make clear that the web site above does not give very much detail (that I could find) of the actual details of how the new monasticism movement described above conforms. It may be that the assumptions that go into the remarks I make below are entirely wrong-footed and based on incorrect assumptions. Yet, Michele sought my comments and my opinion … so here goes. (below the fold)

Monasticism began in the first three centuries after Jesus resurrection and then got a big boost when Constantine ended the persecution of Christians. Very quickly, I suspect, there came to be two real threads of monasticism, in part driven by social and economic conditions in the time period. Medical and social conditions then were very different, which had social implications. Most women died in childbirth, virtually every family had one or more children die in infancy. St. Gregory of Nyssa, a married man, wrote one of the strongest argument for celibacy, in a large part basing that argument on the heartbreak that comes of burying your beloved spouse and your children. Celibacy as a “career option” for women arose with the monastic movement and had in part an attraction by virtue of the promise of avoiding the risk of childbirth. Furthermore communities of celibate monks (women) found a calling raising orphans as well providing a place and sanctuary for widows. These communities served as orphanages (as I mentioned) and also engaged in hospice and other palliative (and what little effective medical) care as well.

A second sort of monastic calling arose, which in part was later paralleled by the reformation movement in the West. Namely there arose a calling for a more spiritually directed monasticism. St. Athanasius and the other desert monastics came to represent and exemplify this movement. In a way it was a great experiment, a sort of Manhattan project of late antiquity. Men (and some women) in small (celibate) communities and in solitary sought and experimented to find the best methods to turn their hearts to God, to experience Him, and to as close to what they perceived and came to understand was the ideals as exemplified in Christian Scripture and traditions. St. John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent is an excellent summary of the results of this great experiment. I might add,  in a class I’m currently taking on Orthodox spirituality, we just finished our reading of the Ladder. Our teacher remarked that in the Greek (and it shows some in the translation) St. John’s facility with language and his insight in to the human condition can draw parallels to Shakespeare.

Returning to the New Monasticism movement, the second sort of monastic effort, as described above is one which does not express itself primarily as in charity. Charity in the Orthodox tradition is a non-monastic virtue, for you have to have possessions in order to be able to give. Monastics (of the second sort noted above) virtually universally began with a complete vow of poverty (there were some historical digressions from that tradition). In the older monastic traditions, celibacy, obedience, confession, apatheia, and liturgical participation were among the key elements that were found essential in monastic life. In my perusal of the web cite noted by Michelle above and her short description it seems that this new (protestant) monastic movement seems more akin to the first monastic tradition noted above. That is not to say this isn’t a salutatory choice or something that should not be regarded as anything but praiseworthy. Yet I would hope that this movement … just as the earlier one did … might lead the protestants back to the seeking a path to the second sort of monasticism as well.

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.OrthodoxProtestantismReligion

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