On Monasticism and New Monasticism.ii

This is a response to Brenton and his post “On Monasticism and New Monasticism”

I don’t really want to “critique” your post, more than I would like to be in discussion with you! You obviously have a different perspective on the movement and, frankly, I would like to learn more about these European and Canadian streams you mentioned.

If we were to dispute anything, it would be monasticism without celibacy. Since I grew up in the Reformed tradition, I am looking at monasticism from the outside. In my bias, I have had to work away from a very – very – negative conception of it. I, and most reformed thinkers, see the solitary Medieval monk in a black robe denying himself every conceivable blessing from God, because he thinks his works will make him holier. The criticism of monasticism is its asceticism, particularly the abstinence of celibacy. This asceticism – although I prefer sacrifices of certain blessings – are inseparable from monasticism. How could there possibly be monasticism without celibacy? When you take that away, you suddenly move away from a vocation bound up with communal and silent tasks to a Christian still in need of picking a vocation

To put it in crass, secular terms, being a monk is a job for those interested. Part of that preparation is celibacy, another part is the dedication to silence and a skill (basket-weaving, gardening, book-binding, healing, beer-brewing, and, the king of all, writing). If this is not true, but is simply what I wish it was, then so be it. This is how I wish monasticism would be. Even that – a vision for what monasticism should be – is part of the monastic nature; thus the movements in its history. At the core, however, I think the vocation remains the same, because there are patterns which repeat themselves; silence, community, poverty, etc.

I think the identity – and attraction, even – of monasticism is its specificity. It is for people who are: alone, silent, scheduled, prayerful, artful, poor, communistic (as set apart from a community-orientation; a possible side discussion is that monasteries are the only place where distributism actually works), simple, intellectual, studious, subservient, and locked (in place, to a building, to a town).

Yes, some of these aspects intersect with the calling of the broader Christian. Other aspects – and the ones which make monasticism a stand-alone calling, are incompatible with some blessings that the universal Christian can take (marriage, children, loud noises).

For another example, where a monastery is (generally) more capable of having visitors and keeping them, it is (usually) inappropriate for a Christian family to take in strangers. At least the moms think so. Monasteries and monks are there for the world, not for the family. The monastery is a family; the monks brothers. Marriage does not fit in this and the dutiful protection of the family certainly does not.

I recognize that this is not really a “systematic” response, but I prefer a conversational tone if you do.

God bless.


  • Nice to be able to read your follow up reactions to Brenton’s recent post… There is also the consideration that some people who choose this life (I don’t use the word “called” in this context, since it isn’t God’s voice) do so for misbegotten reasons. These are few, fortunately, but from my personal observation, this travesty still occurs today. I’d be interested in reading a copy of your paper on monasticism…


    • Hey, thanks for following this thread of conversation. The paper…hm…unfortunately, the paper was written in my formative years. And while I might still be in my formative years, three years has made a grand difference in how I understand this subject (and how I understand the world). I do, however, appreciate your interest!

      What do you do? Where do you come from?


      • I’m a retired USAF chaplain, an LCMS pastor, a husband of one wife (per the New Testament) and a grandfather of eight.

        I understand what you mean about three years of maturing at your young age. When you’re a grandfather, three years will pass by as quickly as three months does for you now.


        • I still think three years is formative, though I’m in between these stages.
          I presume that Monk & Monastery come from “Monos,” meaning “one.” So loneliness or withdrawing from community is essential. Yet monks find themselves one together. I think what neo-monastic movements betray is the asceticism, though some are celibate or take vows of poverty, or other temporary ascetic disciplines. But I think the idea of monasticism has enough elasticity to grow as a concept, from withdrawal from the world for prayer and holiness, to communal life, to education and cultural formation, to contemporary spiritual or aesthetic formation. Maybe we need a new concept, but I suspect people will transform this concept into new ways, rather than launching something completely new.
          You should also see the footnote Rob gives to my blog.


          • Yes, the ancient monks withdrew from the cities, but I think that absolute isolation (i.e. eremitic monasticism) is only healthy “for a season.” I think most ancient monks recognized that, resulting in the development of cenobitic (community) monasticism. You get the “best” of both worlds, the separation from the world and the fellowship of the saints. You can (in most contexts) still withdraw temporarily to solitude if you are led, but it protects people from the dangers of isolation. It was God himself, of course, who said “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18, ESV).

            And yes, many changes and much growth can occur over a single triennium.


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