Thursday, June 25, 2015

Benedict - Organizer of Monks

Benedict of Nursa was a key figure in the history of western monasticism. And the key question that must be asked is was this a good thing? Monasticism had been around for some time before Benedict's days. And it had gone to various extremes, people sitting on poles and living in caves in the desert. It represented too extreme an idea of Christians escaping from the world. But it also stood in contrast to the generality of professed Christianity of the day which was conformed to the world. Therefore while monasticism attracted its share of narrow, trenchant legalists, it also attracted those who seriously wanted to serve God. As a result, though it often degenerated into self-righteousness, it also did a large degree of good. It helped those in need, preserved learning and offered some (though not always the correct) view of what serious Christianity looks like. And while I would advocate a church structure that lays somewhere between the reclusive monk and the conformed cultural church, the existence of monks in that context may have been on the balance a good thing, even if a a qualified one.

In this context Benedict was a good influence in working for balance and moderation among the monks. He tried to balance the spiritual and the intellectual and the practical. He required prayer and singing and reading of Scripture and meditation, but he also required manual labor and work to help others. He changed the emphasis from that of hermits living in total solitude avoiding all contact with others, to that of brothers living in community helping each other and others. Monasticism was never a perfect institution and many times when down the wrong path. But Benedict by pursuing a more balanced path helped to preserve what was good in it and helped it to maintain a more helpful and even-handed approach to life.     

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