It’s all very well to talk about monasticism as something we COULD learn from today. But is anyone ACTUALLY learning? Short answer: Yes. This is the last clip I’ll post from the monasticism chapter of my Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis:
For much of this chapter, I have been treating modern appropriation of monasticism as a “What if?” The truth is, however, that despite the plunging statistics in traditional Roman Catholic monasticism in the West, recent decades have seen a renewed and widespread interest in adapting parts of the medieval monastic heritage for modern use.
Do the spiritual resources of the monastic tradition have anything to offer to the person who has made commitments to spouse and family, or is pursuing a secular vocation—or someone who simply does not desire, or does not sense God’s call—to make the lifelong vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience required of monastics? History gives a resounding “yes.” After all, monasticism was never intended to encompass a different set of spiritual values than those followed by all Christians. It offered a means of living the Christian life with more single-minded intensity.
For nearly a millennium, there have been people (one might call them “monastic groupies”) who have connected themselves to a monastery in a less formal way, dedicating themselves to certain spiritual disciplines while remaining in the world. Continue reading
Though the following is a critical review, I want to be clear: I am deeply sympathetic with the aims and perspectives of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I just think we need to be historically responsible when we compare new and old movements.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, “A Vision So Old It Looks New” in Monasticism Old and New (Christian Reflection, Baylor University, 2010 issue)
This article was adapted from Wilson-Hartgrove’s book New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008).
In his introduction to this issue of Christian Reflection, Robert Kruschwitz summarizes this article : “In A Vision So Old It Looks New (p. 11), Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove explores how monasticism over the centuries has offered a powerful critique of mainstream culture. Tracing its origins from Antony and the fourth-century desert Christians, through the medieval monasteries inspired by Benedict of Nursia, to the intentional communities of radical Protestant Reformers, he shows, ‘In every era God has raised up new monastics to pledge their allegiance to God alone and remind the church of its true vocation’” (8).
Wilson-Hartgrove opens the article: “It is hard to be a Christian in America today. . . . The church in America is not living up to what it claims to be. Somehow we have lost our way.” (11) Especially he gives examples of behavior: spousal abuse, racism, hypocrisy in areas of sexuality. We ain’t that different from secular society, or sometimes worse, in many of those areas. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged African-American Christianity, Antony of Egypt, Benedict of Nursia, Benedictinism, church and state, communal life, Constantine, Constantinianization, Council of Nicea, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Martin Luther, Medieval, medievalism, Middle Ages, monasticism, new monasticism, prophetic life, radical Christianity, slavery
National Catholic Reporter writer Tom Roberts has been doing an extended series (23 articles and counting) called “In Search of the Emerging Church.” Articles touch on Shane Claiborne and the new monasticism, Eucharistic communities, Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation and Action in Albuquerque, NM, and much more.
In his co-written book Inhabiting the Church, New Monastic pioneer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove began to reflect on what Benedictine monasticism can teach us today. Now he has dedicated an entire book to the Benedictine virtue of stability. Pennsylvania bookstore Hearts & Minds has posted an intriguing review of the book. A brief excerpt follows (click the link above for the whole review):
Lauren Winner writes on the back cover “Stability may be the virtue of the 21-st century Christians most ignore—and the virtue we are most called to embrace. This fine book will inspire you to look at your own life, asking ‘Where am I restless? Where might God be calling me to be rooted, to stay put?'”
Indeed, most of us have failed in this virtue; we have not cared for our neighbors (or our own neighborhoods) as we ought. We have not been rooted in place, or really engaged with the people and plot of creation in which we are placed. We have been too busy to participate in the simpler rhythms of life.
My, how time flies. (In the words of the immortal Groucho Marx: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” But then again, in the words of the immortal Douglas Adams: “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.”) Last May my Patron Saints for Postmoderns was not yet published, I was hoping against hope that my book proposal Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants [maybe Medieval Wisdom for Today’s Christians?] would be accepted by a publisher, and I was posting a blog entry over at Christianity Today’s history blog eagerly anticipating my first Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
Now Patron Saints has been out for many months, Medieval Wisdom is due to the publishers (Baker Books) next December, and the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo is again just around the corner as May approaches. Here’s my CT blog post from last year anticipating my first Congress:
The Monks Did It
If we move beyond a piecemeal approach to medieval Christianity, we can mine the rich vein of its spiritual, intellectual, and practical resources.
by Chris Armstrong
This weekend I am attending the 44th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. This is the largest and most prestigious international gathering for medievalist scholars, convening over 3,000 scholars in over 600 sessions of papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, and performances.
Frankly, though I am no medievalist, just thinking about being there is making me drool.
What’s an American church history geek doing attending a meeting that will feature hundreds of highly technical papers in a field I hardly know, based on texts in languages I’ve never learned – Latin, Old English, Old Norse? Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged Benedict of Nursia, C S Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy L Sayers, evangelicalism, G K Chesterton, J R R Tolkien, Marion Wade Center, Medieval, Middle Ages, monasticism, new monasticism, The Lord of the Rings, Tradition, Wheaton College
While the pundits and wallahs have not yet identified it as a full-blown trend, slowly but surely evangelicals are reconnecting with their medieval past. The reconnection with the early church can certainly be called a trend. But for those adventurous souls who wonder whether God really abandoned the church at the beginning of the medieval millennium (roughly 500 – 1500), to return only with Martin Luther, there are more and more books on the market exploring facets of the faith of the Middle Ages. Here are a few.
(Note: Amazon sales rankings are from a month or two ago; as I know from my days as a bookseller on Amazon Marketplace, any Amazon ranking in the five digits is selling briskly. Even those in the low six digits are selling at a reasonably good pace).
–Leighton Ford, Divine Intervention: Encountering God Through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina, sings the praises of monastic spirituality (Amazon sales rank #45,000) Continue reading
In a 2007 issue of Christian History & Biography dedicated to Benedict and Western monasticism, I contributed the following piece:
Christians struggling for sanctity in a too-comfortable world should pay attention to this observation by Mark Noll: “For over a millennium, in the centuries between the reign of Constantine and the Protestant Reformation, almost everything in the church that approached the highest, noblest, and truest ideals of the gospel was done either by those who had chosen the monastic way or by those who had been inspired in their Christian life by the monks.” Can Western monasticism’s “father,” Benedict, still give us an antidote to cultural compromise?
At first blush, this might seem unlikely, at least in the Western church. Between 1978 and 2004—nearly the entire span of John Paul II’s pontificate—the number of men in monastic and religious orders (not including priests) decreased by 46% in Europe and 30% in the Americas, while the number of women decreased by 39% and 27%, respectively. Compare this to the trend in the global South: During the same period, men in monastic and religious orders increased by 48% in Africa and 39% in Asia, with women increasing on those two continents by 62% and 64%.
A number of the Catholic writers in the 2006 volume A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century frankly wonder if “monasticism as we know it” is, in God’s providential plan, destined for obsolescence in the West. Yet most suggest that new and powerful forms of the monastic impulse may even now be arising.
This is certainly the impression given by the 21st annual Monastic Institute, held in July 2006 at St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota. There, Catholic Benedictines and members of established communities such as L’Arche and the Catholic Worker Movement joined with leaders of new Protestant communities with names like the Simple Way (Pennsylvania), Rutba House (North Carolina), and the Church of the Servant King (Oregon) to mine the riches of Benedict’s Rule. This strikingly diverse group—50% Catholic, 50% Protestant—discussed the topic of “new communities” with high hopes that, indeed, God is still in the monastic impulse. Continue reading
The contemplative life in some way resembles the life of quasi-monastic scholarship lived by the dons of Oxford University. Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams taught there, and Sayers attended there and returned there repeatedly in her imagination. There is a culture there of, if not strict asceticism, then at least a communal life focused on the contemplation of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, through the study of texts and the mutual admonition and edification of minds and spirits brought together in a sort of quasi-Benedictine life of stability. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged America, asceticism, Benedict of Nursia, C S Lewis, Charles Williams, community, consumerism, contemplation, Dorothy L Sayers, individualism, J R R Tolkien, mobility, monasticism, new monasticism, Oxford University, stability