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Monasticismin the Middle Ages2016-12-22

Monasticism is a way of life. It imposed rigors and privations but offered spiritual purpose and a better hope of salvation.

The concept of withdrawal from society is essential to the Christian tradition of monasticism, a term that derives from the Greek word monachos, which means a solitary person.

People in the Middle Ages had a strong sense they were to love God not just with their minds but also with their bodies. By disciplining the body and its passions, they believed they disciplined their souls, pleased God, and prepared themselves to receive grace.

They believed the truly Christian life involves a certain measure of self-denial, which includes the mortification of the flesh. They believed that their sinfulness lies not only in wills but also in passions. So you have to bring your whole bodily regimen in line with Christ.

In western Europe, some monks and nuns settled far from cities and towns, seeking lives of devotion and self-denial in inhospitable or fortified locations, but other communities flourished in populous places, where they might withdraw from the world in spirit and yet remain nearby to offer instruction and guidance.

Monks and nuns thus worked to secure their own salvation, but also through prayer to seek the salvation of others. They performed many practical services in the Middle Ages, for they housed travelers, nursed the sick, and assisted the poor; abbots and abbesses dispensed advice to secular rulers.                                                                                             

Monasticism also exercised a powerful influence on society, culture, and art and was one of medieval Christianity’s most vigorous institutions. It offered society a spiritual outlet and ideal with important consequences for medieval culture as a whole.

Monastic life appealed to many in the Middle Ages, and as the number and wealth of monasteries increased, so did demand for buildings, books, and devotional objects. Monasteries encouraged literacy, promoted learning, and preserved the classics of ancient literature. To beautify the celebration of the liturgy, monastic composers enriched the scope and sophistication of choral music, and to create the best environment for devotion, monasticism developed a close and fruitful partnership with the visual arts. The need for books and buildings made religious houses active patrons of the arts, and the monastic obligation to perform manual work allowed many monks and nuns to serve God as creative artists.

Although it seemed that people under monasticism were restrained by rules in many ways, their spiritual life actually improved, for the monasticism did promoted the development of culture.


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