Saturday, June 20, 2009

Monastic Christianity

These missionaries were monks as well as preachers. The Christians of those days considered the monastic life to be the highest. In the early days of the Church, when the world was full of vice and cruelty, it seemed hardly possible to live in the world without being dragged down to its wickedness. Men and women, therefore, who wished to keep themselves pure, withdrew to hermitages or monasteries, where they might be removed from temptation, and might fit themselves for heaven by prayer and fasting. In the fifth century Benedict of Nursia had organised in Italy a system of life for the monastery which he governed, and the Benedictine rule, as it was called, was soon accepted in almost all the monasteries of Western Europe. The special feature of this rule was that it encouraged labour as well as prayer. It was a saying of Benedict himself that 'to labour is to pray.' He did not mean that labour was good in itself, but that monks who worked during some hours of the day would guard their minds against evil thoughts better than if they tried to pray all day long. Augustine and his companions were Benedictine monks, and their quietness and contentedness attracted the population amidst which they had settled. The religion of the heathen English was a religion which favoured bravery and endurance, counting the warrior who slaughtered most enemies as most highly favoured by the gods.

The religion of Augustine was one of peace and self-denial. Its symbol was the cross, to be borne in the heart of the believer. The message brought by Augustine was very hard to learn. If Augustine had expected the whole English population to forsake entirely its evil ways and to walk in paths of peace, he would probably have been rejected at once. It was perhaps because he was a monk that he did not expect so much. A monk was accustomed to judge laymen by a lower standard of self-denial than that by which he judged himself. He would, therefore, not ask too much of the new converts. They must forsake the heathen temples and sacrifices, and must give up some particularly evil habits. The rest must be left to time and the example of the monks.

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