Friday, September 21, 2018

The West That Could Have Been, Part 4: Monasteries as Leading Cultural Centers

At times some of the monks living together in the same community dwelt in solitude, while others lived in small groups of two or three, alternating periods of solitude with periods of communal life (liturgical prayer, meals, and spiritual instruction) under the spiritual guidance of the monastery’s elder. Others lived in succession within the different forms of monastic life, moving from coenobitism to eremitc life and back. Such were St. Elias the Younger, St. Vitalius of Castronovo, and St. Nilus the Younger. There were generally no fixed rules governing the details of daily life. The community was centered around their elder, who often lived apart.

While during the ninth century the level of education among the monastics was not high, this gradually changed in the tenth century. Monks then began to study and copy various manuscripts, among which were liturgical and scriptural texts, Greek patristic works (such as those of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and St. Theodore the Studite), and the Lives of various saints of the East. Few of their written commentaries were local in origin; most were the works of the Holy Fathers. However, by the end of the tenth century an abundance of hagiographical material, as well as hymnography, began to appear.

The Italo-Greek monastics played an important part in both the civil and ecclesiastical life of that era. They had a great rapport with the local people, who would come to them for prayers, blessings, counsel, and other kinds of help. This in turn gave them great freedom in dealing with both civil and Church authorities, who as a result interfered little with the life of the monasteries. Rather, bishops and civil leaders often came to the monastics for spiritual guidance. The monks also exercised a prophetic role in dealing with secular authorities, admonishing them for wrongs committed and defending those wrongfully accused or excessively punished by them.

Finally, the coenobitic monks greatly affected their immediate environment by their assistance in the formation of rural settlements and communities. This occurred when monastic communities began to clear the land around their monasteries to make it arable. By cultivating the land they not only provided their own sustenance but attracted the local peasants, who helped them in their work and eventually settled nearby. The land became more productive and drew other local people, and so previously uninhabited areas became settled. A movement of this type was repeated in Northern Russia from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries.

--Saint Herman Calendar 2007: Saints of Southern Italy, Platina, Cal.,


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

No comments:

Post a Comment