Technically, monasticism embraces both the life of the hermit, characterized by varying degrees of extreme solitude, and the life of the cenobite, that is, the monk living in a community offering a limited amount of solitude. Monasticism always entails ASCETICISM, or the practice of disciplined self-denial. This asceticism may include fasting, silence, a prohibition against personal ownership, and an acceptance of bodily discomfort. Almost always it includes poverty, celibacy, and obedience to a spiritual leader. The goal of such practices is usually a more intense relationship with God, some type of personal enlightenment, or the service of God through prayer, meditation, or good works such as teaching or nursing.
Christian monasticism began in the deserts of Egypt and Syria in the 4th century AD. Saint ANTHONY the Great was connected with the first Egyptian hermits; Saint Pachomius (d. 346), with the first communities of cenobites in Egypt. Saint BASIL THE GREAT (fl. 379), bishop of Caesarea, placed monasticism in an urban context by introducing charitable service as a work discipline.
The organization of western monasticism is due primarily to Saint BENEDICT of Nursia (6th century), whose Benedictine rule formed the basis of life in most monastic communities until the 12th century (see BENEDICTINES). Among the principal monastic orders that evolved in the Middle Ages were the CARTHUSIANS in the 11th century and the CISTERCIANS in the 12th; the mendicant orders, or friars--DOMINICANS, FRANCISCANS, and CARMELITES--arose in the 13th century.
Monasticism has flourished both in the Roman Catholic church and in the Eastern Orthodox churches from earliest Christian times to the present, being reformed and renewed periodically by dynamic individuals with new emphases or departures from current practice. Although Protestantism rejected monasticism in the 16th century, the Anglican church since the 19th century has sponsored a number of monastic orders. In its present-day form, Christian monasticism is often adapted to the cultures or settings where it is located. Buddhist monks, for their part, continue to play an important social as well as religious role in contemporary Southeast Asia and Japan. CYPRIAN DAVIS, O.S.B.
Bibliography: Biot, Francois, The Rise of Protestant Monasticism (1961; Eng. trans., 1963); Dumoulin, Heinrich, and Maraldo, John C., eds., Buddhism in the Modern World (1976); Knowles, David, Christian Monasticism (1969); Leclereq, Jean, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, trans. by Catherine Misrahi (1961; rev. ed., 1977); Merton, Thomas, The Monastic Journey, ed. by Patrick Hart (1977), and The
Silent Life (1975); Miller, David M., and Wertz, Dorothy C., Hindu Monastic Life (1976); Nishimura, Eshin, and Sato, Giei, Unsul: A Diary of Zen Monastic Life (1973); Pennington, M. Basil, ed., One Yet Two: Monastic Tradition East and West (1976); Trimingham, J. S., The Sufi Orders in Islam (1971); Workman, H. B., The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (1913; repr. 1962).