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The "idea of monasticism" invites a misconception, because monasticism is not an idea but a practice. It is a discipline of life, encapsulated in a vow to obey a rule. Monasticism is not a theory about the good life, and still less an escape from practicality, but rather a commitment to live according to a rule handed down from a founder. In its classical Western form deriving from St. Benedict (c. 480547), a rule directs a monastic to spend a lifetime in one cloister under one abbot following one routine. This secluded way of life begets institutions, some of them highly complex, and these in turn nurture the kind of inner life that in the early twenty-first century is called "spirituality." Monastic orthopraxy regulates behavior through conformity to a rule, and contrasts with doctrinal orthodoxy that regulates belief through a magisterium or teaching office. Implausible though it may seem, a rule shields monastics from obsession with theorizing. Day in and day out, monastics live an ethos that others may merely preach. To this extent Christian monasticism resembles Rabbinic Judaism. Both pivot on obeying rules, and both tend to disregard niceties of belief. A crucial difference pertains, however. Whereas Jews affirm that the mandates of Torah come from God, Christians acknowledge that any rule comes from a human lawgiver.


As a mode of life that vows obedience to a rule, monasticism originated not in the Near East but in India with Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha (c. 563c. 483 b.c.e.). His rule or vinaya governed conduct of life initially for the Buddha's community or sangha of immediate followers. Nine months of the year they wandered, but during the three months of the monsoon they settled in a vihara or monastery. Eventually the Buddha delivered a separate rule for women. Parallel phenomena coexisted within Jainism and Hinduism. Christian monasticism emerged six or seven centuries later in the deserts of the Eastern Mediterranean. Although Rabbinic Judaism (together with Islam) repudiates asceticism, Jewish precedents for Christian extremism emerged in a wanderer such as John the Baptist (c. 7 b.c.e.c. 27 c.e.) or in the Qumran community. Christian ascetics of whom little is known roved the deserts of Syria and Egypt. The lifestyle of these spiritual "athletes" crystallized in figures such as Anthony of Egypt (c. 251356) and Pachomius (c.290346). Experience as a soldier equipped Pachomius to write a rule for, as it were, an army-camp of ascetics. By mid-fourth century in Egypt, hermits living alone or in loose groups practiced eremitical monasticism, while desert fathers and mothers living in community practiced cenobitical monasticism. The head of a consecrated community was called an abba (father) or amma (mother). From the start monks were copying manuscripts, as they would continue to do for the next twelve centuries. Eastern desert monasticism passed to France through fourth-century intermediaries such as Martin of Tours (c. 316400), Hilary of Poitiers (401449), and above all John Cassian of Marseilles (360435). Epitomized in the disputed figure of St. Patrick (c. 385461), an Englishman who may have dwelt at Cassian's houses near Marseilles, Irish monasticism emerged in the mid-fifth century through contact with France. In sixth-and seventh-century Ireland, an island that had never known Roman cities, an abbot ruled as a kind of tribal chieftain who outranked bishops. No amount of asceticism could, however, prevent Celtic monasticism from collapsing in the Viking raids of the ninth century.

By 450, Eastern Christian monasticism was coalescing not just in the desert but also in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople, while its Western counterpart kept spreading in self-sufficient rural communities. Monastics lived in an enclosure or cloister that fenced a church, a refectory, a library, dormitories, and subsistence farming. Monasticism produced vastly more varieties in Western Europe than anywhere else. Proliferation of typesnotably during two periods, one from 1100 to 1250 and the other from 1520 to 1700complicates the task of classifying Western monasticism. Fundamental differences separate cloistered orders who, at least until the thirteenth century, preferred to dwell in the country and Mendicant friars who, in the wake of St. Francis of Assisi (11821226), frequented cities and towns preaching and begging for alms. Stemming from the Black Monks, who only in the seventeenth century acquired the name of Benedictines, other rural orders were the Carthusians (founded 1084) and the Cistercians (founded 1098). Following the example of the Franciscan friars (organized 1209), thirteenth-century Mendicants came to include three other orders: the Dominicans (organized 1215), who preached against heresy; the Carmelites (organized by the pope in 1247) who originated as hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine; and the Augustinian Friars (organized by the pope in 1256), whose most famous member was Martin Luther (14831546). Whereas the pre-1200 Benedictines had cultivated son-to-father obedience to an abbot, Mendicants cultivated sibling-to-sibling relations to one another. Excelling all these in martial vigor were the warrior monks of Crusader Palestine, including the Knights Templar (who emerged c. 1119 and were dissolved in 1312) and the Knights Hospitaller (who emerged c. 1080 and in 1530 took the name Knights of Malta).

A second crucial distinction differentiates contemplative orders founded before 1215 from post-Reformation active orders and congregations such as the Jesuits (founded 1540) or Oratorians (founded 1575). The latter comprise not monastics but clerks regular: priests who follow a rule while ministering in the world. Having no lay brothers, the Jesuits and Oratorians are not monastics, and neither are the numerous post-1520 female teaching or nursing congregations such as the Ursulines (founded 1535) or Sisters of Charity (founded 1633). Nevertheless, from 1298 until the early 1970s, canon law obliged women's congregations in solemn vows to stay cloistered.

A third distinction pertains to Eastern and Western Christianity. In contrast to Western organizational fecundity, Eastern Christian monasticism functions under just one rule: that ascribed to St. Basil the Great (329379). As a result, Eastern Christian monasticism has upheld one model through sixteen centuries, while Western monasticism has initiated reforms in nearly every generation. To be sure, monastic reform means not launching a fresh departure but rather attempting to install a better version of the past. In Western Christianity the idea of monasticism implies constant renewal in quest of a founder's vision or "source experience."

Buddhist monasticism differs structurally from Christian or Hindu forms. When the Buddha founded his religion, he conceived it solely as a monasticism. Lay Buddhism emerged after his lifetime and in Asia still presupposes proximity to a sangha. In Christianity and Hinduism, by way of contrast, monasticism competes with many other embodiments of the religion. This means that at least until the late twentieth century, classification of types of Buddhist monasticism amounts to classification of the religion as a whole, whereas classification of Christian monasticism does not. Three major types of Buddhism stand out: (1) In Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, Theravada or the "Way of the Elders" claims to descend directly from the historical Buddha. It offers to individual monastics rules for working out during this or later lifetimes gradual passage to enlightenment. (2) In India and then in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, Mahayana emerged at least six to eight centuries after the historical Buddha, and the first three of those countries generated numerous schools of thought and practice, each with its own ritual, texts, and lineage of masters. Some schools promised enlightenment to laypeople and not just to monastics, while innovative "pure land" leaders in Japan such as Shinran (11731262) discarded monasticism. (3) Starting in the eighth century, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana fostered many sects or schools in Northern India, Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia. Under the leadership of the present Dalai Lama (1935), leader of the Gelukpa school, Tibetan Buddhism has spread throughout the world. Many non-Buddhists in the early twenty-first century mistakenly regard Tibetan forms as synonymous with Buddhism per se. This misperception overlooks the dozens of schools of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana that thrive throughout Asia and increasingly in the West.

Twentieth-Century Changes

Asian Buddhism enforces the vinaya strictly, not least because that is what the historical Buddha did. In order to promote meditation, traditional Asian Buddhism imposes a life of renunciationincluding dietary restrictions, memorization of texts, and attendance at ceremonieswith a stringency that Western adepts often evade. In consequence monastic rigor is diminishing among new Buddhists in North America, Europe, and Australia. Many so-called Western Buddhists appear intent to de-monasticize their religion. As a countertrend, since the 1960s Buddhist and Christian monastics have delighted in comparing their ways of life. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton (19151968) and the Dalai Lama helped to initiate joint scholarly meetings and other intermonastic encounters.

In Eastern Christianity, monastics retain authority not least because most bishops come from their ranks. Moreover, liturgies remain quintessentially monastic through use of chant, an unhurried pace, and lay adherence to monastic rules for fasting. Characteristically, Eastern Christianity boasts a "monastic republic" of male monasteries on the Holy Mountain of Athosthe easternmost arm of the Chalcidice Peninsula in northeastern Greece. In order to uphold an autonomy that excludes women, the Holy Mountain enjoys exemption from laws of Greece and of the European Community. No Western monastic siteand least of all the rebuilt Monte Cassino south of Romeso resoundingly epitomizes the idea of Western monasticism as Mount Athos does for the Eastern idea. As the English classicist Graham Speake explains, that idea entails a process of inner transformation known as theosis, whereby the image of God nurtured in each adept gradually transfigures, indeed divinizes him or her, in body, mind, and spirit.

The prestige of Western monasticism once stood equally high. The period of medieval history from 700 to 1050 is frequently labeled the "Monastic Era," and the reforms inaugurated by monastic popes such as Gregory VII (10201085; ruled as pope 10731085) can be viewed as having imposed on all priests the practice of celibacy previously reserved to monastics. Needless to say, Roman Catholic monastics no longer command such attention. To be sure, in Europe pilgrimages to monastic centers such as Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain or the shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa in southern Poland draw hundreds of thousands, as do celebrations for youth sponsored by the ecumenical monastery of Taizé, founded in Burgundy during the 1940s. Nevertheless, apart from pilgrimages, the institutions of contemplative monasticism engage only a tiny minority of Western Christians, while the spirituality that developed there wins ever-greater admiration.

Meanwhile, gender studies has transformed the understanding of the idea of monasticism. This scholarly revolution can make it embarrassing to read master historians such as the Benedictines' David Knowles (18961974) or Jean Leclercq (19111993), who too often wrote as though all monastics were male. Since the 1970s researchers have reclaimed phenomena as diverse as the Desert Mothers of fourth-century Egypt, double houses of male and female monastics in twelfth-century France and England, and the rather widespread acknowledgement before 1100 of the spiritual equality of women and men. The Benedictine Hildegard of Bingen (10981179) has come to be hailed widely as one of the most original Christian writers ever. Many have come to deplore the pronouncement of Pope Boniface VIII (c. 12351303; ruled as pope 12941303) in 1298 that placed under enclosure all women in solemn vows. The constraint remained in force until the early 1970s. As the American historian Jo Ann Kay McNamara and the English philosopher Grace Jantzen, among others, show, almost everywhere in the West women monastics have proven to be at least as creative as men. At first nearly every branch of Eastern Christianity fostered autonomous houses for women, but many of these communities withered under Islamic occupation. In Theravada Buddhism and in Tibetan Buddhism, by way of contrast, a millennium ago women lost permission to receive the highest ordination as nuns (bhikkuni ), while in Mahayana countries such as China, Japan, and, above all, Korea nuns have held their own.

Monasticism as the Institutional Matrix of Spirituality

During the last decades of the twentieth century, postmodernists began to conflate the idea of monasticism with that of spirituality. The latter word means a process of inner transformation in the presence of God such as Christian monastics pioneered from the fourth century onward. In the twelfth century the Latin word spiritualitas came into use among Cistercians to denote the presence of the Holy Spirit within a monastic. Both the adjective spiritual and the noun mysticism sprouted in seventeenth-century France to describe inner religious experience of monastics and laity alike. But only in the 1920s did Roman Catholic theologians of asceticism adopt the noun spiritualité to denote anyone's experience of the divine within. Although many Eastern Christian monastics hesitate to apply this Latin-derived word to the process of inner re-conditioning that they call theosis (i.e., divinization), no one doubts that it was monastics in East and West who propounded what has come to be called "spirituality." The years of postmodernity of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in the West saw treasures from seventeen centuries of monastic interiority exit the cloister and invade the mainstream of religious publishingfor example, in the series The Classics of Western Spirituality published since the 1970s by the Paulist Press.

What Do We Know about St. Benedict?

A scholarly controversy of utmost delicacy affects interpretation of the reputed founder of Western monasticism, the author of its major rule, St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480547). The words of his Rule have been pondered in thousands of monasteries, and episodes from his life have animated countless paintings and hagiographies. Regrettably, apart from his Rule, all record of St. Benedict and his life comes from a single source, Book II of the Dialogues, supposedly written in 593 by Pope Gregory I (c. 540604; ruled as pope 590604). That account interweaves miracle stories of a rural wonder-worker with tales of the saint's periods of residence at mountain locations in central Italy such as Nursia, Subiaco, and Monte Cassino. Since the sixteenth century, the authenticity of Gregory's authorship of the Dialogues has occasionally been questioned, but never so comprehensively as by Francis Clark in The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues (1987). Clark argues that Benedict's rule appeared only in 655 in Gaul and around 675 in Britain, being acclaimed only after 717 when Monte Cassino began to be built; and that a clerk in the papal archives ("the Dialogist") compiled the Dialogues (first reported to exist in the 680s) and ascribed the document falsely to Gregory I. The Dialogist's "literary patchwork" intersperses miracle legends (some originating after Gregory's death) with eighty genuine Gregorian passages presumably culled from archives in the Lateran Palace. These genuine passages comprise 25 percent of the whole, half of them in Book IV. The Dialogist recounts prodigies of recluses in a legalistic style quite different from Gregory's own. In themes, allusions, and word frequencies, the Dialogues differ from every known work by Gregory. Moreover, the tales glorify many persons, including St. Benedict's sister Scholastica, whom no other text from before 690 so much as mentions. Thus Clark's argument revises the entire account of "Benedictine" monasticism down to the 730s. In his view its true creators were not, as previously believed, monastics at Monte Cassino in the 540s or at the Gregorian papal court of the 590s, but rather Italian and French monastics of the 720s who drew inspiration from the newly available Dialogues. As yet only a few Benedictines have accepted this revision, not least because it demolishes their order's foundational narrative. Cognitive dissonance between the 1300-year-old account and Clark's revision remains too acute, but as Clark's sequel The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism (2003) shows, the tide is beginning to turn. One can no longer affirm the traditional account of how Benedictine monasticism began. All that is known is that a rule ascribed to a certain Benedict had surfaced by the 650s and had begun to establish its preeminence by 720. The idea of Western monasticism no longer enjoys an agreed-upon foundational story. Seldom has a legend accepted for so long dissolved so abruptly. A gigantic task of rethinking looms.

The Dutch literary scholar M. B. Pranger calls into question postmodern infatuation with spirituality by contrasting its eclecticism with the monotony of textual memory within pre-1200 monasteries. The practice of lectio divina invited a monastic to nestle inside a text as if it were a cloister, where the mind encountered memories of other scriptural passages. Across a lifetime of rereading the same texts, a monastic recalled previous acts of remembering, as each act of memory condensed previous ones into an eternal moment. Thus lectio divina called into being a community of monastic reciters of the same texts, above all of the psalms, the Gospels, and the Rule of St. Benedict. Naturally, no medieval author could have imagined the popularity that monastic writings rooted in centuries of lectio divina would attract at the turn of the twenty-first century. Mass marketing undermines the idea of monasticism as a life spent in a reciting community ruminating on a few texts.

Postmodernity has enlarged the community of readers of monastic texts to include nearly everyone who pursues a spiritual quest. Just as Western Buddhists are de-monasticizing the practice of Buddhism, so the "Spirituality Revolution" among Christians in Europe, North America, and Australia is de-monasticizing the legacy of Christian interiority. The very idea of monasticism as lifelong commitment to a rule is being diluted. At a time when texts of monastic origin are read more widely than ever before, consumers of these distillations of the cloistered life probably understand less of the idea of monasticism (i.e., of religious orthopraxy) than ever before. In response to the postmonastic ethos of the early twenty-first century, the idea of spirituality is being de-institutionalized, while texts by monastics are being spiritualized. Scholars such as M.B. Pranger, Marilyn Dunn, Frank Senn, and Kees Waaijman are laboring to re-insert the study of Christian spirituality into a monastic context, where obedience to a rule governs all.

See also Orthodoxy ; Orthopraxy ; Practices ; Sacred Places .


Clark, Francis. The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2003. Updates the controversy and refutes attempted rebuttals of the 1987 work.

. The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues. 2 vols. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1987. Summarized 1:10-30, the argument challenges the authorship of the Dialogues traditionally ascribed to Gregory I. See sidebar.

Dunn, Marilyn. The Emergence of Monasticism: From the Desert Fathers to the Early Middle Ages. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Covers East and West to c. 650.

Jantzen, Grace. Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Reconceptualizes methodologies for interpreting male and female monastic mystics.

Johnston, William M., ed. Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. More than 500 articles on Buddhist and Christian monasticism of all periods and places with bibliographies. Whalen Lai's twelve articles abound in comparisons.

Kardong, Terrence, OSB. "Who Wrote the Dialogues of Saint Gregory? A Report on a Controversy." Cistercian Studies Quarterly 39:1 (2004): 3139. Endorses Francis Clark's conclusions and acknowledges the Rule as our sole source of knowledge about Benedict.

McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. Compares male and female Christian monastics in depth with massive bibliography.

Mitchell, Donald W., and James A. Wiseman, OSB, eds. The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Christian Monastics. New York: Continuum, 1998. Judicious essays by twenty-four authors on a wide range of issues.

Pranger, M.B. The Artificiality of Christianity: Essays on the Poetics of Monasticism. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003. Exhilarating reassessment of modes of reading and remembering among Western Christian monastics to 1700.

Senn, Frank C. Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997. Delineates Western monastic liturgies in chapters 47, 1618.

Speake, Graham. Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. Superbly illustrated volume evokes Orthodox monasticism's archetypal site.

Waaijman, Kees. Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods. Translated by John Vriend. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2002. Reconfigures methodology in light of dozens of case studies of Christian monastics.

William M. Johnston

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“Monasticism” is derived from the Greek word for “alone.” Words like the Latin monachus (“monk”) were first used to describe men who lived alone—hermits, solitaries who lived apart for the sake of God or a prayerful life. By a simple extension of meaning the word was applied to communities of monks (or of nuns) who retired within enclosures to separate themselves from other men for the purpose of seeking quiet for simple devotion and contemplation.

Monasteries are groups of men or women pursuing a religious ideal in retirement from society. The religious ideal pursued may differ between one religion and another. But in all the higher religions, examples are found of men or women retiring from society to contemplate truth and strive for purity of heart. The strains and noise of the world are believed to prevent the soul from concentrating upon the good: it must draw apart to direct its attention and eschew every distraction. A universally accepted condition of this withdrawal has been celibacy, freeing the individual from the distractions of physical passions and the ties of family life. Another has been poverty, freeing the soul from concern for material possessions. When the withdrawal is to a community rather than to a hermitage, obedience to a superior is considered an important exercise in destroying selfwill. In Roman Catholic monasticism the monk or nun takes a threefold vow of chastity, poverty, and obedience. In other religions there are rarely vows, but the threefold intention is almost universal.

The origin of the monastery was connected with the belief that the world is evil: existence is a burden, and the soul must be delivered from matter. The soul and body were believed to be opposed: the body must be mortified that the soul may find its true self, its “salvation,” “perfection,” “deliverance,” “redemption.” The most ancient forms of this doctrine are those found among the Hindus; the most ancient monasteries known appeared in the early years of Hinduism, when groups gathered to share a life of mortification and Vedic studies. Monasticism has flourished above all in Buddhism, for Gautama Buddha took the deliverance doctrine of Hinduism, spiritualized it, and thereby made withdrawal the only discipline that would lead to that state of perfection which was Nirvana. For Buddhists, monasticism is not a heightened form of the religious way of life, as it is for Catholic Christians; it is the religious life. At different times, monasteries have dominated religion, civilization, and culture in those countries where almost all the people profess Buddhism—Burma, Thailand, Tibet.

In the three religions with an interest in the Old Testament—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—monasticism has played a less dominant role. The God of Genesis is a living God, a ruler and a father, who created the world and saw that it was good. For none of these faiths is the body evil. The God of Mount Sinai demands a moral people and a moral society. His servants shall seek to secure a world free of injustice and oppression. Individuals and groups may be permitted to retire from society, but this never becomes a universal ideal. Moreover the monastic life is almost always associated with some form—however rudimentary or however advanced—of mysticism. In Hinduism and Buddhism the soul which mortifies the passions and directs its prayer may pass into union with the absolute good of the universe, possessing it and possessed by it. In the Old Testament, God is high and lifted up, transcendent and other. A Jewish soul cannot seek union with Jehovah, for the very conception appears blasphemous to it; the created being does not raise itself to equality with its creator.

Therefore, although monastic groups are found in all three religious traditions, all three also contain strands of thought that are antithetical to monasticism in the Hindu or Buddhist sense: the divine creation of the body; the salvation of society, as well as of the individual spirit; the faith in a transcendent God and its corollary, the distrust of any uncontrolled search for mystical unity.

Judaism and Islam have been less friendly to monasticism than has Christianity. Muhammad declared that there are no monks in Islam and made no mention of them in the Qur’an (Koran). Despite certain anticipations of monasticism among the Jews contemporary with Christ, there were no Christian monks, properly speaking, for two centuries after Christ’s death. Monasticism is not inherent in Christianity, and monasteries have never been as integral to the practice of Christianity as they are to the practice of Buddhism. Partly for this reason Christianity has also produced many critics of monasticism. Even at the end of the fourth century, when monastic ideals were rapidly spreading throughout the Christian church, the Latin writer Vigilantius denounced the solitary life as a cowardly abandonment of responsibility. During the sixteenth-century Reformation half the western Christian church repudiated the monastic ideal; few examples of it are found among Protestant churches. Yet, the contemplative and hermit tradition was well represented in western Christendom, although the Benedictine Rule remained dominant. The most highly respected Western order of the quasi-hermit tradition is the Carthusians, founded by St. Bruno in 1084 at the Grande Chartreuse, in southeast France.

The mystical element in religion, however, is more diffused than those mysticisms that are dependent upon a division between body and soul. All three of the Old Testament religions came into touch with mystical doctrine and were affected. In Syria and Persia, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim doctrines of salvation were akin to those of Hinduism or Buddhism. The recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls have proved the existence of a Jewish monastic community in the Dead Sea valley about the time of Christ. Within Judaism, the Essenes practiced a form of monastic life, with community of goods, silence, celibacy, poverty. Philo of Alexandria described a community in Egypt, the Therapeutae, whose way of life was so like that of Christian monks that for centuries Christian writers believed them to be Christians. Islam was not, on the whole, friendly to mysticism or to enclosed monasteries. But as Sufism developed in Persia it acquired strongly mystical doctrines, and monastic groups began to be founded.

Christianity assimilated monasticism into its system of religious life more readily than did Judaism or Islam. It was preaching its gospel in a Greek world where Platonic philosophy and religious dualism combined to welcome a doctrine of salvation through withdrawal from society. People who were educated in Greek thought and were later converted to the church sought to interpret Christian theology in accordance with their earlier philosophy. From Platonic philosophy, Christian teachers adopted the language used in speaking about the contemplation of supreme truth or the unity of the soul with the Divinity and in this sense interpreted the New Testament’s statements concerning unceasing prayer. In the middle of the third century St. Anthony led a retreat into the Egyptian desert, and only a century later the movement was the strongest religious force in Christendom. The anarchic conditions of secular society helped it to remain so for six centuries.

The monks of the Eastern church looked back to St. Basil of Caesarea (who died in 379) as their chief organizer; the monks of the Western church to St. Benedict of Nursia, who founded the house of Monte Cassino, north of Naples, in the sixth century. In the West, the Benedictine Rule was an elementary framework to which other rules and customs were added. The ideal of life was simplicity, not excessive austerity, with seven or eight short services for worship at fixed points in the day and with time allotted to work in the fields and to spiritual reading. The orders descended from the Benedictine varied greatly in their customs. The first Christian monasteries were communities of laymen with a priest or two to celebrate the sacraments. As centuries passed, it was expected that all fully professed monks would be ordained. Slowly the forms of worship became more elaborate until they were the main work of the monk—especially among the Cluniacs, whose mother house, Cluny, in Burgundy, was founded in 910. The abbey church at Cluny was the grandest of any monastery in Europe. In reaction against these elaborations the Cistercians—called so after their mother house, of Citeaux, Burgundy—sought to recall the monks to the simplicity of the Benedictine Rule. They restored the obligation to work in the fields and founded their houses in remote wildernesses, where they brought new land under cultivation or grazing.

In the Eastern church, there was no coherent “Rule” of St. Basil similar to the Rule of St. Benedict. Monasticism in Russia and Greece always remained more individualistic in its ethos, nearer to the hermit tradition of Syria and Egypt, with a rich liturgical and contemplative tradition but more remote from society and less influential. Eastern Orthodoxy created a unique monastic republic on the peninsula of Mount Athos in northern Greece, where from the eighth or ninth century a great complex of communities and hermitages began to develop. No woman is yet allowed to set foot upon the peninsula.

Nuns are much more numerous in Christianity than in any other religion. The nuns of Buddhism are comparatively few. Every variety of Christian monasticism has made provision for women as well as men, and in modern Roman Catholicism nuns have greatly outnumbered monks.

The characteristic government of a monastery springs out of a personal relationship between a holy man and his disciple. A hermit goes into retirement to seek his salvation. He becomes known for his sanctity and moral wisdom. A disciple asks leave to sit at his feet or serve him in his cell, to advance his own salvation. More disciples come, and a group forms around a wise man. They partake of common meals and common worship and have simple rules. Most Hindu monasteries remained loose in organization and hardly passed beyond the stage of having a sage or saint and a few disciples. In many primitive Christian and modern Buddhist monasteries the government remained a loose administration by a group of “elders.” Even when the constitution is highly organized, it never quite loses the flavor imparted by its remote origins; the relation is one of a novice to the director of his soul—the experienced elder imparting moral knowledge to the young in years or young in religious experience. Moreover, the disciple grows in grace by conquering his self-will, both by instant obedience to the commands of his director—even when he does not understand the reason—and by accepting without resentment punishment which looks like injustice. Therefore, the moral nature of this relationship has led to very authoritarian forms of constitution; abbots are superiors with absolute authority, except so far as they are limited by civil law or by a rule of life accepted by them at their entry as novices.

Some Buddhist communities grew so large that more elaborate forms of organization became necessary. In a country where every male must be a monk for part of his life, a monastery might rise to become a celibate township of ten thousand souls. However, as in Hindu monasteries, there was flexibility, and a man might enter or leave the monastery without blame.

The most elaborate forms of organization are found in Christian monastic orders, where very early in Christian monastic practice the idea of stability became morally important. It was recognized that a man might try his experience in various directions. But it was also believed that the spiritual life demanded a long course of obedience and a continuity within the same brotherhood. The existence of vows and the demand for stability presented Christian thinkers with deeper constitutional problems. The characteristic Christian monastery, the Benedictine, had an elected abbot who possessed a permanent authority limited only by the provisions of the Rule of St. Benedict. Later medieval orders, such as the Cistercians and the Dominicans, experimented further in forms of organization, while retaining the absolute duty of obedience to the superior; the several houses of the order were placed under a single governing body in which each was represented.

All such societies used sanctions to preserve discipline, varying according to the country and century—flogging, confinement, deprivation of food, temporary exclusion from the social and especially from the religious meetings of the community, and, in the last resort, expulsion.

The first monks were holy men who sought retirement. They were devoted to poverty. But in both Christian and Buddhist monasticism, the poverty of the individual was compatible with the wealth of the community. Monasteries which began as societies of the poor sometimes ended as rich and powerful corporations.

Buddhist and Hindu monks were expected to live off charity. The begging bowl was almost indispensable as equipment, and the round for alms was an almost indispensable part of daily devotion. It was a devotional exercise to receive such alms with humility and tranquillity of spirit, eschewing worldly satisfaction if the alms were given and resentment if they were refused. In Christianity the Franciscan friar—especially of the stricter or spiritual group—expected God to provide in the same way. But Christianity possesses a stronger doctrine, that earthly vocations are God-given. Christian monks always believed that they should work for their living on simple tasks that did not distract devotion. Their characteristic work has been agriculture, but basket making, mat making, education, the copying of manuscripts, scholarship, and other forms of work have been accepted as suitable for Christian monks. Buddhist monks have likewise engaged in scholarship, education, agriculture, and the copying of manuscripts, but have not usually considered the earning of a livelihood to be a necessary element in religious devotion.

Sanctity attracted gifts. Rich novices might make over their funds to the community, although the practice has obvious dangers and monastic rules tried to regulate or even prevent it. Childless widows or widowers left money or lands; pious kings gave endowments; noblemen found in monasteries a worthy object for their alms. An accepted work was the maintenance of shrines, and pilgrims cast their offerings freely. In some countries monasteries have thus acquired over the centuries an astonishingly large proportion of the national land area. In western Europe between the eighth and eleventh centuries, in Russia between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, in Tibet between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, the whole current of popular piety so flowed toward the monastic ideal that the monasteries came to be a major state institution. The climax of the process was attained in modern Tibet, where the monks formed something like a fifth of the population and where the government of the state was for three centuries controlled by the chief abbot, the Dalai Lama. In certain other countries, the abbots have held temporal prominence in the state. In Ceylon, the abbots were the secular judges and the king’s cabinet. In medieval England and other European countries the abbots sat of right in the parliament.

Tibet is an example of how the social influence of monasteries has been strongest in countries where nearly all the population was, or is, Buddhist. The explanation probably lies in the doctrinal difference from Christianity. In the Christian churches the monastic way of life has always appeared as only one way to heaven among others—although seen by many as the surest way. The dogma that its practice was necessary to salvation appeared in a few early Christian sects but was always rejected as heretical and incompatible with the Bible. Buddhism, in contrast, has held that some institutionalized withdrawal is indispensable to the perfect life. In countries like Tibet and Burma almost the entire male population entered monasteries for a shorter or longer time (at least for three months) and wore the yellow robes. Before the Europeans opened schools in Burma and before the Chinese conquered Tibet, the monks were the only schoolmasters, and every educated layman was familiar with the life and devotion of the monastery. The absence in Buddhism of irrevocable vows, the freedom to leave a monastery without blame, made this possible. In western Europe of the early Middle Ages the monasteries made important contributions to such education as existed, but in no Christian country were they for any length of time the sole instrument of education.

Monks have sometimes been of momentous importance in preserving and transmitting the cultural heritage of a people. From the seventh to the tenth centuries, Christian monasteries helped to preserve the libraries and knowledge inherited from Greco-Roman civilization. But monasticism has never possessed a social drive or consciousness and has acted as a main channel or focus of culture only by accident or as a by-product of other activities and in special (often anarchic) social circumstances. Nevertheless, the most notable of all monastic contributions to learning came from the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur, in France, during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, where a group of eminent scholars headed by Jean Mabillon laid the foundations for the modern critical study of historical sources.

On the edge of the monastic groups proper, brotherhoods have existed which accepted various monastic obligations, although their members lived in the world. In Catholicism the Jesuits accepted the threefold vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience but were nevertheless secular priests living in the world and engaged in pastoral care or in education; in modern times this sort of example led older and originally contemplative orders, like the Benedictine, to accept responsibility for education or pastoral duties outside the monastery.

In Tibet there were warrior-monks. Medieval Catholicism had its orders of crusading knights, like the Templars and Hospitalers, who took vows but were devoted to the defense of Christendom by force of arms. Such orders could achieve political authority, just as the Hospitalers ruled Malta and the Teutonic Knights founded the state which later became the duchy of Prussia. Under the Turkish empire the Baktashiyah were a similar military and quasi-monastic order connected with the Janissaries. In Islam—outside the mystical tradition of the Sufis—a majority of the “monasteries” have been of this quasi-monastic type of religious brotherhood with special duties in the world. A modern religious brotherhood of this kind, the Senusi, was founded as late as 1837 and came, in time, to achieve political control of part of the Sudan and nearly all the eastern Sahara.

The concern of Christian doctrine for this world and its society meant that the monastic ideal took forms very different from the original societies, which were directed to individual salvation and contemplative prayer. The most celebrated of these novel forms is found in the friars, founded by St. Francis of Assisi and by St. Dominic at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Francis called for poverty and simplicity as a protest against the elaborate and powerful church of his day; Dominic wished to protect the church by confuting heretics. But both orders of friars which resulted from their initiative were devoted to saving the souls of others as well as their own souls. They are an important example of how monastic groups could become agents for evangelism and the propagation of the faith.

In modern times some secular governments, such as Mexico, Russia, and China, have confiscated much or all monastic property, whether Christian or Buddhist, as useless to the state and have secularized their inmates. Even in a still formally Christian country like Greece, where most of the inhabitants profess the Orthodox religion, there has been a spectacular decline, even on Mount Athos, in the number and the reputation of the monks. But as it is impossible to conceive of Buddhism without Buddhist monks, so the course of centuries has made it impossible to conceive of Catholic Christianity without varieties of Christian monks. Quiet withdrawal in the face of eternity appears to meet a need of the highest aspirations of the human conscience.

W. O. Chadwick

[See alsoReligious specialists. A guide to other relevant material may be found under Religion.]


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Knowles, David 1948–1959 The Religious Orders in England. 3 vols. Cambridge Univ. Press.

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Monasticism organizes individuals devoted to a life of prayer based upon vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. It has been an integral part of religious life in Russia since the conversion to Christianity in the late tenth century. Russian monasticism was characterized by the forms that existed in Byzantium, from the anchoritic or eremitical life of hermits to the cenobitic form of communal life; most monasteries, however, organized their life between these ideal types.

The Kievan Caves monastery, founded in the mid-eleventh century by Anthony, was the first important (if not typical) institution. Anthony began as a hermit living in a cave, though his holiness soon attracted others around him. In 1062 Theodosius (d. 1074) became abbot of the growing community and introduced the Studite Rule (the classic Byzantine cenobitic rule, requiring communal eating, labor, property, and worship). Under Theodosius, the monastery upheld high standards of monastic life and participated in worldly affairs (including charity and politics). Although Theodosius would become a model for Russian monasticismwith his humility, authority, and balance of asceticism and activity"princely monasticism" dominated Kievan Rus. Princely families founded such monasteries in or near cities, gave the communities their rule and endowments, and appointed abbots. These institutions were influential in ecclesiastical politics and as centers of learning and culture, but were not distinguished by exemplary monastic life. More than fifty monasteries existed in Rus before the Mongol invasion in 1240though many were destroyed in its wake.

The second half of the fourteenth century witnessed a dramatic expansion of monastic life in Russia, inspired by Sergius of Radonezh (d. 1392). Sergius began as a hermit living in the forest, but, attracting followers, he established the Trinity monastery. Sergius became abbot in 1353 and introduced the Studite rule in 1377. He combined asceticism, humility, charity, and influence in political affairs (like Theodosius), together with contemplative prayer. Inspired by Sergius's example, a pattern emerged in which hermits settled in the forest searching for solitude; followers joined them; they established a monastery, with peasants settling nearby; and again a few monks set off into the uninhabited forest in search of solitude. Much of the Russian north was settled in this manner.

Between 1350 and 1450 some 150 monasteries were founded, and new communities continued to proliferate into the eighteenth century. Monasteries acquired land through purchase or donation, with many becoming major landowners. They played an important role in the economy and political unification of Muscovy in the fifteenth century. By the early sixteenth century their wealth had led to a decline in monastic discipline, giving rise to two differing reform movements. Nil Sorsky (d. 1508) advocated a "skete" style of life, in which monks lived in small hermitages and supported themselves. Nil emphasized contemplative, mystical prayer (based on Byzantine Hesychasm). Joseph of Volotsk (d. 1515) organized his monastery according to the cenobitic rule (demanding strict individual poverty) and emphasized corporate liturgical prayer. Joseph also justified monastery landownership, for this enabled charity and social engagement. Traditional historiography posited an intense political conflict over monastic landownership between two distinct ecclesiastical "parties" (Nil's non-possessors and Joseph's possessors). Recent research, however, suggests that the conflict has been exaggerated. Small hermitages continued to exist into the seventeenth century, often operating independently of central church control (including resistance to Nikonian liturgical reforms). Ecclesiastical authorities mistrusted and tried to subordinate them to larger monasteries. Thus the tradition inspired by Nil Sorsky gradually died out.

Beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, the state attempted to gain control over monastic landholding due to competition for land and the tax-exempt status of ecclesiastical property. The Law Code of 1649 forbade monasteries from acquiring new estates and established the Monastery Chancellery, which placed the administration of monastic estates under state control (until its abolition in 1677). The eighteenth century witnessed the greatest assertion of state authority over monasticism. Peter the Great initiated measures to restrict the growth of monasticism and make it more socially "useful," and he reestablished the Monastery Chancellery from 1701 to 1720. Peter's successors continued efforts to restrict recruitment, leading to a decline in the number of monks and nuns from 25,000 to 14,000 between 1724 and 1738. The state's assault finally culminated in 1764 when Catherine the Great confiscated all monastic estates. Her secularization reform resulted in the closure of more than half of all monasteries (decreasing from 954 to 387) and a drastic reduction of monastic clergy (leaving fewer than six thousand by the end of the eighteenth century).

Despite the devastating impact of secularization, monasticism experienced a remarkable revival in the nineteenth century and again played a vital role in religious life. By 1914, the number of monasteries rose to 1,025 and the number of monastic clergy reached nearly 95,000. In part, the expansion of monasticism in the nineteenth century was due to the revival of hesychastic contemplative spirituality, inspired by the Ukrainian monk Paisy Velichkovsky (d. 1794). In addition to the repetition of the Jesus prayer and other contemplative practices, placing oneself under the guidance of a spiritual elder (starets ) was integral to hesychasm. In the nineteenth century, the role of the starets expanded beyond the walls of the monastery. Famous elders such as Serafim of Sarov (d. 1833) or those of the Optina Hermitage attracted tens of thousands of laypeople, including important intellectual figures (Ivan Kireyevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy). A dramatic rise in pilgrimage to monasteries (in combination with renewed permission to acquire land) led to a significant growth in monastic wealth. Though anti-clerical intellectuals frequently criticized this wealth, many larger monasteries were actively engaged in charity. In the second half of the century, the number of women joining monastic communities rose dramatically; by the century's end, female monastics far exceeded men. In contrast to male monasticism (which focused on contemplative spirituality), female monasticism was particularly devoted to charitable activity (operating schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc.).

The twentieth century, by contrast, was a succession of crises. Between 1900 and 1917, church and monastic leaders heatedly debated reform measures and the social role of monasticism. After 1917, monasteries were among the Bolshevik's' first targets. While most monasteries were closed by 1921, others transformed themselves into agricultural collectives and survived until collectivization (19281929). By 1930 all monasteries in the Soviet Union were officially closed, and former monks and nuns were frequent victims of the purges of 1937 and 1938. In the rapprochement between church and state during World War II, some monasteries were allowed to reopen (or stay open, if located in newly acquired territories). From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, eighteen monasteries and convents existed in the Soviet Union. Today the Moscow Patriarchate reports 480 functioning monasteries.

See also: caves monastery; joseph volotzk, st.; kirilbeloozero monastery; monasteries; nil sorsky, st.; orthodoxy; patriarchate; religion; russian orthodox church; sergius, st.; simonov monastery; sloviki monastery; trinity st. sergius monastery


Bolshakoff, Sergius. (1980). Russian Mystics. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Kenworthy, Scott M. (2002). "The Revival of Monasticism in Modern Russia: The Trinity-Sergius Lavra, 1825-1921." Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.

Meehan, Brenda. (1993). Holy Women of Russia. San Francisco: Harper Collins.

Nichols, Robert L. (1985). "The Orthodox Elders (Startsy) of Imperial Russia." Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 1:130.

Ostrowski, Donald. (1986). "Church Polemics and Monastic Land Acquisition in Sixteenth-Century Muscovy." Slavonic and East European Review 64:355379.

Spock, Jennifer B. (1999). "The Solovki Monastery, 14601645: Piety and Patronage in the Early Modern Russian North." Ph.D. diss., Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Wynot, Jennifer. (2000). "Keeping the Faith: Russian Orthodox Monasticism in the Soviet Union, 1917-1939." Ph.D. diss., Emory University, Atlanta, GA.

Scott M. Kenworthy

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monasticism (mənăs´tĬsĬzəm, mō–), form of religious life, usually conducted in a community under a common rule. Monastic life is bound by ascetical practices expressed typically in the vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, called the evangelical counsels. Monasticism is traditionally of two kinds: the more usual form is known as the cenobitic, and is characterized by a completely communal style of life; the second kind, the eremitic, entails a hermit's life of almost unbroken solitude, and is now rare (see hermit).

Monasticism in general has played an important role in Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Jainism, Islam, and Christianity. Practitioners of monasticism in ancient times included the vestal virgins of Rome, the Jewish Essenes, the Therapeutae of Egypt, and the Peruvian virgins of the sun. The life of the Shakers had many analogies with monasticism. The Reformation saw the sudden end of monasticism in the Protestant countries of Europe. The Oxford movement, however, reintroduced religious orders into the Church of England in the 19th cent., and after World War II renewed interest in monasticism led to the establishment of a Protestant monastery at Taizé, France.

Monasticism in the Eastern Church

Christian monasticism had its origin in the Egyptian deserts in the 3d–4th cent. with the anchorites, who sought perfection in the most extreme asceticism. Most famous of these hermits was St. Anthony, who is called the father of monasticism. From among loose associations of these hermits, the monk St. Pachomius organized (c.320) the first cenobitic community. Somewhat similar was the laura—cells arranged into a monastic village, sometimes of very great size.

Uniformity was gradually wrought in Eastern monasticism by the rules of St. Basil the Great. He favored the cenobitic style and stressed manual labor and obedience in opposition to the extravagances of much of early monasticism (see, e.g., Simeon Stylites, Saint). Monasticism in the East has changed little since the 4th cent.; the monks devote their day to lengthy liturgies and simple work. They do not usually become priests and do not value learning. In contrast to the development in the West, Eastern monks do not belong to different orders with specialized functions; the monasteries or lauras are basically alike in nature and autonomous in organization (see Basilian monks). Mount Athos is the great center of monasticism in the Eastern Church.

Monasticism in the Western Church


The earliest Western forms of monasticism imitated those of the East. Western forms of monasticism spread with Christianity to Ireland, where the church was organized (6th cent.) around the monasteries, which served as centers. In Italy, St. Benedict (6th cent.) began the work from which sprang the Benedictines and the more moderate monastic rule that gradually became universal in the West—even the Celtic foundations assimilating to the Benedictine practice. The role of monasticism in the development of the new civilization of the West is incalculable (see Boniface, Saint, d.754). Monasteries were islands of stability, and their inhabitants, almost alone, preserved learning in the West.

In the 10th cent. there began at Cluny a reform that affected all Europe (see Cluniac order). Out of another reform arose the Cistercians (12th cent.). The Dominicans and Franciscans (early 13th cent.) abandoned enclosure as a principle and with the other friars became a feature in the town life of Europe until the Reformation. Their energy gave the universities and schools definitive form, and they dominate the whole history of scholasticism. At this time such semimonastic groups as the Beghards and Beguines also began to appear all over Europe.

After two centuries of decline, the 16th cent. saw a monastic revival with the founding of the Jesuits (see Jesus, Society of). In the 18th cent. anticlericalism among European governments succeeded in suppressing the Jesuits and in causing another general decline in monasticism. Since the 19th cent., the number of religious orders has been steadily increasing. The Paulists and the Sisters of Charity of Mother Seton are examples of new American communities.

Modern Communities

Monks are attached to their monastery, subordinate chiefly to their abbot, and are typically Benedictine; the Cistercians are a class of Benedictines, and the Trappists are a division of the Cistercians. The Carthusians, of a quasi-hermit type, are the only non-Benedictine monks of the West. Canons regular are priests living in a community usually attached to a church; such have been the Lateran canons, the religious of the Alpine pass of St. Bernard, the Premonstratensians, and the old Austin canons (see Augustinians). The rest of the religious orders are highly centralized systems and usually have their work outside their house. The friars are the oldest of this type, chiefly Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. Clerks regular are represented principally by the Jesuits, the largest single order in the church today. The communities of priests loosely called ecclesiastical congregations number more than 50; they include the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, the Redemptorists, the Vincentians, and Maryknoll. Religious institutes are separate organizations of unordained persons who have taken vows and who are engaged mostly in teaching, as, notably, the Christian Brothers, founded by St. John Baptist de la Salle. Secular institutes (officially recognized since 1947) are organizations of laymen bound by religious promises; they wear no special garb and, except for special purposes, live separately and hold conventional jobs in the world.

Roman Catholic communities of women are generally smaller and more numerous—there are more than 1,000. There are enclosed nuns following the rule of most orders of monks and friars; they are called second orders. Most Roman Catholic women's communities are devoted to teaching or charitable work; many of them are tertiaries (see tertiary).

The term contemplative is ordinarily applied to the life of monks and nuns who are enclosed, i.e., who rarely leave the monastery or convent in which they live and work, but many unenclosed religious also lead contemplative lives. There are also monastic orders of men and women in the Anglican Church.


See L. Bouyer, The Meaning of the Monastic Life (1955); T. Merton, The Silent Life (1957); D. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England (2d ed. 1963) and Christian Monasticism (1969); C. H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism (1984); S. Evangelisti, Nuns: A History of Convent Life, 1450–1700 (2008).

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The Gk., monachos, underlying ‘monk’, points to someone being ‘on their own’. It may originally have meant ‘celibate’ and only later ‘solitary’; but monasticism came to refer to those who withdraw from society (in a celibate state) in order to devote themselves with greater intensity to God through prayer, austerity, and discipline. In its extreme form, it is anchorite (living alone), but it may also be coenobitic (living in community). Monasticism began to emerge in Egypt in the 3rd cent.; St Antony is regarded as the ‘father’ of Christian monasticism, although Pachomius had begun to organize communities before him. The Sayings of the Fathers (Apothegmata Patrum), brought together by Evagrius of Pontus, did much to popularize the ‘spirituality of the desert’, affecting especially Palladius and John Cassian. Monasticism received its major impetus and order from St Benedict. Monasticism subsequently divided into a myriad of different orders and styles, among which the Benedictines, Dominicans, Cistercians, and Carthusians have been prominent. In the Eastern Church, the influence of Basil the Great has been acknowledged as supreme, along with the desert fathers. Of particular importance is Mount Athos, where monks from many different parts of Orthodox Christianity live.


Rahbānīya (monasticism, derived from rāhib, ‘monk’) is taken to be opposed in Qurʾān 57. 27. Muslim opposition to monasticism is strong, not least because it seems to denigrate (by vows of poverty and celibacy) the good things of God's creation.


The monastic lifestyle arises quite naturally out of the general Indian tradition of the homeless wanderer as a private option on the periphery of society, and develops into an institution at the heart of the religion so much so that to take refuge in the saṅgha (the Buddhist community, but also the community of monks) is one of the Three Jewels. Śākyamuni Buddha is taken as the model monk. He is said to have composed the monastic regulations (Skt., Pāli: Vināya) and ideally a monk can trace his ordination lineage back to the Buddha. Renunciation (see ASCETICISM) is moderate by Indian standards: clothing is worn, made originally from discarded material, yellowed (Skt., kaśāya, ‘earth-coloured’) with age, and pieced together. The modern habit in Theravāda is three strips of yellow, brown, or orange cloth, normally cotton, wound around the body so as to cover it for reasons of modesty and protection against the weather. The upper toga-like robe (Pāli, cīvara) has a patchwork pattern which is a formalization of the primitive piecing-together of rags. Monastic buildings were at first simple shelters for the retreat (Pāli, vassa) conducted during the monsoon, and have developed into elaborate centres of culture. Generally, monasticism is more central to Buddhism than it is to Christianity, and there is often a lively spirit of co-operation between monks and laypeople, which is the social dynamic of many Buddhist communities.

Because of the general resemblances of community and at least partial separation from society, the term ‘monk’ is widely used in English with reference to Buddhism. In its purest form, ‘monk’ refers to one who has taken the full vows of a bhikkhu or bhikṣu, and ‘nun’ to a bhikkhunī or bhikṣuṇī. But given the many other forms, it would be better to abandon the English term monk and use terms such as bhikkhu, lama, sensei, and rōshi as appropriate.

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monasticism Ascetic mode of life followed by men and women who have taken religious vows and belong to a recognized Roman Catholic or Orthodox religious order. Christian monasticism is said to have its origins in the late 3rd-century asceticism of the desert hermits of Egypt, Saint Anthony and Saint Pachomius. A communal approach replaced this solitary life, and community members followed a strict rule. The earliest such rule in Europe was that laid down by Saint Benedict (of Nursia) in the 6th century. Monasticism still embraces community life of enclosed Christian orders, such as the Cistercians and the reformed Carmelites. There are, however, many more orders that combine asceticism with social welfare work and spiritual guidance to society at large. Spiritual leadership provided through monasticism is also found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism.

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mo·nas·tic / məˈnastik/ • adj. of or relating to monks, nuns, or others living under religious vows, or the buildings in which they live: a monastic order. ∎  resembling or suggestive of monks or their way of life, esp. in being austere, solitary, or celibate: a monastic student bedroom. • n. a monk or other follower of a monastic rule. DERIVATIVES: mo·nas·ti·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv. mo·nas·ti·cism / -təˌsizəm/ n.

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"monastic." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 15, 2017).

"monastic." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from


monasticachromatic, acrobatic, Adriatic, aerobatic, anagrammatic, aquatic, aristocratic, aromatic, Asiatic, asthmatic, athematic, attic, autocratic, automatic, axiomatic, bureaucratic, charismatic, chromatic, cinematic, climatic, dalmatic, democratic, diagrammatic, diaphragmatic, diplomatic, dogmatic, dramatic, ecstatic, emblematic, emphatic, enigmatic, epigrammatic, erratic, fanatic, hepatic, hieratic, hydrostatic, hypostatic, idiomatic, idiosyncratic, isochromatic, lymphatic, melodramatic, meritocratic, miasmatic, monochromatic, monocratic, monogrammatic, numismatic, operatic, panchromatic, pancreatic, paradigmatic, phlegmatic, photostatic, piratic, plutocratic, pneumatic, polychromatic, pragmatic, prelatic, prismatic, problematic, programmatic, psychosomatic, quadratic, rheumatic, schematic, schismatic, sciatic, semi-automatic, Socratic, somatic, static, stigmatic, sub-aquatic, sylvatic, symptomatic, systematic, technocratic, thematic, theocratic, thermostatic, traumatic •anaphylactic, ataractic, autodidactic, chiropractic, climactic, didactic, galactic, lactic, prophylactic, syntactic, tactic •asphaltic •antic, Atlantic, corybantic, frantic, geomantic, gigantic, mantic, necromantic, pedantic, romantic, semantic, sycophantic, transatlantic •synaptic •bombastic, drastic, dynastic, ecclesiastic, elastic, encomiastic, enthusiastic, fantastic, gymnastic, iconoclastic, mastic, monastic, neoplastic, orgastic, orgiastic, pederastic, periphrastic, plastic, pleonastic, sarcastic, scholastic, scholiastic, spastic •matchstick • candlestick • panstick •slapstick • cathartic •Antarctic, arctic, subantarctic, subarctic •Vedantic • yardstick •aesthetic (US esthetic), alphabetic, anaesthetic (US anesthetic), antithetic, apathetic, apologetic, arithmetic, ascetic, athletic, balletic, bathetic, cosmetic, cybernetic, diabetic, dietetic, diuretic, electromagnetic, emetic, energetic, exegetic, frenetic, genetic, Helvetic, hermetic, homiletic, kinetic, magnetic, metic, mimetic, parenthetic, pathetic, peripatetic, phonetic, photosynthetic, poetic, prophetic, prothetic, psychokinetic, splenetic, sympathetic, syncretic, syndetic, synthetic, telekinetic, theoretic, zetetic •apoplectic, catalectic, dialectic, eclectic, hectic •Celtic •authentic, crescentic •aseptic, dyspeptic, epileptic, nympholeptic, peptic, proleptic, sceptic (US skeptic), septic •domestic, majestic •cretic •analytic, anchoritic, anthracitic, arthritic, bauxitic, calcitic, catalytic, critic, cryptanalytic, Cushitic, dendritic, diacritic, dioritic, dolomitic, enclitic, eremitic, hermitic, lignitic, mephitic, paralytic, parasitic, psychoanalytic, pyritic, Sanskritic, saprophytic, Semitic, sybaritic, syenitic, syphilitic, troglodytic •apocalyptic, cryptic, diptych, elliptic, glyptic, styptic, triptych •aoristic, artistic, autistic, cystic, deistic, distich, egoistic, fistic, holistic, juristic, logistic, monistic, mystic, puristic, sadistic, Taoistic, theistic, truistic, veristic •fiddlestick •dipstick, lipstick •impolitic, politic •polyptych • hemistich • heretic •nightstick •abiotic, amniotic, antibiotic, autoerotic, chaotic, demotic, despotic, erotic, exotic, homoerotic, hypnotic, idiotic, macrobiotic, meiotic, narcotic, neurotic, osmotic, patriotic, psychotic, quixotic, robotic, sclerotic, semiotic, symbiotic, zygotic, zymotic •Coptic, optic, panoptic, synoptic •acrostic, agnostic, diagnostic, gnostic, prognostic •knobstick • chopstick • aeronautic •Baltic, basaltic, cobaltic •caustic • swordstick • photic • joystick •psychotherapeutic, therapeutic •acoustic • broomstick • cultic •fustic, rustic •drumstick • gearstick • lunatic

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"monastic." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"monastic." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (December 15, 2017).

"monastic." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from