Rome – Early Christianity

Rome – Early Christianity

The practice of depositing the bodies of the dead in the ground the Christians took from the Jews. It was not wholly a Jewish custom, as may be seen by inspecting pagan tombs discovered not long since on the Latin road. But the favourite manner, used by the Romans, was that of cremation, a custom born of the sentiment of repugnance human pride has to what is so revolting in death. The Jew, who believed in the immortality of the soul, reverenced the tabernacle in which it had dwelt, and in which he believed it was again one day to live. “In my flesh shall I see my Redeemer” was for him a… Continue reading Rome – Early Christianity

Templar Nutrition in their Eastern and Western Preceptories

Templar Nutrition in their Eastern and Western Preceptories

“In the palace, or what should rather be called the refectory, they should eat together. But if you are in need of anything because you are not accustomed to the signs used by other men of religion, quietly and privately you should ask for what you need at table, with all humility and submission. For the apostle said: Manduca panem tuum cum silentio. That is to say: ‘Eat your bread in silence.’ And the psalmist: Posui ori meo custodiam. That is to say: ‘I held my tongue.’ That is, ‘I thought my tongue would fail me.’ That is, ‘I held my tongue so that I should speak no ill.” Templar Rule on Alimentation of Monks Continue reading Templar Nutrition in their Eastern and Western Preceptories

We’ll Rise at Dawn ~ The Strength of Friendship.

We’ll Rise at Dawn ~ The Strength of Friendship.

Christian Culture: Film Recommandations
Padre Pio O.F.M. Cap

On Thursday, September 23, the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina with the premiere by Famiplay of the film “We’ll rise at dawn ~ The strength of friendship”. Saint Pius of Pietrelcina was one of the most beloved and popular Italian saints of the 20th century and whom for half a century had concealed the wounds of the stigmata of Jesus Christ on his hands, feet and side.

The film “We’ll Rise at Dawn” tells the story of 12-year-old Luca Paolucci from San Giovanni Rotondo, and his 13 year old friend Sebastiano  of San Marco in Lamis just 2.48 miles from S. Giovanni Rotondo in Southern Italy. These two boys intrigued and united through a strong bond of friendship and faith embark on an amazing journey in search of the man behind the real Padre Pio; a holy man, friar of miracles from southern Italy .

Luca and Sebastiano – from a scene in We’ll Rise at Dawn.

The film takes place in our time.

Luca is a 12 year old boy from San Giovanni Rotondo (south of Italy). He is intelligent, sharp witted and determined. One day, while eating supper at home, after spending the day visiting the church and museum of Padre Pio, he tells his parents about his plan to conduct a research among the people in his town who knew Padre Pio, the older people whom he wanted to interview to gather their testimonies, in order to write a book on the saint of Gargano. Luca has a ten year old sister (Miranda). The family are very close, their father is a scientist, a researcher at Padre Pio Hospital.

Luca and Sebastiano cycling through the streets of Gargano

Luca goes to see his friend, Sebastiano, in San Marco in Lamis 2.48 miles from S. Giovanni Rotondo, to ask him to team up with him on this initiative. Sebastiano accepts. He is a 13-year-old boy, within easy reach, amiable, a bit of a joker, despite a complex and difficult family situation: his mother is seriously Ill, and his father, an alcoholic often clashes with his son Sebastiano who is an only child.

The two boys begin their investigations by interviewing three characters, (two Capuchin Friars and one old lady) who knew Padre Pio when they were young and who have spoken with him in person, they are the real witnesses to some of his many miracles, his charisms, and extraordinary gifts. The saw Padre Pio’s sufferings first hand and his stigmata wounds like Christ formed in the shape of the Cross.

Here we encounter a new generation of faithful who have discovered Padre Pio, confronting the people who actually knew the saint. These three characters truly knew Padre Pio and fit quite easily into the narrative story of this fiction film.

Between one interview and another, the two boys exchange their impressions, they argue as friends do, and we see amusing interludes and boyish banter, alternating with some more serious and at times very moving moments. There are a sequence of amusing dialogues, for example between Luca and his little sister Miranda, between the two main characters, between the two main characters and their friends, family and some of the towns people.

We then get a glimpse and witness their family lives; A story of the two families. The health of Sebastiano’s mother is deteriorating rapidly. So is his father’s health, due to his alcoholism.

During a fight, Sebastiano is slapped in his face by his father. He meets Luca at Padre Pio’s ancient church where Luca attempts to consoles his friend. On their bikes they pass the plains between San Giovanni Rotondo and Monte Sant’Angelo. When they arrive at a fountain, Luca tells Sebastiano his parents have agreed to let him go with him to Pietralcina.

One day the two boys leave together for Pietrelcina with Sebastiano’s uncle… when… Something happens… and here I have to stop and say no more…

Padre Pio was a saintly capuchin  friar from the southern Italian town of Pietrelcina who lived  his ministry in San Giovanni Rotondo.  He died in 1968, for fifty years he had on his hands, feet and sides the wounds of the stigmata of Jesus Christ.  He had extraordinary gifts – he could read the minds and souls of all people who came close to him (their past and their future). He performed  numerous and incredible miracles. Today there are tens of thousands of devotees  of Padre Pio throughout the world.

The miracles and stigmata of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina are widely known, as well as his profound writings on the meaning of Christian suffering. However, what is less known, are the most relevant aspect of his work: the prophecies that he made throughout his life.

Famiplay, is a cinema platform with Catholic values in audiovisual content, and wished to contribute toward a celebration of Padre Pio life by making his life and works known through the medium of cinema.

Fr. Jean-Marie Benjamin

To achieve this, “We’ll rise at dawn” is now available on Amazon. Directed by Frenchman Jean-Marie Benjamin, Catholic priest, composer, writer and filmmaker a personal friend of Padre Pio, the film highlights the strength and intensity of friendship, whilst embarking on a wonderful journey to discover the truth about their local saint Padre Pio and his miracles.

OK for all ages
Universal

I would not hesitate to recommend this film for family viewing of any age. The following links have been provide for you to watch a trailer, read about the production company and to rent or buy the film.

Continue reading “We’ll Rise at Dawn ~ The Strength of Friendship.”
The Story of a Soul ~ St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus  O.C.D.

The Story of a Soul ~ St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus O.C.D.

The impact of her posthumous publications, including Story of a Soul published shortly after her death, are extremely significant. The originality of her spirituality, also called the theology of the “Little Way” of “spiritual childhood”, has inspired multitudes of believers and also deeply affected many non-believers. Thérèse’s “little way” is understood simply to mean that we only need to… Continue reading The Story of a Soul ~ St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus O.C.D.

The Canticle of Brother Sun

The Canticle of Brother Sun

St. Francis reaffirms the divine character of Creation also in its material aspects, against the Cathars, who in those same years claimed that God had created the spiritual reality, while the material reality was of demonic origin. St. Francis of Assisi also argues against the mercantile mentality that was rapidly spreading throughout the known world and for which nature was being exploited simply for economic purposes, while the saint from Assisi argues that nature provides man with everything he needs and therefore invites us not to worry about scrambling about continuously, seeking ever greater but useless material goods. Continue reading The Canticle of Brother Sun

On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the Nazi-fascist raid on the Papal Basilica

On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the Nazi-fascist raid on the Papal Basilica

Article translated from the l’Osservatore Romano Monday-Tuesday 3-4 February 2014, p. 4. article by Giovanni Preziosi translated by Fr. Vincent Courtney ESB (csr) The Hermits of Saint Bruno at St. Mary’s Hermitage.

On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the fascist raid on the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls at the Piazzale San Paolo in Rome.

San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

Not even their Osservatore Romano, Vatican issued ID card would save them.

After having brought to a successful conclusion the blitz within the extraterritorial complex of Basilica of Saint Mary Major, between 3-4 February, 1944. Under favourable darkness of the night, a Special Service of the police department of the Republic of Salò, directed by Lieutenant Pietro Koch, with a complement of one hundred men placed at his disposal by the new Fascist commissioner of Rome Pietro Caruso, utterly ignoring and without the slightest regard to the agreements enshrined within the Lateran Pact of 1929 and the extraterritorial buildings under the protection of the Holy See, Koch and his men through subterfuge entered into the Benedictine monastery of Saint Paul outside the Walls. The authentic deus ex machina of this operation had also been a former Vallombrosan Benedictine friar, having recently been suspended a divinis [which forbids the person from using authority of their Holy Orders] expressly for joining the Banda Koch (which soon became a by-word for cruelty and violence), was the twenty-eight year old Alfredo Epaminonda Troya also known as Don Ildefonso Troya —better known within the espionage confraternity of the time where he used the pseudonym of Elio Desi — with a subtle cunning, Troya had lured the unsuspecting doorkeeper Friar Vittorino into a trap, who, after a few moments of hesitation, yielding to his insistence, had opened the main entrance gate of the abbey.

Monastery of Saint Gregory the Great on the Caelian Hill

The raid has been described in great detail by the chronicler of the Camaldolese monastery of Saint Gregory the Great on the Caelian Hill: «The notorious commissioner of Rome Caruso with his band of bravacci [braggarts] (…) manages to cross over the threshold of the monastery and commences a night of terror for the hermit-monk’s within the walls of this monastery. Cutting all of the telephone wires thus removing all means of communication with the outside world; He and his men keeps all of the monks locked in a room with machine guns aimed at their chests for close to 12 hours while they search and rummage and pillage throughout. The monks are insulted by the inappropriate manner the monastery of the order was entered and looted by these so called officers. (…) The newspapers give voice about the events and maliciously gossip about it at length, narrating deeds and facts, giving an utterly false account of the true events. A cri de cœur rises up against the Holy See, whom in their extraterritorial and religious houses both men and items reclaimed from the German looters.»

Maj. Gen. Adriano Monti
Lt. Maurizio Giglio Murdered March 24 1944 (aged 23)

Koch’s men stealthily sneaked into the monastery, and literally turned all the hermit-monk’s cells and the apartments of the novices’ upside down. Then, under the threat of death, having loaded weapons pointed at them, Koch arrested as many as 67 people, mostly draft evaders and Jews who had arrived in dribs and drabs since the day the armistice had begun, among whom most notably was Airforce Major General Adriano Monti the Commanding Officer Sicily Air Command, whom had been surprised wearing a cassock, which had been immortalised in a photo taken by the fascists with a camera seized from an American Office of Strategic Services liaison agent, lieutenant Maurizio Giglio, whom had infiltrated Koch’s special service division. Giglio was later captured on March 17, 1944. After a final interrogation suffered on the night of 23 March, on the following 24 morning Giglio, exhausted and unable to stand up, was transported to the Regina Coeli prison. From there, Giglio was taken on a stretcher to the Fosse Ardeatine, where he was murdered, together with the other 334 martyrs, on March 24, 1944.. Among those arrested on this day were nine officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the army, fugitive police officers, carabinieri and nine Jews.

[The Fosse Ardeatine Massacre was a mass killing of 335 civilians and political prisoners carried out in Rome on 24 March 1944 by the German Nazi occupation troops during the Second World War. I wanted to share the poignant words of the memorial found at the Ardeatine:

Wayfarers thirsty for liberty – we were rounded up at random – in the street and in jail – as a reprisal cast in en masse – slaughtered and walled within these pits – italians, do not curse – mothers, brides, do not weep – children, carry with pride – the memory – of the holocaust of your fathers – if our slaughter – will have had a purpose beyond revenge – it is to enshrine the right of human existence – against the crime of murder. We were slaughtered in this place because – we fought against internal tyranny – for freedom and against the foreigner – for the independence of the homeland – we dreamt a free, just – and democratic italy. may our sacrifice and our blood – sow the seed and act as warning for – generations to come. Here we were slaughtered – victims of a horrendous sacrifice – may our sacrifice give rise to a better homeland – and to lasting peace among the peoples.

Out of the depths, I cry to you, o lord. De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine, Domine; –יהוה קראתיך ממעמקים המעלות שיר

Psalm 130 (NCB)
Pope Pius XII

The fascist press could not resist but to use such a glorious opportunity of using the photograph for propaganda purposes, and launched a harsh attack upon the Holy See and against Pius XII a barrage of insulting remarks, labelled with unflattering epithets because, in their opinion, Pius was allowing  this to happen and therefore “these actions mark [you] as a traitor” against the people of Italy. The fascists also got their hands on nine Jews, including the brothers Arturo and Umberto Soliani who, being surprised and the Nazi-fascist bullies arrival as they were asleep in their monastic cells, tried in vain to free themselves, but during the struggle they were savagely beaten up to the point that the next day, when family members received their clothing, they could not fail but noticed that their pyjamas were saturate in their blood.

As soon as Italy had entered the war, the Soliani’s had rushed to the capital city together with their children — four-year-old Alessandro and one-year-old Angelo — and their spouses Lina and Elvira Terracina, who were being hunted by the police commissioner of Brescia Manlio Candrilli [who distinguished himself particularly for his ruthlessness in hunting Jews], who he had been on their case from the day that they had opened a costume jewellery, leather goods and gift items shop called “Alla bomboniera” in corso Zanardelli 7, of the Gardone Riviera area of Brescia. Arturo and Umberto had managed to find refuge at the Abbey of San Paolo, while Lina and Elvira, with their respective children, were given refuge and hid inside a monastery of nuns, the Sisters of Good and Perpetual Help in Via Merulana [whom hid 133 jewish women and children helping them evade the Shoah]. Unfortunately, every precaution, in the end, proved to be in vain; even the identity cards issued to Arturo and Umberto as soon as they arrived in the Benedictine monastery from the Holy See, with the Vatican emblem, which certified that they were both journalists employed by the Osservatore Romano were absolutely useless as they were ignored.

Don Pier Luigi Occelli Partisan Priest

The seriousness of the incident, with the clear violation of the right of extraterritoriality sanctioned by the Lateran Pacts, obviously aroused the indignation of the Holy See which, as soon as it was made aware of the affair by the parish priest of Gesù Buon Pastore, Don Pier Luigi Occelli, the Resistance chaplain, immediately began to protest most vigorously to the competent Italian and German authorities, and without hesitation publishing a detailed background of the events in the Osservatore Romano on February 10, thus countering the article that appeared a few days earlier in the fascist newspaper “La Tribuna”. The denial of the Nazis though, was not enough to placate the irritation of the Vatican hierarchy, so much so that through the Apostolic nuncio in Bern, Monsignor Bernardini, Don Giustino Pancino was instructed to immediately urge Mussolini to take the appropriate measures and resolve the problem.

Abbey of San Paolo

As soon as Lina and Elvira learned what had happened at the Abbey of San Paolo, fearing for the fate of their loved ones, and not wanting to give up, so much so that the latter, although she was in the last months of pregnancy, defied fate, and tried absolutely everything possible, even risking her own life by going personally, first of all, to the director of the Roman prison of Regina Coeli Donato Carretta — whom just a few days earlier had favoured the daring escape made by Sandro Pertini and Giuseppe Saragat, both anti-fascists members of the Socialist Party and future presidents of the Italian Republic — Carretta immediately showed himself indulgent, revealing the possibility of freeing her husband and her brother-in-law backed by a hefty reward that would have allowed him to flee to Switzerland and away from prying eyes so as not to suffer the foreseeable retaliation from the Nazi-fascists. The promise was a tempting one, but where could she have raised such a large sum. And time was beginning to run out?

Sandro Pertini and Giuseppe Saragat

At that point all she had left as a last playing card was to contact the commissioner Pietro Caruso directly. Most certainly Elvira was not lacking courage, so much so that, without too much thought, she rushed to the police station asking to be received by Caruso whom, without hearing her out, ordered her to leave that place immediately otherwise he would have had her arrested because she was a Jew, adding that she had to thank the creature she was carrying in her womb or that he would make provisions to that effect. Unfortunately there was nothing more she could do. Every attempt to save the two men wrecked miserably and with it so also did the hope of ever being able to embrace them again one day.

In fact, together with the other Jews captured at the basilica of San Paolo, towards the middle of February, they were first transferred to Verona, then to the Fossoli transit camp and from there, on May 16, 1944, aboard Convoy № 46, to Auschwitz. from where they would never return.

Prayer

Almighty God of Our Fathers, we remember the six million people carried out in pogroms and mass shootings; by a policy of extermination through labor in concentration camps; and in gas chambers and gas vans in German extermination camps. These innocents were killed, drowned, burned alive, tortured, beaten and some froze to death. Because of one man, a whole nation was crucified, while the world looked on in silence. In our hearts, their sacred memory will last forever and ever. Amen. God of Our Fathers, let the ashes of the children incinerated in Auschwitz, the rivers of blood spilled, be a warning to all of humanity that hatred is destructive, that violence is contagious, while man has an unlimited capacity toward cruelty. Almighty God, fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “They will beat their swords into plowshares … One nation will not lift up a sword against another, nor will they ever again be trained for war.” Amen.


Please, always have the courage not to remain silent when you witness wrongdoing being perpetrated, speak out unceasingly against oppression, hate, use of force, or any other forms of injustice. Remember you could be next at the receiving end of injustice. God calls every single one of us to be peacemakers; God calls us to heal our world which is broken, and within a deep unanimity of the spirit, to work for a world in which justice flourishes, where peace thrives and becomes the norm (Psalm 72:7). Peace is not something that simply materialises from above; peace must be created and maintained by us, being built and maintained by those people who beat their swords into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4), choosing to spend money for a sustainable and peaceful future rather than on the war machine.

Continue reading “On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the Nazi-fascist raid on the Papal Basilica”
HERMIT TO CENOBITIC: A STUDY IN EARLY CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM [‡]

HERMIT TO CENOBITIC: A STUDY IN EARLY CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM [‡]

The word ‘monasticism’ is derived from the Greek word monos which means ‘alone,’ solitary.’[1] These words indicated the idea of solitude, of isolation. As we shall see, the term ‘monk’ has come to be applied to men living the same life in common —a life in which they are indeed separated from the world, but not from one another. Strictly speaking the term, ‘monasticism’, should be reserved for the form of religious life led by those who, having separated themselves entirely from the world, live in solitude — as, in fact, the etymology of the words ‘monk’, ‘monastery’, etc., clearly indicates.[2] 

Monasticism is the religious practice of renouncing all worldly pursuits in order to fully devote one’s life to spiritual work.[3] Monasticism (Greek word monos means ‘single’) usually refers to the way of life, communitarian or solitary, adopted by those individuals, male or female, who have elected to pursue an ideal of perfection or a higher level of religious experience through leaving the world. Monastic orders historically have been organised around a rule or a teacher, the activities of the members being closely regulated in accordance with the rule adopted.[4] Those pursuing a monastic life are usually called ‘monks’ or ‘brothers’ (male), and ‘nuns’ or ‘sisters’ (female). Both monks and nuns may also be called ‘monastics’.[5] 

Technically, monasticism embraces both the life of the hermit, characterised 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.[6] 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. It can be found in some form among most developed religions: Hinduism,[7] Buddhism,[8] Jainism,[9] Taoism, the Sufi branch of Islam[10] and Christianity.[11] 

There were only two Jewish groups —the Essenes and Therapeutae— engaged in any form of organised asceticism. The Essenes may be regarded as one of the most striking examples of monastic life outside of Christianity. They inhabited the monastery at Qumran near the Dead Sea and appear to have lived in ascetic style, practicing chastity, poverty and obedience. The Essenes (circa. 150 BC) offer all the principal characteristics of the cenobitic life — community of goods, practice of poverty and mortification, prayer and work, meals and religious exercise in common, silence, celibacy, etc.[12] The Qumran monastery was destroyed during the Roman-Jewish war of 66-70 AD, and the fate of the Essenes thereafter is uncertain. It is unlikely that they had any impact upon Christian monasticism, which began only in the late III century.[13] Although there is no direct relationship between them, it is nevertheless true that both Essenian and Christian asceticism derived much of their practice from the same source, viz. the Jewish religion.[14] 

The Therapeutae were contemporary with the Essenes. They abandoned families and possessions in order to live in ascetic seclusion far from the noise and commotion of cities.[15] Philo of Alexandria is our sole witness to their existence. He describes them as cenobites, leading a life almost identical with that of the Christian cenobites.[16] Nevertheless they do not seem to have exercised any direct influence on Christian monasticism. 

Christian asceticism is known to have begun in Egypt about the III or the IV century AD, and is associated with St. Antony. It is believed that about the end of the III century Antony’s life as a solitary ascetic was brought to an end by a number of disciples gathering round him. So he becomes the father of Christian monasticism. It was this type of monastic life that prevailed in Egypt up to the middle of the V century AD. All later Christian asceticism and monasticism is traceable to it. 

The origins of early Christian monasticism are not clearly known and are, therefore, subject to controversy. Some scholars believe that the monastic movement was prompted by Late Jewish communal and ascetic ideals, such as those of the Essenes. Still others speculate that Manichaean and similar forms of dualism inspired extremes of asceticism within the Christian family. However, the first Christian commentators on monasticism believed that the movement had truly gospel origins. 

Christian monastics drew their spiritual strength from Christ’s emphasis on poverty and on the “narrow way” to salvation. Early monastics believed that Paul preferred celibacy to marriage. Indeed, the first nuns seem to have been widows of the late Roman period who decided not to remarry. From one point of view, the decision of some Christians to live separate from the community, both physically and spiritually, was regrettable. From another, the commitment and service of the monastics made them the most valued people in early medieval society. 

Monasticism in Christianity is a family of similar traditions that began to develop early in the history of the Christian church, modelled upon scriptural examples and ideals, but not mandated as an institution by the scriptures. While most people think of Christian or Catholic monks or nuns as “Something to do with living in a monastery,” from the Church’s point of view the focus has nothing to do with living in a monastery or performing any specific activity. Rather, the focus is on an ideal called the religious life, also called the state of perfection. This idea is expressed in the notion that the things of God are sought above all other things, as seen for example in the philokalia, a book of monastic writings. In other words, a monk or run is a person who has vowed to follow not only the commandments of the Church, but also the counsels (e.g., vows of poverty, chastity and obedience). The words of Jesus which are the cornerstone for this ideal are “be ye perfect like your heavenly father is perfect”.[17]

Christian cenobitic monasticism as it is mainly known in the West started in Egypt. Originally, all Christian monks were hermits, and especially in the Middle East this continued to be very common until the decline of Syrian Christianity in the late Middle ages. 

The first Christian hermits seem to have stablished themselves on the shores of the Red Sea, where in pre-Christian times the Therapeutae, an order of Jewish ascetics, had been established. Not long afterword the desert regions of Upper Egypt became a retreat for those who fled from the persecutions of the Christians so frequent in the Roman Empire during the III century, and for those who found the vices of the world intolerable. The earliest form of Christian monasticism was, probably, that of the anchorites or hermits; a later development is found in the pillar saints, called Stylites, who spent most of their time on the tops of pillars in order to separate themselves from the world and to mortify the flesh. After a time, however, the necessities of the religious life itself led to modifications. In order to combine the personal seclusion of individuals with the common exercise of religious duties, the early hermits had an aggregation of separate called lavra or laura, to which they could retire after their communal duties had been discharged. From the union of the common life with personal solitude is derived the name cenobite (Greek Koinos bios, “Common life”) by which a certain class of monks is distinguished.[18] 

Saint Antony the Great was connected with the first Egyptian hermits; Saint Pachomius (d.46), with the first communities of cenobites in Egypt. Saint Basil the Great (f1.379), bishop of Caesarea, placed monasticism in an urban context by introducing charitable service as a work discipline.[19] 

St. Antony, who embraced solitude, established himself at Alexandria, and the fame of his sanctity, as well as his gentleness and learning, drew many disciples to him. Most of his followers accompanied him when he retired to the desert. One of his disciples, St. Pachomius who established a great monastery on an island in the Nile River, is regarded as the founder of the cenobitic manner of living. Pachomius drew up for his subjects a monastic rule, the first regulations of the kind on record. Many thousands of disciples flocked to him, and he founded several other monasteries for men and one for women under the direction of his sister. All of these houses recognized the authority of a single superior, an about or archimandrite. They constitute the original type of the religious order. The cenobitic form of monasticism was first introduced into the west at Rome and in Northern Italy by St. Athanasius, in Central North Africa by St. Augustine, and in Gaul by St. Martin of Tours. The religious revival effected by St. Benedict of Nursia early in the VI century gave Western monasticism its permanent form.[20]

Mar Awgin founded a monastery on Mt. Izla above Nisbis in Mesopotamia (350), and from his monastery the cenobitic tradition spread in Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, Georgia and even India and China. St. Sabbas the Sanctified organised the monks of the Judaean Desert in a monastery close to Bethlehem (483), and this is considered the mother of all monasteries of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. St. Benedict of Nursia founded the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy (529), which was the seed of Roman Catholic monasticism in general, and of the order of Benedict in particular.[21] 

The first monks of whom we have a good record represent an extreme phase in the evolution of monasticism. These are the so-called desert fathers, hermits, living in the eremitical style in the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. Enraged by sin and fearful of damnation, they left the towns for a solitary struggle against temptation. Some, like Simeon Stylites lived very exotic lives and became pilgrim attractions. More typical, however, was Antony of Egypt (c.250-356), whose commitment to salvation led him back to the community to evangelise unbelievers. His extreme asceticism deeply touched the sensibilities of the age. 

The reputed founder of Christian achoritism, Antonius, was first active in Egypt c.280-90 AD. But in 306 AD., one of his disciples visited western Syria, i.e., the intermediate region between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and reported that monasticism was as yet unknown there. 

Moreover, its origin in eastern Syria and Mesopotamia seem to date back to the end of the III century, leaving insufficient time for it to have spread from Egypt. Thus it appears that monasticism arose spontaneously and independently in Egypt and in Syria-Mesopotamia. 

The hermits (‘desert’) lived in solitude in the desert; St. John the Baptist, and later St. Paul the Hermit and St. Antony, were the first of these. Anchorites or anchorites (‘retreat’) title is synonymous with the hermits, and indicates those monks who practiced the solitary life. This form of monastic life is the most ancient; it spread, first of all, in Egypt, then in Palestine and Syria, through the whole of the eastern world, and, finally, in the West.[22]

Pachomius (c.290-346), an Egyptian monk, preferred the communal life. He wrote a rule of life for monks in which he emphasised organisation and the rule of elder monks over the newly professed. The rule became popular, and the movement toward communal life was ensured. To the idea of community Basil the Great (c.330-79) added another element. In his writings, and especially in his commentaries on the scriptures, this father of Eastern monasticism defined a theory of Christian humanism which he felt was binding on the monasteries. According to Basil, monastics should care for orphans, feed the poor, maintain hospitals, educate children, even provide work for the unemployed. 

Toward the end of the IV century the individualist asceticism of the anchorites gradually became rarer. Ascetic impulses came increasingly to be expressed through the communal life of monasteries, where monks were subject to rules and bishops supervised their activities. Small and crude monastic establishments grew in size, acquiring fields, orchards and gardens, inasmuch as an entire community of monks could not be supported solely on the charity of surrounding villages. Often the presence of monks near a town was considered lucky, and the towns-people helped to erect buildings for them. 

The original foundation of a monastery frequently came about when a widely know anchorite was joined in his solitude by a few disciples, and the anchorite failed to send them away. This happened with the monk Saba (d. 366/67 AD) of Edessa. According to his contemporary St. Ephraim, Juliana was known to the “whole world”. This outstanding anchorite inhabited a cave in the vicinity of Edessa, where the practiced severe mortification, including long vigils and severe fasts. Gradually a group of admirers gathered around his cave, and Juliana organised a rudimentary form of common life for them. The fame of Juliana Saba led other monks to follow his example. 

Ephraim compared his role in the organisation of monasteries to a huge censer that spread incense through the entire country around Edessa.[23] 

Christian monasticism grew and took institutional form in order to provide a supportive setting for those who wished to take vows of poverty and chastity, who valued the love of Christ which surpasses the love of women. As a later development, Christian monasticism is not explicitly regulated by scripture. It has taken a wide variety of forms, from solitary hermits and begging mendicants to orders dedicated to nursing, teaching, scholarship and other forms of service to the world.[24]

Continue reading “HERMIT TO CENOBITIC: A STUDY IN EARLY CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM [‡]”
The Copts and their contribution to Christian Civilisation

The Copts and their contribution to Christian Civilisation

The origins of Coptic Christianity need  no great elaboration. Saint Mark the Evangelist is  its  recognised founder and  first  patriarch,  in  the fourth decade of the  first century.  During the first  two  centuries, there was a continuous admixture of paganism and Christianity in many parts of Egypt. But the fact  remains that  Christianity must have   penetrated the  country  far enough  to justify  the discovery  of the oldest   Biblical… Continue reading The Copts and their contribution to Christian Civilisation