The Early History Of Monasticism; From The Original Sources. -- By: Ralph Emerson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 001:2 (May 1844)
Article: The Early History Of Monasticism; From The Original Sources.
Author: Ralph Emerson


The Early History Of Monasticism;
From The Original Sources.

Rev. Ralph Emerson, D. D.,

Prof, of Ecclesiastical History in the Theol. Sem. Andover.

After some general statements and remarks respecting monasticism, the history of its rise in the christian church will be presented in the form of translations from the most authentic sources. The pieces presented will consist chiefly of biographical notices of some of the earliest and most noted monks.

It may well be supposed no easy thing for us of this age and in this country, to form a just estimate or even a very definite conception of monasticism, from the ordinary helps we enjoy. The chief object of my remarks, and indeed of the whole account to be given, will be to aid in the formation of such an estimate, especially in regard to its earliest period in the church.—A full history of the institution down to the present time, would require many volumes.

Different Aspects of Monasticism.

Of all the strange exhibitions which human nature has presented to the world, that of monasticism is the most multiform and the most grotesque;—a Simeon Stylites, standing on his lonely pillar, day and night, sixty feet high in the open air;—a saint Antony, immured in his seclusion without being seen by man for twenty years, engaged in imaginary conflicts with devils! Accordingly, monkery has been the object of ridicule and scorn to the whole Protestant world.—This is one aspect. But it has another; and one which is far from being so contemptible.

Of all the baleful institutions that have shaken the world, monasticism, in its insidious and all-pervading influences, has been one of the most appalling as well as mysterious. The power of an Alexander the Great, in moulding the destinies of man, has been nothing compared with that of the old recluse of the desert, the first founder of monastic institutions. If “lying wonders,” whereby the whole of Christendom was deceived for thirteen centuries, and most of it is still led captive at the will and pleasure of the popedom, are no trifle, then is monasticism no object of unmingled contempt. And if the man of sin himself is as much to be dreaded as he is to be abhorred, so likewise is the chief source of that invisibly permeating influence which gradually prepared the nations to bow their necks and even their consciences to his sway. For, without a belief in the continuance of miracles, wrought chiefly by the monks, and without that spirit which a belief in continued miracles inspires and which was fostered in all ways by the monks, what could sacerdotal usurpation have achieved? And without the subsequent aid, afforded more directly and in various ways by the ever-chang...

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