Rise And Progress Of Monasticism -- By: Philip Schaff

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 021:82 (Apr 1864)
Article: Rise And Progress Of Monasticism
Author: Philip Schaff


Rise And Progress Of Monasticism1

Philip Schaff

Origin Of Christian Monasticism. Comparison With Other Forms Of Asceticism

The monastic institution arose in the beginning of the fourth century, and thenceforth occupies a distinguished place in the history of the church. Beginning in Egypt, it spread in an irresistible tide over the East and the West, continued to be the chief repository of the Christian life down to the times of the Reformation, and still remains in the Greek and Roman churches an indispensable institution, and the most productive seminary of saints, priests, and missionaries.

The germs of the ascetic tendency are found among the heretics and the weak, Judaizing Christians opposed in the writings of Paul. Monasticism is only the full development and organization of asceticism. It is by no means confined to the Christian church, but belongs also to other religions, both before and after Christ, especially in the East. It proceeds from religious seriousness, enthusiasm, and ambition, from a sense of the vanity of the world, and an inclination of noble souls towards solitude, contemplation, and freedom from the bonds of the flesh and the temptations of the world; but it gives this tendency an undue predominance over the social, practical, and world-reforming spirit of Christianity.

Among the Hindus the ascetic system may be traced back

almost to the time of Moses, certainly beyond Alexander the Great, who found it there in full force, and substantially with the same characteristics which it presents at the present day.2 Let us consider it a few moments.

The Vedas, portions of which date from the fifteenth century before Christ, the Laws of Menu, which were completed before the rise of Buddhism, that is six or seven centuries before our era, and the numerous other sacred books of the Indian religion, enjoin by example and precept entire abstraction of thought, seclusion from the world, and a variety of penitential and meritorious acts of self-mortifi-

cation, by which the devotee assumes a proud superiority over the vulgar herd of mortals, and is absorbed at last into the divine fountain of all being. The ascetic system is essential alike to Brahmanism and Buddhism, the two opposite and yet cognate branches of the Indian religion, which in many respects are similarly related to each other, as Judaism is to Christianity, or also as Romanism to Protestantism; Buddhism is a later reformation of Brahmanism; it dates probably from the sixth century...

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