The Practice of Prayer in Early and Medieval Monasticism -- By: D. Jeffrey Bingham

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:629 (Jan 2001)
Article: The Practice of Prayer in Early and Medieval Monasticism
Author: D. Jeffrey Bingham


The Practice of Prayer in Early and Medieval Monasticism

D. Jeffrey Binghama

Christians have often been nurtured by reflecting on the ways believers before them have sought to maintain an effective prayer life. A brief survey of prayer in monasticism can be another means of encouraging believers today to maintain an active prayer life in the pursuit of godly living.

A true monk embraced a vision of the spiritual life in anticipation of the life to come. It was a life lived in tension between temporary existence in the present world and an indifference toward it.1 He envisioned himself dead to the world, a despiser of earthly things, and sought to serve the earthly community by his vision and to set standards for it. The monastic way of life was intended to create conditions under which monks could live in accord with the Lord’s teaching to His disciples. Jesus’ words on prayer, such as Luke 18:1, “They should always pray and not give up,”2 and

other scriptural commands concerning prayer were foremost in their minds. This emphasis appears very early in the monastic tradition. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote that Antony “prayed often, for he had learned that one should pray to the Lord without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).3 Similarly Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “We must not devote ourselves to prayer once or twice, but frequently, diligently, letting God know the longings of our hearts and letting him hear, at times, the voice of our mouth. This is why it is said, ‘Let your petitions be made known to God’ (Phil. 4:6), which happens as a result of persistence and diligence in prayer.”4

The populace valued the monks’ lifestyle. Through the intercessory prayer of a monk the people embraced the words of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” For instance in a letter to the abbot Hugo of Cluny, Henry III petitioned Hugo to become his son’s godfather: “Which man who knows the right way would not hope for your prayers and those of your monks? Who would not strive to hold fast to the indissoluble bond of your love, you whose prayer is all the purer in that it is remote from worldly deed, all the worthier in that it is near to God’s sight?”5...

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