WESTERN MONASTICISM AND THE PRESERVATION OF WESTERN LEARNING


According to myth propagated by the 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon, the decline of Rome and the advent of the so-called 'Dark Ages' were precipitated by the rise of Christianity. This is simply false. The ravages that caused the Western empire's slow collapse had nothing whatever to do with the new religion; moreover, had it not been for the Christian monasteries of Western Europe, practically nothing of classical Latin antiquity would have survived the empire's disintegration.


Christian monasticism, as already noted, began in the deserts of the East, but soon migrated to the West; and no single figure was more important in bringing Egyptian asceticism to the Latin Christian world than John Cassian (360—435), or John the Eremite, the founder of the Abbey of St Victor in Marseilles. Cassian's origins are impossible to determine. It is believed by some that he was a Gaul of Roman origin who travelled eastward and spent time among the desert fathers before returning home. He may, however, have been born in the East; one ancient source claims that he was a Scythian. In any event, he was in Bethlehem when he took up the monastic life; and from there he journeyed to Egypt to receive spiritual instruction from the hermits of the Thebaid.


Cassian travelled to Constantinople in around 399, where the patriarch of the city, the great Christian master of rhetoric St John Chrysostom (literally 'Golden Mouth'), ordained him a deacon and made him treasurer of the cathedral. It may, in fact, have been his loyalty to Chrysostom that prompted Cassian to leave the East. The patriarch acquired formidable enemies in Constantinople — not least for his public reproaches of the rich and powerful for their wasteful extravagances and neglect of the poor - and in 403 he was deposed from his see on spurious charges and banished to Armenia. Cassian conducted an embassy to Rome in the hope of persuading Pope Innocent I (d.417) to try to intervene on Chrysostom's behalf; the pope, with the help of the Western emperor Honorius, used what influence he could, but he had no actual authority in the East and his efforts proved futile.


While still in Rome, in 405, Cassian was ordained to the priesthood. Thereafter, it seems, he applied himself to establishing an organized Christian monasticism in Gaul. In 415 he founded not only his famous monastery in Marseilles, but a convent as well, and spent the remainder of his life as an abbot. His work known


as the "Collationes" (or Conferences) contained somewhat stylized reminiscences of the Egyptian desert fathers, as well as collections of their teachings in the form of discourses, and concerned principally the inner spiritual states of the Christian ascetic. His "Institutes of the Monastic Life," by contrast, concerned the rules that governed the life of the ascetic and the eight chief temptations with which the Christian contemplative must struggle.


(ONCE  MORE  WE  SEE  UN-BIBLICAL  CUSTOMS  AND  PRACTICES  LIKE  MONASTIC  LIFE,  BROUGHT  TO  THE  WEST.  WITH  THE  OUTWARD  PIETY  AND  CHARITABLE  WORKS,  IT  DECEIVED  MILLIONS [who  did  not  practice  it]  EVENTUALLY  INTO  BELIEVING  THIS  LIFE-STYLE  WAS  "GODLY"  -  Keith Hunt)


St Benedict and the Rule


The true father of the distinctively Western monastic tradition was the remarkable St Benedict of Nursia (c.480-c.547), an educated Italian of the privileged class who, as a young man, withdrew to live a hermit's life and soon won a reputation for extraordinary sanctity. After a few years, he was invited to become abbot of a monastery near his retreat; the rigours he demanded of his monks, however, were deemed intolerable by some and (allegedly) an attempt was made to poison him. He returned to his hermit's life, but disciples soon gathered around him, and he founded a dozen monasteries on a model he devised. Thereafter he removed himself farther south, to a region not yet fully converted to Christianity, and founded his great monastery of Monte Cassino, a point more or less midway between Naples and Rome. Of his monks, Benedict demanded a willingness to abide by the rules of the community, devotion to prayer, obedience to the abbot and service to the poor and the ill.


Perhaps Benedict's greatest contribution to Western monastic culture - apart from his personal example — was the Rule he composed for communities of monks. By comparison to Eastern rules of coenobitic monasticism (such as St Basil the Great's) it is marked by a certain mildness and prudence: monks are allowed a full night's sleep, warm clothes and adequate food; and the physically infirm or immature are to be spared exertions of which they are not capable.The Rule's principal aim is to establish a code of communal harmony, love of God, prayer and service to others. But it is a rigorous rule for all that, precisely prescribing the pattern both of the novitiate and of the fully avowed life of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


(AGAIN,  NOT ONE  WORD  CAN  BE  FOUND  IN  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT [WELL  EVEN  THE  OLD  TESTAMENT]  THAT  SUCH  "MONASTIC"  AND  "HERMIT"  LIFE-STYLE  WAS  EVER  ESTABLISHED   BY  ANY  OF  GOD'S  PEOPLE.  INDIVIDUALS  SOMETIMES  WANDERED  ALONE  AS  PROPHETS  OF  GOD,  WARNING  THE  PEOPLE,  BUT  THAT  IS  FAR  FROM  ESTABLISHING  CLOSED  FAR  OFF  SECLUDED  "HERMIT"  GROUPS.  WESTERN  ROME  THEOLOGY  CALLED  THEM  A  "MONASTERY"  OR  "NUNARY"  -  Keith Hunt)



What is more, the Rule is a model of clarity. It sets the daily home canonkae (that is, the 'canonical hours') at which the community as a whole must gather for common prayer and worship, it describes with exactitude how the monastery is to be administered and how it is to receive guests, it precisely delineates the duties of the abbot and his monks, and it prescribes disciplines for the reconciliation of monks who have erred. It also apportions the day into roughly equal periods of manual or scriptorial labour, private study and communal observances.


As a whole, the special spirit that Benedict imparted to Western Christian monasticism was one of wise moderation: an emphasis more on simplicity than on austerity, more on the homely forms of self-abnegation than on the heroic and more on the discipline of the flesh than on its chastisement. Certain later forms of Western monasticism would more nearly approximate the somewhat severer example of the East; but the Benedictine approach to the ascetic life remained dominant in Western practice.


(ASCETIC  LIFE  WAS  NEVER  TAUGHT  BY  CHRIST  OR  THE  APOSTLES  OF  THE  FIRST  CENTURY.  IT  IS  A  FALSEHOOD  OF  OUTWARD  SHOW  OF  HOLINESS,  AND  SUPPOSED  "DEDICATION  TO  THE  LORD"  -  Keith Hunt)


Shoring Up the Fragments


Had it not been for the monastic institutions established by Benedict and others, with their libraries and scriptoria, the cultural devastation of Western Europe consequent upon the decline of the Western empire would have been complete. As the West was progressively sealed off from the high civilization of the Eastern Christian world, and knowledge of Greek became scarce in the West, the only institution that could boast any continuity with the culture of antiquity was the


[Incidents in the Life of St Benedict (1407-09), an altarpiece panel by the Florentine Renaissance painter Lorenzo Monaco. The central scene shows Benedict's follower St Maurus saving St Placidus from drowning by walking on water, a power bestowed upon him by Benedict]


Church. In the sixth century, the Christian philosopher Boethius (c.475-524) undertook to shore up such fragments as he could against the darkness by producing translations of all of Plato and Aristotle, as well as commentaries upon them, and by preparing manuals of music, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. His grand project, however, was only partially complete when it was rather abruptly curtailed by his execution at the hands of the Ostrogoth king of Italy, Theodoric (d.526), on spurious charges. Thereafter, it was almost exclusively the labour of monks that preserved anything of classical Western literature and learning from the general ruin.


(AND  IT  WOULD  NOT  HAVE  MATTERED  MUCH,  IF  ANY  OF  THIS  "WESTERN  LITERATURE"  HAD  DISAPPEARED  FROM  PRESERVATION,  FOR  MOST  OF  IT  WAS  UNGODLY  GARBAGE  ANYWAY  -  Keith Hunt)


No figure was more important in this regard than Cassiodorus (490-C.585), a monk of patrician caste who spent the earlier part of his adult life as a civil official in the Ostrogoth administration in Italy, serving under Theodoric, Athalaric (516-34) and others. Some time after 540, however, he founded a monastery called the Vivarium, near modern Squillace in Calabria in southern Italy, where manuscripts were gathered and preserved, and monks were set to work copying and preserving works of Roman antiquity and Greek Christian thought. In later centuries, as a result of the Vivarium's example, various monasteries throughout Western Europe - from the Mediterranean to Britain -became repositories of the writings of Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Pliny, Horace, Statius, Persius, Lucan, Suetonius, Seneca, Martial, Apuleius, Juvenal, Terence and so on, as well as of such portions of Plato, Aristotle and the Greek Church Fathers as were available in Latin.


(WOULD  HAVE  BEEN  NO  BIG  LOSS  IF  NONE  OF  THOSE  FELLOWS  WRITINGS  HAD  VANISHED  FROM  EARTH - THEY  WERE  BLINDED  AND  DARKENED  MINDS,  FULL  OF  FALSE  IDEAS,  AND  VAIN  TEACHINGS  -  Keith Hunt)


Cassiodorus was also one of the earliest Christian encyclopaedists — that is, men who produced compendia of the sciences and arts, as well as manuals for study and instruction. His "Institutes of Divine and Secular Letters" contains - alongside his treatments of Christian scripture and theology — the programme of the seven liberal arts: the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the 'quadrivium' of geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy, which became the course of elementary and higher education in the later Middle Ages. Cassiodorus also wrote a treatise on the soul, a history of humankind from the time of Adam and Eve called the "Chronicon," an exposition of music theory and of the other 'liberal arts and disciplines', and an anthology of the work of classical grammarians.


These efforts may perhaps seem small in proportion to the magnitude of what had been lost in the fall of the Western Roman empire. Nevertheless, but for Christian scholarship and the tenuous links to the past that it strove to keep intact, the so-called 'Dark Ages' would have been very dark indeed.


(THE  PRESERVING  OF  ART,  GEOMETRY,  ARITHMETIC,  MUSIC,  ASTRONOMY,  AND  THE  LIKES,  CAN  ALL  BE  PRESERVED [AS  THEY  ARE  TODAY]  WITHOUT  GOING  INTO  A  HERMIT  MONASTIC  LIFE-STYLE,  THAT  IS  NOT  TAUGHT  IN  THE  BIBLE  -  Keith Hunt)


THE UNIVERSE IN A SINGLE RAY OF THE SUN



One of the incidents of St Benedict's life related by St Gregory was his blessing of poisoned wine, which caused the vessel to break. The scene was depicted by the 15th century painter Bartolomeo di Giovanni.


We have no biography of St Benedict of Nursia other than the Second Book of Dialogues by Pope St Gregory the Great (c.540-604), and this is in no sense a work of historical scholarship. In addition to the more mundane episodes of Benedict's life, Gregory's book recounts a number of miraculous deeds and mystical experiences, some of which at least seem to be of a legendary nature. For instance, Gregory reports that the conspiracy by the monks of Benedict's first monastery to poison their abbot came to light when the latter blessed the wine in which the poison had been mixed and the carafe promptly shattered.

Gregory also tells of Benedict causing water to gush from a rock or oil to pour forth inexhaustibly from a single vessel. Benedict also confers the power to walk on water upon one of his followers, St Maurus, so he can save another from drowning. And he is also credited with the ability to discern the innermost thoughts and desires of others.

One story, however, that may well reflect an actual event is recounted in the thirty-fourth chapter of Gregory's text. Here Gregory tells how Benedict, when he was approaching his final days on earth, was granted an extraordinary vision of God's infinite glory embracing and transfusing all things.

Late one night, claims Gregory, Benedict found himself suddenly bathed in an unearthly light. It was at once perfectly visible and yet somehow more radiant than the light of the sun - pouring down on him from above, and dispelling all darkness by its pure brightness.

This extraordinary radiance was a vision of the supernatural sun of God's splendour. More mysteriously still, in the midst of all that brilliance, Benedict seemed somehow to glimpse the entirety of creation, gathered into one, and wholly contained within a single ray of that celestial light. And, so long as the vision lasted, Benedict saw, as it were, the infinity of God's transcendence, power and beauty, which no finite mind can comprehend.

....................


AND  OF  COURSE  SUCH  HAPPENINGS  AND  SUCH  STORIES  ADD  MORE  DECEPTION  TO  DECEPTION,  HENCE  MORE  AND  MORE  [TILL  TODAY  YOU  HAVE  OVER  ONE  BILLION  ROMAN  CATHOLICS  ON  EARTH]  BELIEVING  BENEDICT  AND  OTHERS  WERE  THE  TRUE  SERVANTS  OF  GOD.


THE  APOSTLE  PAUL  WROTE  THAT  SATAN  CAN  COME  AS  AN  ANGEL  OF  LIGHT,  AND  HENCE  HIS  MINISTERS  AS  SERVANTS  OF  RIGHTEOUSNESS.


THE  DEVIL  CAN  WORK  MIRACLES  AND  WONDERS.  HE  WILL  DO  SO  AGAIN  IN  THE  LAST  END  TIMES,  ACCORDING  TO  THE  PROPHECIES  OF  THE  BOOK  OF  REVELATION.


Keith Hunt