Monastic History

0001-0411-0919-5036_ruler_inches_and_centimeters Something that I have been thinking about for a time is a rule of faith. The benedictines and most monastic orders have them, but I have very much like the Rule of St Benedict.
And so my church is currently looking to introduce this is a slightly different way. We would like to introduce it as mission, a personal mission possibly as a primer to baptism but also as a help to spiritual growth.
These are my suggestions thus far:

I have approached looking ahead to it being used as a baptism primer and for furthering spiritual growth/discipline and discipleship of all.

Connecting to God on a daily basis

A Daily Office and Bible reading

A different daily quote to contemplate or ponder

Daily Format

I have considered an online format but on reflection I think we should print our own books. This can be done quite cheaply at  or a similar site. This has the advantage of being to carry it and freely access it anywhere.

I also suggest adding:

Three sections of teaching notes

Christians Classics list

Web resources list

Room for notes

Daily Prayers (Daily office)

One Daily Office per day consisting of:

The principal prayer – the opening prayer of the day

Daily reading from scripture

The confirmation of the Trinity

Declaration of Faith

Lord’s Prayer and Amen


Forty days which is in keeping with Jesus time in the Desert/Moses on the mountain/Jews in the desert and is a time period of transformation in scripture. 6 weeks and 2 days – for instance it could run from on Sunday Jan 11th and that means it would run through to feb 27th.


All teaching session should be over a simple meal

After church on a Sunday

The teaching should cover all basic areas of belief


All should serve each week

People would need to be placed in different ministries to understand service and serving


All people should be giving, that includes financially, time and energy

It should be with a joyful heart

Percentages may make it feel it’s about money or people are in some way having to pay for the course which may detract from the spiritual aspect of it.

Small Groups

All people should be a member of a small group


Initially this could be divided among the three leaders.

For baptism primers I would suggest one on one

Those who have done it before to do it with those who are preparing for the sacrament of baptism

Finishing up

A day away at an abbey/convent for some quiet reflective time and a chance to share for all members

A meal together the night before the baptism





New Monasticism is becoming the new word on the lips of many Christians during the beginnings of the 21st century.

The term in itself can have a variety of expressions within the monastic tradition; the great monastic reforms of the eleventh and twelve centuries, in particularly the formation of the Carthusians and Cistercians, have often been referred to as the age of a new monasticism, Dom John Main, the founder of an experimental monastic community of lay people and monks in Montreal, Quebec, referred to his foundation as a kind of new monasticism.

In a sense the term opens its self up to usage in relation to any new development within the monastic tradition. For the Christian of the 21stcentury the term New Monasticism primarily finds is source within a letter written in 1935 by the late great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his brother Karl-Friedrich. The letter was calling for a counter-cultural movement against the Third Reich which was becoming increasingly more influential within the German Church, and is included here in part: The restoration of the Church will surely come from a kind of new monasticism, which has in common with the old kind only the uncompromising nature of life according to the Sermon on the Mount, following Christ.

I think that it is about time go gather the people for this…. Bonhoeffer wrote this letter during the compilation of his book, ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ On reflection of this book, Eberhard Bethge stated, Bonhoeffer was calling for a church that needed to take a stand, no longer being fought with words, but with ‘Renewal and a transformed lifestyle were necessary.’

What emerges from Bonheoffer’s statement is something of a contradiction, Augustine summed up the monastic life in the early medieval period as, regarding the monk as the embodiment of the ‘sermon on the mount’ and that their service and prayer was the greatest service to the church. I am not assuming here that Bonhoeffer read Augustine’s, De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholica, but that in equating Bonheoffer’s new monasticism with the ‘sermon on the mount’ what is left to leave behind of the old? The discussion here though is not so much concerned with Bonhoeffer, but with our modern day use of his term. Bonhoeffer’s writings have had a profound effect on many peoples life’s and in particular the development of community living. The late Very Rev. George Macleod, (founder of the Iona community) was influenced by Bonhoeffer’s ethos and writings during the foundational period of the Iona community. In 1980 the then to be Rev. John Skinner, who was training to become an Anglican priest at Lincoln, came across Bonhoeffer’s passage, and, described his response to it as, ‘receiving an epiphany for living’. Rev. John Skinner, was one of the first to associate Bonhoeffer’s term ‘new monasticism’ firstly, in the application of monastic themes within the life of the non- monastic, and

Secondly in the development of community life, amongst the laity or secular, after many years reading monastic history and spirituality, cultural studies and through participation within traditional monastic institutes, What Rev. Skinner began to express through his journals and writings was that if the Church was to survive its journey into the new emerging cultural shift, from modernity to post-modernity, people needed to find a new way of living as a Christian within their Church life, in order to cope amidst the new cultural and social-political world-views that were taking shape. For Rev. Skinner this new way was through a new monasticism, but his new monasticism was entwined within old monasticism, in the sense that it needed to respect for and consultation with traditional monasticism, in order for it to have any longstanding effect. Rev. Skinner writes, ‘ the effect of new paradigms on human psychology and community, and the importance of monastic themes of prayer, meditation, work, study and the common life in negotiating periods of change and upheaval within the human psyche and society, is paramount for the survival of the church as she moves forward. Twenty five years on, the Christian community at large are waking up to the fact that we are now living in a cultural new age, sociologists call post modernity.

This is illustrated in a large amount of books now being published concerning post modernity with the word Christian nestled in the title. An affect of a slow awakening is the fact that the effects of post modernity have already began to take shape in the environment around and in the lives of the individual. The consequence is not so much of this occurrence, but in the fact that people may be unaware of these changes within society and their life’s, a result being, that as individuals and church seek to change amidst the new developments, the change is in danger of becoming a symptom of, rather that a reaction to, post-modernity.

What seems evident through recent publications from new monastic communities and groups is that we are being presented with series of alternatives, self awareness courses, spiritual pursuits, community based belonging and the most alarming, an alternative to Church. Whist you could argue that some of these new alternatives can only be a good, especially in our ever stressful and busy environment, there is a danger that new monasticism is being developed into a leisure activity and a facility for people to use in their despondency with Church, quest for spirituality and need for belonging and security, amidst the chaotic and insecure lifestyles that are being lived. These feelings are in a sense expected within a society that is driven by secularism and materialism, amongst other ‘ism’s’, but the coping mechanism are being produced in order to keep the society working. An effect that a pick and mix society is having on new monasticism is a manipulation of traditional monastic values and spirituality in order to clean, refresh and re-package monasticism to make it easier to live with and more socially acceptable. This is not a call for monastic preservation or an obstacle for change, but is a sad case that the symptoms of post-modernity are impacting the development of new monasticism, shaping monastic spirituality to suit our life’s rather than allowing monastic values to change our own life.

The early monks who fled the cities and towns in the Near-East to inhabit the nearby deserts, did so not to set up new churches, but to explore a new way of living a Christian life amidst the social and economic changes that were apparent in Roman society during the third and fourth centuries AD. Contrary to some popular belief, the monasticism that emerged from the deserts of the near-East was fully committed to the Church from which it came, and what emerged was a mutual relationship between the two, both respecting and supporting each other.

In the same way, we as Christians are faced with similar changes in the 21stCentury, with the growth of secularisation and other social trends that are emerging out of a post-modern world view. It is to this backdrop that inspiration given from monasticism can help reorganise and reconstruct how to live a Christian life and in consequence help equip the church as a whole as She moves into a new phase of life. But this cannot be fully achieved unless we stand in the middle of this cultural storm together as an individual and church supporting each other. It is within this context that the genius of Rev. Skinner’s new monasticism can be realised.

The Augstinian Order

The Augustinian order (also known as Austin Canons, or Black Canons) came to England and established themselves at St. Botolph’s Priory at Colchester, c. 1106. They spread rapidly, reaching Scotland by 1120. At their height, the Augustinians had over 200 houses in England and Wales.

Each of the houses was governed by a prelate, usually a prior, but sometimes, an abbot. The monastic “rule” followed by the Augustinians was that of St. Augustine of Hippo and was not particularly austere. Each of the Austin Canons was a priest and as such was not bound to his house, but was free to have outside responsibilities, such as to a parish. The Black Canons also ran schools, hospitals and almshouses.

Some well known Augustinian houses are Holyrood, St. Andrews, Jedburgh, Lacock, St. Botolph’s, Leeds (Kent), Llanthony, Walsingham and Barnwell. Their habit consisted of a hooded black cloak over top of a black cassock. The Augustinian Friars are another, separate order.

A brief outline for us to be going on with:

Monastic communities, both of men and women, have played an important role in the history of Britain. In a society which presented few options or opportunities, this way of life offered many attractions. What the life lacked in glamor, it more than made up for in serenity and stability. The monastic life offered social mobility for some, and a refuge for others. The monasteries provided the opportunity for education, freedom from some of the economic uncertainties of the times, and, often, a career path that could lead to a very high station in life.

Monastic communities trace their origin to the early centuries of the Christian era. Some early Christians fled to the Egyptian deserts to live alone (monos) with God. These Desert Fathers greatly influenced the development of monasticism, both Eastern and Western.

At the heart of the monastic impulse is the rejection of the world, and the recreation of paradise.

The Desert Fathers were, at first, solitaries (ermetical). Later hermits gathered into small communities and shared some aspects of life together (cenobitical). This tension is often reflected in the history of monasticism.

The founding of Western Monasticism is attributed to St. Benedict of Nursia (c.480)-c.547). Benedict did not originate monasticism in the West, but he regularized it, altering something here and adding a bit there to provide a more balanced and moderate style of monasticism. His “Little Rule for Beginners” required a vow of stability which unites a monk for life to the particular monastery in which his vows are made (an extremely important new development). Benedict also stressed the cenobitic life under the authority of an Abbot and Rule. Those that follow the Rule of St. Benedict are called Benedictines. Manual labor and prayer comprised the focus of monastic life and is reflected in the Benedictine motto, “Ora et Labora.” Manual labor was later interpreted to include academic labor.

Benedict’s Rule was brought to Britain in 597, by St. Augustine, who had been sent by Pope Gregory the Great (both of whom were Benedictines) to preach to and convert the Saxons, who had taken over control of the island, by this time.

The Benedictine observance co-existed with other observances of Celtic origin for some 50 years, but, in the end, prevailed at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664, thanks to St. Wilfred of York, St. Benedict Biscop and others.

Over the next 900 or so years, the Benedictines and all other monastic orders, would go through various vicissitudes which came to an abrupt end, around 1540, with the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.