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monasticism

Monasticism in the Western Church

History

The earliest Western forms of monasticism imitated those of the East. Western forms of monasticism spread with Christianity to Ireland, where the church was organized (6th cent.) around the monasteries, which served as centers. In Italy, St. Benedict (6th cent.) began the work from which sprang the Benedictines and the more moderate monastic rule that gradually became universal in the West—even the Celtic foundations assimilating to the Benedictine practice. The role of monasticism in the development of the new civilization of the West is incalculable (see Boniface, Saint, d.754). Monasteries were islands of stability, and their inhabitants, almost alone, preserved learning in the West.

In the 10th cent. there began at Cluny a reform that affected all Europe (see Cluniac order). Out of another reform arose the Cistercians (12th cent.). The Dominicans and Franciscans (early 13th cent.) abandoned enclosure as a principle and with the other friars became a feature in the town life of Europe until the Reformation. Their energy gave the universities and schools definitive form, and they dominate the whole history of scholasticism. At this time such semimonastic groups as the Beghards and Beguines also began to appear all over Europe.

After two centuries of decline, the 16th cent. saw a monastic revival with the founding of the Jesuits (see Jesus, Society of). In the 18th cent. anticlericalism among European governments succeeded in suppressing the Jesuits and in causing another general decline in monasticism. Since the 19th cent., the number of religious orders has been steadily increasing. The Paulists and the Sisters of Charity of Mother Seton are examples of new American communities.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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