Revival through monasticism The varied development of the monastic ideal in Europe

Recovery from the decline which Christianity had suffered in Western Europe between the years 500 and 950 found expression and was furthered through fresh monastic movements. These became more numerous and look on greater variety than ever before. Indeed, in diversity they were much more marked than in the Eastern wing of the Catholic Church or than in any of the Eastern Churches.

Here, we may note, is one of the criteria of vitality in the Christian community. At the times when the tide of life is running low, few new movements appear. When the Christian faith is coursing with vigour through its visible manifestations, old movements are rejuvenated and new ones are born. In the Catholic Church some of the major manifestations of these revivals have been in monasticism. Seeking to attain to the Christian standard of perfection and so to obtain eternal life in heaven, men and women reared in the Catholic Church quite understandably turn to the monastic ideal and either enter existing orders or form fresh ones. In their zeal they may create novel forms of monasticism.

It is, therefore, one of the chief evidences of the awakening that came in the Western wing of the Catholic Church that in the second half of the century many existing monasteries were reformed and that new monastic communities sprang up. Closely associated with these movements were others which sought to embody the Gospel and to win nominal Christians to conform to it but which the Catholic Church deemed heretical. More intimately related than the latter were efforts to purge the whole Church of the corruption that was so obvious and so tragic, to bring all of Western Christendom to a closer approximation to Christian standards, and to spread the Western faith to peoples who had not yet accepted it. Monastic movements continued to multiply throughout the four centuries from 950 to 1350 and reached a crest in the thirteenth century.

As we have seen, monastic life had fallen to a low level in the latter part of the ninth and the fore part of the tenth century. The invasions of Northmen, Moslems, and Magyars had laid many monasteries in ruins. Countless monks had been killed or driven into the cities. In numbers of monasteries secular princes had diverted the endowments to their own purposes. They turned over to the monasteries only part of the revenues and allowed the enrolment of monks to fall off. In many others lay patrons had appointed as abbots men who valued the post as a means of livelihood, who were married, and who brought to the monasteries their families, their warriors, their horses, and their hunting dogs. Numbers of monks married and dwelt in the monastic buildings with their wives and children. The canons, members of the groups of clergy who lived by a semi-monastic rule in collegiate churches and cathedrals, conformed even more easily to the world than did the monks. In some monasteries canons were substituted for monks, for they did not have to hold as closely to the Benedictine rule as did the latter.

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