Monastic Growth

In the West St Benedict of Nursia (¿".480-¿".550) emerged as the great leader of Western monasticism. After living as a hermit in a cave at Subiaco (outside Rome) for some years, he gradually gathered followers and founded twelve monastic communities, each with twelve monks and an abbot appointed by Benedict. Local problems led Benedict to move south with a small group of monks to Monte Cassino, where he died and is buried. His sister, St Scholastica (i-.480-i-.543), who founded a convent a few miles from Monte Cassino, is buried in the same grave as her brother. Benedict's enduring legacy was his monastic rule of life. Drawing on earlier rules for monks fashioned by Basil, John Cassian, Augustine of

Hippo, and others, Benedict composed a spiritually profound and very practical rule for a monastic way of life. The Benedictine motto of 'pray and work (ora et labora) made room for education.

Centuries before the foundation of Western universities, sacred and secular learning remained alive, thanks to such leaders as St Hilda of Whitby (614-80), St Bede 'the Venerable' (c.673-735), and many other men and women who followed the monastic way of life. The thousands of finely ornamented manuscripts they lovingly created still glow like jewels in museums around the world. Dated from around 800, the glorious writing and illustrations of the Book of Kells (from a monastery in County Meath but preserved in Trinity College, Dublin) set forth the four Gospels. It bears lasting witness to the monastic love for the inspired scriptures in general, and the life of Christ in particular.

One must never tamper with a masterpiece. Yet Macaulay's vivid evocation of Catholicism with which this chapter began might have benefited from some references to the monastic way of life. Or else one should write a companion piece and celebrate the lasting achievements of Benedict and Basil, Scholastica and Hilda, and the army of men and women who have left the world in their debt through following a monastic rule of life.

So we close our account of the first thousand years of Catholic Christianity. Much remains that is very familiar: the celebration of baptism and the Eucharist; the main lines of faith in Christ and the Trinity (as expressed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381); the central role of the Gospels, the psalms, the letters of Paul, and the other scriptures (both OT and NT) for our common worship and personal lives; the organization of the worldwide Church into dioceses (called 'eparchies' by Eastern Christians) headed by bishops; the use of images for Christ and his saints (endorsed in 787 by Nicaea II); monastic life for a small but significant number of Catholics (and other Christians); the example of heroic martyrs; and then some basic beliefs championed by St Augustine. Against the Donatists he insisted that the Church embraces saints and sinners, and against the Pelagians that, from the beginning to the end of the drama of our redemption, we rely utterly on God's saving grace. We move next to the story of the Catholic Church in the second millennium.

2 The Second Thousand Years

Thousands of years hence Catholicism will probably be even richer, more luxuriant, more manifold in dogma, morals, law, and worship than the Catholicism of the present day. A religious historian of the fifth millennium A. D. will without difficulty discover in Catholicism conceptions and forms and practices which derive from India, China, and Japan. (Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism)

Contemporary theology must consider the fact that the Reformation was not only a religious gain but also a religious loss. Although my system is very outspoken in its emphasis on the 'Protestant principle', it has not ignored the demand that the 'Catholic substance' be united with it. (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology)

The point of arrival of this chapter imposes itself automatically: the year 2000. But what middle point should we decide upon? It is tempting to find the half-way mark at 31 October 1517 and the ninety-five theses that Martin Luther (1483—1546) published as a call for reform in the Church but which triggered the Protestant Reformation. Any version of the second thousand years of Catholicism must deal with the sad divisions that followed and the latterday attempts to heal these wounds. Nevertheless, what we quoted from Thomas Macaulay at the beginning of Ch. 1 suggests a different breakpoint and another October date: the discovery on 12 October 1492 of the Americas by Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). As the British historian put it, the Catholic Church's 'acquisitions in the New World... more than compensated for what she lost in the Old'.

Inevitably any accounting of the Church from the eleventh to the end of the fifteenth century will concentrate on Europe and European Catholicism. That was where the overwhelming majority of Catholics then lived. But Columbus' achievement and other subsequent events had made the situation dramatically different at the end of the twentieth century. By the year 2000 over three-quarters of the world's one billion Catholics were living in the Americas (North, Central, and South), Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Let us begin with the period before Columbus and 1492.

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