PODCAST: Benedictine Monasticism, Part 2 (History of Christianity Podcast #180 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #180, titled, “Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] Monasticism, Part 2.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is Romans 8:5-6 which reads: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Benedict of Nursia [NUR-SEE-AH]. He said: “Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] Monasticism, Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

An errant monk is to be admonished secretly. If after two such admonitions he does not repent, he is to be reprimanded before the community. The next step is excommunication, which means being barred, not only from communion, but also from the meals in common and from every contact with the other monks. If he is still unrepentant, he is to be whipped. If even this is to no avail, he is to be sorrowfully expelled from the community. Even then, if he repents, he is to be received again. This, up to three times, for after the third expulsion the monastery will be forever closed to him. In short, the Rule is not written for venerable saints, such as the heroes of the desert, but for fallible human beings. This may have been the secret of its success.

The Rule also insists on physical labor, which is to be shared by all. Except in exceptional cases of illness or of unique gifts, all will take turns in every task. For instance, there will be weekly cooks, and in order to show that this work is not to be despised, the change of cooks will take place in one of the services of worship. Also, the ill, the elderly, and the very young will receive special consideration in the assignment of tasks. On the other hand, those who come from wealthy families will receive no special treatment on that account. If it is necessary for some reason to establish an order of priority in the monastery, this will be done according to the length of time that each has been part of the community. Thus, whereas poverty for earlier monasticism was a form of private renunciation, Benedict sought to achieve through it the creation of a new order within the community. A monk’s poverty welds him to the community, in which all are of equal poverty, and on which all must depend for all their needs.

The core of the monastic life as Benedict conceived it was prayer. Periods were assigned each day for private prayer, but most of the devotions took place in the chapel. There the monks were to gather eight times a day, seven during daytime, and once in the middle of the night, for the Psalmist says: “seven times a day I praise thee” and “At midnight I rise to praise thee”.

The first gathering for prayer took place in the early hours of dawn, and was followed by seven others. These hours, kept by most monastic houses during the Middle Ages, were called matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline. Most of the time at each of these gatherings was devoted to reciting the Psalms and to readings of other portions of scripture. The Psalms were distributed so that all would be recited in the course of a week. The other readings depended on the time of day, the day of the week, and the liturgical season. As a result, most monks came to know the entire Psalter by heart, as well as other portions of scripture. Since many of the laity who had the necessary leisure followed similar devotional practices, they too acquired great familiarity with various parts of the Bible, as they appeared in their breviaries–books containing the material to be read at various hours. The eight hours of prayer came to be called canonical hours, and their celebration the Divine Office.

Although Benedict himself had little to say about study, soon this was one of the main occupations of Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] monks. In order to celebrate the Divine Office, books were needed. Monks became adept at copying both the Bible and other books, and thus preserved them for subsequent generations. Their houses also became teaching centers, particularly for the many children who were placed under their care in order to be trained as monks. And many also served as hospitals and pharmacies, or as hostels where a weary traveler could find shelter.

Eventually, monasteries also had a profound economic impact, for many were established on marginal lands that were brought into production by the labor of the monks. Thus, countless acres were added to the agricultural land of Europe. Furthermore, in a society where the wealthy considered manual labor demeaning, the monasteries showed that the highest intellectual and spiritual achievements could be coupled with hard physical labor.

Although the monastic movement had many followers in Western Europe before Benedict’s time, it was Benedict’s Rule that eventually became widespread. In 589, the monastery that Benedict had founded at Monte Cassino was looted and burned by the Lombards. Most of the monks fled to Rome, taking their Rule with them. It was there that Gregory, who would later become pope, came to know them. Soon their Rule was followed by many in the city of Rome. Augustine, the missionary to England, took the Rule with him to the British Isles. With the support of the papacy, the Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] Rule spread throughout the Western church. The many monasteries that followed it, although not organized into a formal “order,” were thus united by common practices and ideals.

Next time, we will begin looking at “The Papacy.”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.