PODCAST: Monastic Reform, Part 3 (The History of Christianity Podcast #214 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #214, titled, “Monastic Reform, Part 3.”

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 James 3:2 which reads: “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Saint Benedict of Nursia [NUR-SEE-AH]. He said: “Whatever good work you begin to do, beg of God with most earnest prayer to perfect it.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Monastic Reform, Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Thus, the goal of ecclesiastical reformation was seen in the eleventh century as an extension of what was taking place in many monastic communities. This was the vision that Bruno of Toul [TOOL], and his companions Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND] and Humbert [HUM-BUHT], took with them on their way to Rome, where Bruno would become pope under the name of Leo IX (ninth). Just as Cluny [KLOO-NEE] had been able to carry on its great work because it was independent of all civil power, so was the dream of those reformers a church whose leaders would be free from every obligation to civil authorities, be they kings or nobles. Simony [SAI-MUH-NEE] (the buying and selling of ecclesiastical posts) was therefore one of the worst evils to be eradicated. The appointment and the investiture of bishops and abbots by nobles, kings, and emperors, although not strictly simony [SAI-MUH-NEE], was dangerously close to it, and must also be forbidden, particularly in those areas whose rulers were not zealous reformers.

The other great enemy of reformation thus conceived in monastic terms was clerical marriage. For centuries, many had practiced celibacy, and there had been earlier attempts to promote it, but never as a universal rule. Now, fired by the monastic example, these reformers made clerical celibacy one of the pillars of their program. Eventually, what earlier had been required only of monks and nuns would also be required of the clergy.

This was not achieved without much pain, heartbreak, and even violence. At some point in the process, apparently in Milan [MI-LAHN], the “Patarines” [PAH-TAH-REENS] arose. These were overzealous promoters of clerical celibacy who held that the marriage of priests was really a form of concubinage, called priest’s wives harlots, and insisted that they must simply be expelled from their husband’s households. In Florence, many refused to accept sacraments celebrated by married priests. When the bishop tried to appeal to reason and tradition, the Patarines accused him of simony [SAI-MUH-NEE]. John Gualbert [GOHL-BERT] of Vallombrosa [VAHL-OHM-BROH-SAH]—later canonized as a saint—paraded through the streets of the city proclaiming that the bishop was indeed a simoniac [SAI-MUH-NEE-ACK]—which the bishop denied. Hildebrand entered into the fray in support of John Gualbert [GOHL-BERT]. Peter Damian, a respected reforming monk, called for calm, moderation, patience, and love. Finally someone suggested that the matter be settled by trial of fire. On the outskirts of the city, a bonfire was built, a monk who supported the Patarines [PAH-TAH-REENS] walked across it, and this was taken as proof that the accusations against the bishop were true. The bishop had to flee the city, where clergy families were forcibly pulled out of their homes and thrown out in the streets.

Obedience, another cornerstone of Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] monasticism, would also be fundamental to this reformation of the eleventh century. Just as monks owed obedience to their superiors, so must the entire church (in fact, all Christendom) be subject to the pope, who would head a great renewal in which his role would be similar to that of the abbots of Cluny [KLOO-NEE] in the monastic reform.

Finally, when it came to poverty, both Cluniac [KLOO-NEE-ACK] monasticism and the general reformation that it inspired were ambivalent. A good monk should own nothing, and must lead a simple life. The monastery, however, could have property and vast expanses of land. These grew constantly through gifts and inheritance from the faithful who admired the monastic way of life, or who simply wished to earn merit toward their salvation. Eventually, this made it difficult for monks to lead the simple life which the Rule required. In the case of Cluny [KLOO-NEE] itself, the time came when it and its sister houses were so rich that their monks could spend all their time at the Divine Office and neglect physical labor. Likewise, the reformers criticized the luxurious life of many bishops, but at the same time insisted on the right of the church to its holdings of land and to all the wealth it had accumulated over the centuries. In theory, this was not for the use of the prelates, but for the glory of God and to help the poor. But in truth it hindered the proposed reformation, for it invited simony, and the power that bishops and abbots had as feudal lords led them to be constantly involved in political intrigue.

Next time, we will continue looking at “Monastic Reform.”

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.