Christianity / Organization /
Other term: Monachism
In Christianity, institutionalized organizations aiming at a higher and purer form of worship that what is expected from the average Christian. Monasticism is based upon the monastery inhabited by monks (male) or nuns (female), seldom the two groups together.
Monasticism represents communities apart from society, in which a strict, ascetic lifestyle is followed. Monks and nuns stay within the community and monastery throughout their lifespan and live in celibacy. Monasticism often involves seclusion from society, but rarely full isolation.
Monasticism often involves social and ideal activities, helping and aiding people from the general society. Monasticism has often also represented centres of learning and research, not limited to religous scholarship only.
Hermits, ascetics living alone, are usually considered part of monasticism, although they do not live within a regulated ascetic community or in a monastery.
Hermits appear to have been the actual founders of monasticism; it was from the hermit's efforts that monastic communities developed. This form of ascetic religious practice is called cenobitic.
The word is derived from Greek monachos, "living alone,". From this, the different aspects of the word can be derived, both living separated from society and living in celibacy (this meaning does not correspond with the original etymology).
Islam has no form of monasticism, but there are practices with similarities. Religious communities, like the Ikhwans of Arabia, the ribat communities across the early Muslim world and even the holy man and woman cults, share a few common traits. They are all set apart from society, an all aim at a higher and purer form of worship. But there is no form of permanent celibacy.
Within Sufism (usually labelled part of Islam), seclusion to monasteries was a common practice early on, but this practice would die out.
Jewish history has what may have been the forerunner of Christian monasticism, the strict and isolated communities of the Essenes and Zealots.
Monasticism exists in many other religions too, but due to this encyclopaedia's geographical scope, those are beyond Contents.
It is impossible to retrace the origins of religious life focusing on asceticism and seclusion from society, it may be as old as human history.
1st century: John the Baptist lives alone in the desert; this is often promoted as the origin of monasticism.
2nd century BCE: The Essenes emerge as a Jewish group in Palestine and Syria, leading a lifestyle with many similarities to monasticism.
3rd century CE: Refugees reportedly from Palestine establishes the first basic monasteries in the desert areas of Northern Egypt.
Early 4th century: St Pachomius draws up the first monastic rules, regulating cenobitic monasticism.
Middle 4th century: St Eugenios founds a monastery on Mt. Izla above Nisibis in Mesopotamia . From this point begins the cenobitic tradition in Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, Georgia and even India and China.
483: St Saba organizes the monks of the Judean Desert in a monastery near Bethlehem. This is considered the beginning of monasticism among Eastern Orthodox churches.
8th century: Sufis reportedly form monasteries.