Monasticism in Western Europe reached its zenith during the High Middle Ages of the late eleventh century and early twelfth century. Coming out of the ascetic tradition of the Desert Fathers at the end of the third century, monasticism grew to become a highly influential movement with centres of worship and learning throughout medieval Europe. In this paper I will describe the development of medieval monasticism and consider the spiritual benefits that it offered to men and women both inside and outside monastic communities. I will not provide a comprehensive analysis of the benefits. Instead I will look at examples from the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study and manual work. I will conclude with a reflection on what spiritual benefit monasticism might offer the life of the church today.
There has been a link between spirituality and learning throughout the Middle Ages, from the first monastic schools, to the rise of the cathedral schools and finally with the development of universities. There are differences between monasticism and scholasticism but there are also movements where these two perspectives converge. In this paper I will provide an overview of monasticism and scholasticism during the medieval period, describing their differences and then going on to discuss two movements, the Dominicans and the Brethren of the Common Life, where spirituality and learning come together. Finally, I will conclude with reflecting on how spirituality might be fostered through learning today.
Monasticism can be traced back to the fourth century and over the centuries there were several attempts to write a Rule by which the lives of monks would be ordered. In the sixth century Benedict took one such Rule by an Italian monk known as the Master and developed it into, as Carolinne White comments, […]