Several months ago, popular author Philip Yancey addressed a men’s breakfast in Melbourne – the article can be found here. In his talk, he refers to the so-called ‘monastic cycle’, wherein he discerns a pattern in the life of monastic groups – in this case, the Benedictines.

“… every time they achieved that prosperity, it started to undermine everything else. And he went through about 4 cycles over the 1200 years history of the Benedictines where they were doing very well at prospering, and then they started to break apart and they started to divide and dissolve ultimately, and then someone would come along and remind them of their heritage and would crank it up again.”

Yancey goes on to apply this ‘cycle’ to the story of the OT, modern church life and – pointedly – to national culture: ‘Where are we [Americans] on the monastic cycle?’ The article is provocative, and a few questions are in order:

  • is it legitimate to speak of a monastic ‘cycle’? Do several historical Benedictine revivals necessarily indicate a regular cycle?
  • if so, what was it that broke the monastic cycle? Was it prosperity, or are there other factors?
  • finally, can one draw a parallel between this cycle and the cultural ebb-and-flows of nations?