ex Africa semper aliquid novi
21 March 2011 in missional, new monastic | Tags: SAMS
missional aspects of the NM
Does South Africa need a New Monasticism?
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21 March 2011 at 12:52
that is, does the SA church need a NM?
21 March 2011 at 14:56
Hi Carl, I’ve just downloaded and read your paper. I’m still trying to get my head around this new monasticism phenomenon and why some of its underlying presuppositions just seem rather, well, foreign from an Orthodox (or even a western monastic – i.e. Benedictine) position. These are just a couple of perhaps rather disparate off the top of my head comments.
Firstly, factually, to identify Bose (and probably Taize although I don’t know them as well) with what you describe as New Monasticism is just plain wrong. They are nothing other than a traditional monastic community.
(Btw, regarding what is commonly said about members working outside the community, while this is true it is actually a small minority who do so, two or three doctors and one teacher if I remember correctly. In their earlier days there were more brothers and sisters employed outside the monastery because of economic necessity. I can’t remember if I mentioned before that I spent three months there just over a year ago – if you want to know more about them I can try and respond).
Iona would seem to be a better example of what people mean by new monastic, and there are of course other such communities. (It is perhaps worth noting though that Iona seem to have become more New-Ageish and less clearly Christian in recent years.)
Secondly, and getting to some of my discomfort, a lot of this fashionable interest in monasticism or new monasticism seems to proceed from assumptions that would be foreign to the early monks. Saint Benedict did not become a monk in order to save western civilisation but to seek God and the only critieria that he sets for monastic candidates is that they should truly seek God. Moreover, Saint Benedict directs us back to an earlier tradition, including both Saint Basil and the Desert Fathers – i.e. the common tradition of the Church – and this tradition predates the conversion of Constantine etc. Recent scholarship has challenged the glib assumption that monasticism was simply a response to the Church’s becoming lukewarm because of its new privileged position by showing that in the pre-Constantinian period the desert was actually seen as a training ground for the trials of martyrdom. It has also challenged the commonly held assumption that monasticism started with Saint Anthony and the anchorites in the fourth century, pointing instead to the coninuity with earlier forms of asceticism that go back to apostolic times.
While there have certainly been tensions (in both East and West) between monasticism and the rest of the Church, especially the bishops, monasticism ultimately makes no sense apart from the Church – it is not there to save the Church, or to do anything for the Church, but is rather a particular way of leading a life of repentance which is what all members of the Church are called to do. In this context, and in response to your earlier questions on the lack of monastic presence in SA (and this is what I once tried to post and it got deleted and I never got back to it – sorry!), I would say that the lack of monastic presence has quite a lot to do with the state of the Church / churches themselves and the extent to which they have been affected by dominant social trends. This is clearly true of the Orthodox Church here which is tiny and still in the process of being born as anything other than an ethnic enclave. But I suspect that it is also true of other ecclesial bodies such as the Anglican Church in which the decline of religious communities pretty much parallels its theological transmutations. Thus the question of monasticism is ultimately tied up with questions of theological identity, with what it means to be human, with our end (and in this the nm people have a point) and also with the means to that end (and the role of the Church in that).
Forgive me for rambling, as I said, my thoughts are not that clear!
22 March 2011 at 22:57
Thanks, Macrina – response appreciated!
1. you’ll note I listed Bose & Taize as ecumenical ‘antecedents’ (forebears) to the NM. But, yes, I’d like to know more about Bose.
2. isn’t that Janzen’s point? Benedict wouldn’t have wanted to save the West. MacIntyre should stand corrected – although he did specify a “very different” St Benedict.
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