What is the purpose of monks and monasticism?

I’ve been watching videos on life in Catholic monasteries and researching this vocation. I can’t help but wonder when I watch these men that seem to work, pray, and sing: What is their purpose to the Catholic Church? I know priests are there to spread the word of God to the masses, but monks are kind of alone and away from society, right?

Also, who originally decided to start monasteries or become monks? What did they base their decision on (scripture-wise)?

Is becoming a monk a lifetime decision, or are you able to have a “normal” life after a certain amount of time? Also, do monks ever get the opportunity to travel?


The purpose of the monastic life is to fulfil the command of God to pray unceasingly (1 Thes 5:16-18)

It is a call to the live the interior life of Grace.

And yes, it IS a lifelong commitment, it is a specific calling. The monastic life IS the normal life of one called to this ministry.

Their purpose , their life, is to pray for us. Be VERY, VERY grateful to the monastics because of that :slight_smile:

So basically they are there to pray for the Church and the world at all times? Try to positively influence the world as a whole through prayer? I like that!

Alright the history of monasticism, time to role back the clock to 270 AD. This is going to take a bit of time.

The word monk comes from the Greek Monos, meaning one and this was first used to describe individuals who lived in the desert “as one” as a hermit. The purpose of this life was to imitate Jesus’ time in the desert fighting temptation and to grow in faith by allowing himself to be tested in the desert. Living in the desert as a monk was considered a sign of a renunciation of the world/corruption that Jesus had called all Christians to do (This would be their scripture reference e.g. Matt 19:21).

With the victory of Constantine, many individuals were flocking to the Church to join as members and the entry requirements became less strict. To some individuals, this was seen as a dilution of the Christian life, that a more demanding life was required to be a Christian. Thus many people turned to monastics in the desert for a more demanding life. Some people said that these individuals were abandoning their brothers in the world. However monks often justified themselves by saying that they were not abandoning the world but being most charitable to the world by praying for the world constantly (Luke 18:1), something that an average christian could not do.

However this life style lead most individuals to go crazy and some took advantage of this life, and you had everything from monks who claimed to be old testament prophets to religious extremist.

In order to address the problem of solitary life driving people crazy, pachomius who had been a roman soldier, was the first to establish a monastic community with some rules. Monks lived separately, however came together in the day for two meals and times of prayer and various other tasks. Pachomius also placed a large emphasis on labour and self-sufficiency of the community and because of this he assigned tasks to all the monks. This idea of organized monasticism spread through various means and various individuals began to form their own monastic communities for study and prayer.

With the fall of the Roman empire, many people were moving out of the cities as the cities no longer had the resources to maintain large populations. Many monastic communities had settled in rural areas for two reasons: 1) to be far from the city, 2) so that they had land that needed improving and thus provide a source of work for them. Because of the monastic need for self-sufficiency, the monks would be a source of knowledge for the people and could provide spiritual support by praying for the world. Also because the monks were literate and could write, monks preserved the teachings of the faith by studying the faith and preserving and copying religious writing and sacred scripture.

As a thanks to God, many families offered one of their children to the monasteries which were called oblates. These children were raised by the monastery and educated in monastic life. Along with the obaltes, the monasteries also took in unwanted children and orphans who they cared for and gave schooling. upon reaching the age of reason, the children had to make a decision if they wanted to become monks or go back into the community as grown adults. Thus monasteries provided society with a wealth of well educated and skilled men when those adults who did not wish to become monks returned to the community.

Modelling the hospitality of Christ, Monasteries also took in travelers and visitors, but also took in individuals who were nearing the end of their life. In each of these cases, the monasteries provided a service of care and hospitality to the community.

The church also asked monasteries to send monks as missionaries as well to teach the faith and thus abbots sent monks to travel and preach the faith. It is during this period that monasticism got it’s official endorsement from the church as a vocation in the form we know it today.

Those are monks and how they came to be. When you think of monks that are away from the world you are thinking of cloistered monks. Each order has what is called a chrism, or in plain language, how that order strives to bring its members and the world to holiness. The chrism of cloistered monks is to pray for the world and study the faith for the sake of the world. When you take permanent vows as a cloistered monk, you swear obedience to the abbot and to remain at the monastery unless given permission to travel. Some monks do travel, some monks don’t, but in general most stay at the monastery. You have to remember that monasticism was built on stability, order and discipline. There are monastic orders that are not cloistered and do interact with the world but that is because that is the chrism of the community. Before you make permanent vows, all candidates must go through a novitiate in which the monastery and yourself evaluate your potential for monastic life.

I do not know what you mean by “normal life” but if you mean the life of an average single catholic I would say no.

Finally, monastic life is a vocation. The church sees a vocation as the way in which you bring yourself and others to holiness. The monks you saw their purpose was to pray for the **entire **world. The purpose of monastics in the church vary in different ways depending on the order. Also I must point out that the main role of the priest is not to spread the word of God, it is to be inperson christi:cool:. The spreading of the word of God to the masses does rest with some religious orders though such as the Dominicans, Jesuits etc.

Hopefully this answers your question

I picture the medieval monk, one who studies philosophy, copies and translates old Latin scribes, and prays. I’m not sure it’s like this anymore. Medieval monks preserved precious Ancient Greek and Latin texts and gave us some of the most important ideas and were some of the greatest minds in the history of the world. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Anselm and many others were part of this tradition. So, in a way, monks are responsible for much of the world today and our understanding of it.

It sounds so great and fun to have been a medieval monk, just praying studying philosophy, and studying Latin and Greek all day. If I were living in the 12th century, I’d be a monk right now, but that’s basically all I do now anyway.

Benedictine monks seek God. :slight_smile:

You will be able to see Benedictine monastic life at Saint Leo Abbey. You may join the monks’ daily prayer and lectio divina. Recently the abbot of Saint Leo Abbey changed the abbey’s daily Mass to 7:00 p.m. in part to allow more SLU students and members of the Pasco-County public to attend.

Congratulations on your decision to attend SLU. Florida is wonderful and this part of Florida is especially nice.

I plan on joining a Catholic religious order, probably the Franciscans or Benedictines. I’d love and want to, dedicate my whole life to God. Who needs travel, videos games or computers when you can have God? :slight_smile: The life suits me anyways (even though I like video games a computers, but I can give those up).

Good luck Kanuckistani! I will pray for you on your journey, and I’m sure if you really are being called to it, it will be easy! I think the hardest part would be choosing a monastery that you are fine with spending your entire life at. There’d have to be quite a view, or at least some monks with a sense of humor! :thumbsup:

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