Monachism (Gr. solitary), a term denoting solitary life or retirement from the ordinary concerns of the world, with a view to the occupation of the soul with religious objects. The first type of monachism may be found in the asceticism practised by the Jewish Essenes and Therapeutsa at the dawn of Christianity. Origen gives the name of ascetes to persons who fast rigorously. It was also applied to all who habitually devoted several hours of the day and night to prayer, or who bestowed their wealth and time in relieving the sick and poor. These ascetics generally dwelt in the cities, and wore distinctive garments of a dark color, together with the pallium or cloak of the ancient philosophers. During divine ser-' vice the ascetics were assigned an intermediate place between the clergy and the laity. A severer form of asceticism was the life led by anchorets or hermits. Their numbers increased very much during the 3d century, filling the mountain wildernesses of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. Communities of women were organized as early as the close of the 3d century.
According to Dollinger, the term was first applied to the common abode of the Egyptian therapeutaa. It is also in Egypt that the first known Christian monasteries or monachal communities of men were formed by Paul of Thebes and his disciple Pachomius. The germ of these establishments was planted by Paul in the island of Tabenna, a little north of the first cataract of the Nile, and was developed by Pachomius, who first drew up a rule for monks in 340. Several monasteries were united under his government. Each monastery was divided into several " families," and each family pursued a distinct mechanical occupation and was governed by a prior. The family counted 40 monks, who dwelt there by threes in separate cells. Some monasteries comprised 40 families. When Athanasius in 356 took refuge in the island of Tabenna, Pachomius met him at the head of an army of monks singing psalms. In imitation of Pachomius, Amnion founded a monastery on a hill above the valley of Nitria, on the confines of the Libyan desert, where 5,000 monks soon assembled under him; and Macarius next established numerous monasteries in the desert between the Ni-trian mountains and the Nile. Near- Arsinoe the abbot Serapion ruled 5,000 monks; and Pufinus says that in 350 the monasteries of Oxyrinchus contained 10,000 men and 15,000 women.
The life of the inmates was divided between private prayer, public psalmody, the study of the Scriptures, the copying of manuscripts, agricultural and mechanical occupations, and the various offices of charity. These monasteries were great industrial schools, and those of the Thebaid served as hostelries for travellers over the desert; for each had its xenodochium in which gratuitous hospitality was exercised. Pachomius had made the study of the Bible a special duty; all his monks were obliged to know how to read and write; and in each monastery of Tabenna there was one family exclusively composed of learned men, skilled in Greek literature. These institutions were replenished constantly with the disciples of the Alexandrian schools, and reacted occasionally upon the intellectual life of the latter. - The monastic institutions of Egypt were imitated in Syria, Asia Minor, and the southern shores of the Black sea, eremitical life being in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries everywhere superseded by the cenobitical.
St. Hi-larion became in 328 the father of monastic life in Palestine; Eustathius, bishop of Sebaste, propagated it about the same epoch in Armenia; St. Basil about 360 spread it in the province of Pontus; and St. John Chrysostom, who found it flourishing around Antioch, extended its influence by word and example. - The practices of eremitical life were never regarded with much favor either by the great church fathers or by the councils. They rather aimed at forming, by the temporary exercise of the ascetic virtues,' apostolic men fitted to spread the reign of gospel truth among the city populations. With still less favor did they regard the extraordinary performances of the Sarabaitae, Stylites, Acasmetse, Agonistre, and the like. From the desert, monastic institutions were transplanted to the towns, and. ecclesiastical writers soon complained that many fled to the convent only for the purpose of finding there a life of ease; that the mask of piety served frequently for concealing laziness and wickedness; that excessive asceticism led many to licentiousness, insanity, despair, and suicide; that ignorance and fanat-y icism made the monks dangerous tools in the hands of ambitious men, and that their zeal could be turned to acts of violence against Chrysostom as well as to the destruction of pagan temples or the suppression of Arianism. The emperor Valens and several of his successors vainly sought to arrest the too rapid increase of monachism.
The contemplative life led many into gross anthropomorphism, which caused their exclusion from the church. But though many censured the abuses of monachism, few were found, like Jovinian,to assail the principle. Under the growing influence of the Byzantine emperors, the eastern church, and with it eastern monachism, lost all vitality. No attempts were made to create new organizations. Traditionally all the eastern monks have followed up to the present day the so-called rule of St. Basil, and have called themselves after either St. Basil or St. Anthony. They are still numerous in all the eastern churches, and some of their establishments, as the convents of Mount Athos, are still celebrated for their literary treasures or political influence; but they have ceased altogether to be powerful agencies of religious influence. - Monachism was destined to achieve its greatest successes in the West. About 340 Athanasius during his second exile went to Rome with some Egyptian monks. Later he met St. Martin of Tours, still a soldier, in the imperial city of Treves, and confirmed the latter in his resolution of embracing a monastic life.
Martin founded, • it is said, the first monasteries established west of the Alps, and may thus be called the father of monachism in Gaul. Cassian, his contemporary, planted another monastic colony at Marseilles, and wrote there his book "On Monastic Institutions." The disciples of St. Jerome were obliged to follow him to Bethlehem. Ambrose founded a monastic establishment at Milan, and there he converted Augustine, who in his turn became in north Africa the originator of a form of monastic life that was to live afterward in thousands of European institutions. Augustine before he became a priest lived near Carthage a semi-eremitical life with a few friends; and the rule which they then followed served as the basis of the rule adopted long afterward by the Augustinian order, or hermits of St. Augustine. After his ordination, and especially during his episcopal life, he lived in community with his brother priests; and their mode of life, together with the monastic regulations scattered through his writings served as an examplar for the countless houses of canons regular throughout Christendom, for the orders of Fontevrault and Premontre, for the Gilbertine canons regular in England, the order of friars preachers, and innumerable orders of women.
The Augustinian manner of living was brought over to England by Pelagius, and to Ireland by St. Patrick. Monastic establishments and schools in the time of St. Patrick sprang up around the great churches as well as institutions favorable to seclusion and study. St. Columba sent monastic colonies into Scotland, the Hebrides, and the Orkneys. The first Northmen who colonized Iceland found Irish monks there before them. St. Columbanus passed over into Gaul with 12 companions, who founded numerous similar institutions in that country, Switzerland, Germany, and northern Italy. England had flourisliing cenobitic establishments in the same centuries. But in the monasteries founded in continental Europe by these Irish monks, the rule of St. Benedict of Nursia soon superseded that of Columbanus. Benedict in 529 built at Monte Casino two oratories in honor of St. John the Baptist and St. Martin of Tours, and his rule spread rapidly over all western Europe, uniting independent establishments in one great monastic hierarchy.
The good effected by the monasteries of both sexes, not only in the work of conversion and education, but even in promoting agriculture and the other useful arts, met such general approbation that attempts were made to subject nil the secular clergy to living in common under a rule. This movement was commenced by Chrodegang of Metz, who established the canons regular, but, though often renewed, could never be fully carried out. But the steem in which the monastic orders were held, and the generous benefactions of princes, nrelates, and peoples, facilitated the growth of corruption. - For many centuries the history of monaehism presents a continued struggle of reformers with the laxity or immorality in the convents of their times. The first of these reformers was Benedict of Aniane (died 821), whose commentary on the rule of Benedict of Nnrsia obtained later an equally authoritative character. Benno, who became in 910 abbot of Cluny, founded the congregation of Cluny, a main pillar of the reformatory party, which was exempted by the pope from episcopal jurisdiction, and received the right of choosing an abbot with quasi-episcopal rank.
Romuald founded the congregation of Camaldoli in 1012, Gualbert that of Vallombrosa in 1036. The Cistercians owed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux so great a celebrity, that they were soon introduced into nearly all the European countries. The order of Grammont sought to excel in ascetic rigor, and that of the Carthusians adhered more faithfully than any other order to its original spirit. The order of St. Anthony (1095) and the Hospitallers (1078) devoted themselves to the nursing of the sick, the order of Fontevrault (1094) to the correction of lewd women, and the Trinitarians (1198) to the redeeming of Christian prisoners. Even the warlike tendencies of those times sought a anion with the monastic spirit by the establishment of several orders of knights. The large increase of the number of orders called forth much opposition, and the Lateran council in 1215 decreed that no new order should be established. Yet the same period witnessed the birth of a new class of orders, the mendicants (Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Augustinians, and several others). The dangers to which the church was exposed on "the part of new dissenting ecclesiastical bodies required a more zealous agency, especially among the lower classes. The mendicants tried to supplv this want.
The rapidity of their Suecess was astonishing, and very considerable privileges were conferred on them by the popes. The Franciscans and Dominicans soon took the lead. Both created for themselves a numerous and influential party among the laity by the establishment of tertiarians, who bound themselves to the ascetic and devotional regulations of the order, without assuming its garb or entering the convent. Both secured also several chairs at the theological schools, in spite of the opposition of the secular clergy; and;ne most distinguished representatives of this and the following centuries (Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, John Duns Scotus, Alexander of Hales, etc.) were either Dominicans or Franciscans. Several of their members filled the highest ecclesiastical posi-tions, even the papal chair. They raised monaehism to the zenith of its power, influence, and prosperity. As Robert Grosseteste and others affirm, the mendicants owed their popularity and success to the purity of their lives in an epoch of general monastic degeneracy. But the very influence which they obtained with princes and peoples, and the wealth that was forced upon them in consequence, hastened their own decay.
Toward the close of the middle ages the name monk was often used as synonymous with rudeness and ignorance. Reformatory attempts were made in every century; new orders, as the Jesuates, Brigit-tins, Servites, Hieronymites, and others, were founded; but their influence was weak, and frequently after an existence of 50 or 100 years they themselves departed from their primitive standard of rigid asceticism. The councils of Constance and Basel devised for a reformation of monasticism some highly important measures, which however could only be carried out in a few places. The Beghards and Beguines exhibited a freer and less hierarchical spirit; and their associational principle was further developed by the Brethren of the Free Spirit. - The reformation of the 16th century constitutes another turning point in the history of monaehism. The best and most influential men in the church cordially joined in the demand for a thorough reformation; they admitted that the crisis had been in part occasioned by the corruption of the clergy, and they urged in particular the necessity of a reformation of the religious orders. The internal history of nearly every order records, at this point of time, strong resolutions in favor of an enforcement of the primitive rules.
In the most powerful orders, in particular the Franciscans, the more rigorous party achieved a complete and permanent success over those inclined toward laxity, and several new reformed congregations branched off from them, among which the Capuchins were the most prominent. The council of Trent defined the usefulness of monastic establishments, and regulated their possessions, internal administration, and the election of superiors, provided for annual assemblies, and extended the rights of the bishops with regard to the inspection and superintendence of the convents. New orders also arose in the church from the very need of reform, and bore the impress of the times. The monastic institutions of former days had been, as religious communities, chiefly contemplative. Preaching, teaching, visiting the sick and poor, and similar objects formed the occupations of the new orders. The best known of these organizations are the Theatines, Barnabites, Jesuits, and Oratorians of St. Philip Neri. The French Oratorians, the Lazarists, Sulpicians, Redemp-torists, Passionists, and other congregations are of later date.
In France the religious wars of the 16th century, the degeneracy of most of the monastic institutions, the quarrels between Jansensists and Jesuits, and other causes had begotten a decided aversion to monachism. This determined Vincent de Paul to found a society of regular clerks, who, under the name of Lazarists or Priests of the Mission, have wielded a great influence in France and elsewhere; and this too determined M. Olier to give a similar organization to the Sulpicians. Of all these new orders the society of Jesus has had the most celebrity. It was founded on the principle of absolute devotion to the church and its visible head the pope. No order ever carried out its fundamental principle more faithfully, and in all subsequent contests of the Roman Catholic,church the Jesuits stood in the front rank. The culture of secular literature, against which in the middle ages some founders of monastic orders had expressly warned their members, showed itself after the 16th century so great a necessity, that it was practically observed by all, though but few gave it special attention. Of these few the Jesuits, the French Oratorians, and the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur hold by universal consent a prominent place among the great literary societies of the world.
A more general attention was given by the religious orders to the cause of education, especially to primary instruction. Many congregations, both male and female, were instituted for this sole purpose, especially in France, and a large number of primary schools have ever since been under their direction. Foremost among these bodies, besides the Sulpicians and Lazarists, who are devoted to the education of the clergy, are those popular educators, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Ursulines, Visitation Nuns, and Sisters of Charity. - The great losses which the Roman Catholic church suffered by the reformation directed the attention of the monastic orders to the foreign missionary cause. Most of the great orders, especially the mendicants and the Jesuits, engaged in it with great zeal and emulation. The Jesuits took, in addition to the three common monastic vows, a fourth, binding them to go as missionaries to any country where it might please the pope to send them. The extent of their missionary operations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America excelled anything the Roman Catholic church had done in this field before. (See Missions.) The great majority of the Roman Catholic missions in all pagan countries have ever been conducted by the members of religious orders or congregations. - In the 18th century the productivity of the church, as regards monachism, greatly decreased.
The Redemptorists or the congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, founded by St. Alfonso di Liguori, sprang up during this time to fill the gap left by the suppression of the Jesuits. Most of the orders in the second half of that century made but a feeble resistance against the all-pervading rationalism. Joseph II. suppressed all convents of monks not occupied in education, pastoral duties, or the nursing of the sick; and many Catholic writers demanded the entire extirpation of monachism as both an outgrowth and a promoter of fanaticism. Partly to this outcry, but principally to the pressure brought to bear on the court of Rome by the Catholic powers, was due the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773. The French revolution soon afterward endangered the existence of monachism in most of the European states, but with the downfall of the Napoleonic rule its prospects began to brighten. Pius VII. in 1814 restored the Jesuits, who rose again to considerable influence, wherever they were not forcibly suppressed. (See Jesuits.) In the countries of the Latin race, both in Europe and America, the fate of monachism was closely allied with the political strife of the conservative and the liberal parties, the former patronizing it, the latter subjecting it to prohibitive rules or suppressing it altogether.
In Portuguese and Spanish America the suppression of the Jesuit schools in the last century had left the upper classes and the clergy.in particular with very inadequate means of higher education. The ignorance and corruption which soon crept into conventual establishments served as a powerful argument for their gradual suppression during the present century. In Italy the great wealth of the monastic bodies, and the belief that they had outlived their period of utility, caused their final abolition in 1873. They may also be said to have been extinct in Portugal since 1834, and in Spain since 1835. In France alone the vicissitudes of political rule in no way affected the growth of monastic institutions. Since 1848 even the liberals have accustomed themselves to accord the right of association to the members of religious orders. Nearly every one of the old orders reestablished itself in France; and as a number of new congregations were formed, there is at present a greater variety of monastic institutions in that country than any other state has ever possessed. Next -to France, they are most numerous, wealthy, and influential in Belgium, where, as in France, public instruction is to a great extent under their control.
According to the official census of 1866, there were in Belgium 178 communities of men with 2,051 members, and 1,144 communities of women with 15,205 members. They partook, throughout the British possessions, the United States, and Holland, of the blessing of truly liberal institutions, and peaceably lived in accordance with their rules, from which public opinion demanded only one departure, that no member wishing to leave their establishments should be restrained from doing so. Austria protected them, but kept them till 1848 under a bureaucratic guardianship, which has since been abandoned. In 1873 the number of convents and monasteries in that empire was about 950, with 8,500 monks and 5,700 nuns. The revolution of 1848 procured them freedom in many other German states where before they had been either suppressed or tolerated under great restrictions; and even those states whose codes retain laws against their admission in general, as Sweden, Denmark, and Saxony, admitted the sisters of charitv. But in 1873 the German imperial diet suppressed the Jesuits, Redemptorists, brothers of the Christian schools, and sisters of charity.
The Russian government has also practically extinguished all Roman Catholic establishments; but Turkey has become a prominent field for their missionary operations. - The number of monastic associations founded since the beginning of the 19th century exceeds the number founded during any other period of equal length. Most of them belong to France, and several have already attained a considerable extension. A peculiar feature which characterizes them as the offspring of the present age is. that they aim at providing for the needs of the people. A large number of them are devoted to the instruction of youth. Such are the "Ladies of the Sacred Heart," and several congregations of school brothers and school sisters. Many others bind themselves to the service of the sick and the poor, as the " Little Sisters of the Poor," the most numerous and popular of them. Not a few cultivate the minimi Held: either the foreign missions, as the Picpus society, the Oblates, the brothers and the daughters of Zion (both for the conver-sion of Jews, the latter consisting exclusively of converts); or the home missions, as the Pau-lisN, established in 1858 at New York. The generral advance of culture has deprived the religious orders of the monopoly of education and their former scientific preeminence.
Still the Jesuits' schools in Italy, Germany, France, and England are not unworthy of their former reputation. In respect to their moral condition, Roman Catholics admit the existence in some place of considerable degeneracy. In some convents also the ancient constitutions have fallen more or less into disuse. The regular connection of the general superiors with their subordinates has been in great part interrupted, and the holding of general assemblies has ceased. Pope Pius IX., at the beginning of his pontifi-cate, proclaimed it as one of his chief tasks to carry out a thorough reform of monastic orders; and in some orders, as the Dominicans, an extensive reformation has since taken place. The agsregate number of men belonging to the various religious orders and congregations in 1862 was about 120,000, the communities of women contained 189,000. - The reformation of the 16th century rejected the monachism of the Roman Catholic and the eastern episcopal churches. In the church of England and the Protestant Episcopal church in the United States, sisterhoods and even brotherhoods have been formed at various times, and have of late increased in number under the auspices of what is commonly called the high church party.
Since the beginning of the 19th century both the "Evangelical" and the "High Lutheran " schools of Germany have approved of the establishment of houses of deacons and deaconesses, also called brother houses and sister houses, the inmates of which associate for the purpose of teaching, attending the sick, taking charge of public prisons, etc. Institutions of this kind are rapidly spreading in Germany and the adjacent countries. (See Deaconess.) - The most important works on the history of monachism in general are: Hos-pinian, Be MonacMs libri VI. (Zurich, 1588, 1609); Helyot, Histoire ties ordres monastiqaes (Paris, 1714-'19; new ed., with an additional vol. on the modern history of monachism, by Migne, 4 vols., 1849); and Doring, Geschichte der MoncTisorden (2 vols., Dresden, 1828). The most comprehensive work on the subject is Montalembert's Les moines d'Occident (3 vols., Paris, 1860-'67; 3d ed., 1868; English ed., Edinburgh, 1861-'7; German ed., Ratisbon, 1868). Another extensive work has long been in preparation by Dom Gueranger, superior of the French congregation of Benedictines. (See Religious Orders).