New Monasticism

So, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, New Monasticism has nothing in common with Monasticism as we might think of it (Benedictines, Franciscans etc), but is a community that lives its life in uncompromising adherence to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, in discipleship to Christ.  He was writing in the 1930’s and 1940’s of course, and there was an explosion of literature from around 2004 onwards as far as I can tell.

So is it really new?  It reminds me of every time a new Order was formed – generally to “reform” the existing ones – so one had wandering preaching friars as a reaction against massive “estates” owned by monastic orders way back in the 11th and 12th centuries (my source?  Yep, Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael novels – she did sound research I think – at least I’ve not read anything in that series which my history books contradict).

The movement seems to have agreed on “12 Marks of New Monasticism” – outlined in a book published in 2005.  
1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2.  Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3.  Hospitality to the stranger.
4.  Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
5.  Humble submission to Chirst’s body, the church.
6.  Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
7.  Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8.  Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
9.  Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10.  Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economics.
11.  Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
12.  Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

You may have a view as to how close these marks are to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5, 6 and 7)

But two things really strike me.  Bonhoeffer’s definition contains an implicit rejection of the letters of St Paul, St James, and others. Instead his definition concentrates on one specific part of Jesus teaching.  Yet Number 8 of the marks sounds more based on St Paul than Jesus to me.  So the movement has moved on from the original definition (and labels are important to define, because they are so easy to misuse).  this makes following the current debates harder, because everyone will be using the same label to mean different things.  (Anyone higher up the candle than me is Catholic, anyone lower than me is Evangelical – it’s a common definition but entirely unhelpful!)

The other is the reference to close geographic proximity – isn’t this a parish?  Isn’t much of this just what we try to do day by day and week by week?  

I’ve only had a very quick read of the most obvious internet sources, and would be the first to admit that is no way to understand the intricacy of a debate.  But I’m not sure that this is new – although it may be a rediscovery in reaction to the “Fresh Expressions”.  FE tends to touch an emotional level – NM seems to offer more conscious structure.  Both have their place.  

Don’t rely on me as your source of information – go and find out.  Because our church leaders follow debates and developments like this one.  And eventually, those developments will seep into the language and mindset of those who govern our church structures, who appoint our leaders and who write our liturgical resources.  And if we don’t understand what is happening, engage with it, and put out voices into it, we will get what we deserve.  We are all God’s hands and God’s feet.


3 responses to “New Monasticism

  1. I'd thoroughly recommend reading Edward's posts – written from a position of greater knowledge and experience than mine, but what he said resonated with me.

    I like most of the ideas of New Monasticism, but as hinted above, I struggle with the exclusivity of Number 8 – what about those who divorce? What about those single parents who are doing their best to raise a child? What about our LGBT brothers and sisters?

    So am I a New Monastic? No, and yes. More reading, thought and prayer required….as ever.

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