HIST 210: The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000

Lecture 13

 - Monasticism


Professor Freedman discusses some of the paradoxes of monasticism in the Early Middle Ages. To the modern mind, monks and learning make a natural pair. However, this combination is not an obvious outcome of early monasticism, which emphasized asceticism and renunciation of the world. As it moved west, monasticism shifted away from its eremetic beginnings in Egypt and Syria to more communal way of life under the Rule of St Benedict.  In addition to communal life, the Rule emphasized prayer and labor; the latter of which was interpreted to include reading and eventually the copying of manuscripts. 

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The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000

HIST 210 - Lecture 13 - Monasticism

Chapter 1: Introduction to Monasticism [00:00:00]

Professor Paul Freedman: We’re going to talk about monasticism today. And monasticism in the popular imagination, and accurately, is linked to learning. We all have this image of monks quietly copying manuscripts, and those manuscripts being how the learning of the ancient world was transmitted. We’re going to talk a little more about that when we come to near the end of the course on intellectuals in the court of Charlemagne.

But monasticism and learning are linked in our mind, but they are not intrinsically linked. There is no logical reason why monks should copy manuscripts. They should pray. They should live in some kind of renunciation of the world. Generally speaking in the medieval West, they live in communities. Generally speaking, they are engaged in a kind of corporate rather than individual prayer. All of these things follow from the way monasticism was conceived. And the major text, though not the only one, but the most influential text about how monasticism was conceived, is the sixth century Rule of Saint Benedict.

The Rule of Saint Benedict has some possible references to sacred reading, as it calls it, or to some kind of program of knowledge. It assumes that the monks are literate, for example, a lot to assume at that time. But nowhere does Benedict say, “Please preserve the classical tradition by being scribes and writing and the Scriptorium.” So how does this come about, is one of the problems that we will deal with.

But what we’re really interested [in] is monasticism without the learning. And the reason we’re interested in that is not only is this the prevailing spiritual movement of the early Middle Ages, but it has a tremendous influence on society outside the monastic walls. Because central to our discussion is a paradox. The paradox is that while the monks are trying to escape the world, the world is following them.

The world is very interested in their prayers, because their prayers are thought to have a powerful real -world, this- world, effect. So as the monks become more distant from society, God hears their prayers with more and more sympathy. Therefore their prayers have a kind of power, a power to benefit others. This notion of power is like some kind of almost electrical utility. They’re building up an incredible amount of electricity, if you want to call it that, or let’s say spiritual energy to be more accurate. Way more than they need; way more than they can consume. They’re like some little Persian Gulf state that is producing ten percent of the world’s oil. There’s no way they can use all of that.

In this case then, how does the surplus get distributed? It gets distributed through the generosity of people outside the [correction: monastic] world worried about the condition of their souls. The notion that I, possessor of spiritual reserves and spiritual power, can pray for you, sinful knight, sinful king, sinful merchant, is called intercession. The notion that I can intercede for you– and we’ve already seen this, haven’t we? We’ve seen this with the saints in Gregory of Tours and in other texts.

We’ve tried to emphasize how important the saints are, not just for our understanding of medieval religion, but for our understanding of medieval society. Remember that I tried to emphasize that one of the problems, once you’re done with the Roman Empire, is how society is held together. In the Roman Empire, it’s pretty clear. It’s held together by institutions that, although not the same as our own, are translatable to our own: law, administrative structure, landholding, the whole panoply of what passes for civilized life.

But in the early Middle Ages, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, we’ve seen the society does not have as much literacy, does not have very good records. The kings are thugs. The political order is very unstable. There’s an awful lot of warfare. There’s a lot of disorder. You can’t just dial 9-1-1 and expect a response.

So the question then becomes what holds that society together? And we mentioned some things, including the Church. And here we’re looking at a particular instance of how that works. Because the monks, far from being kind of out there in the forest or desert or some remote region, or even if they are in the forest or desert and some remote region, are extremely important to how society functions. Because this is a society in which the spiritual, the military, the political, the economic, are not easily conceptually separated.

This is the Middle Ages, OK? You love the Middle Ages, otherwise we wouldn’t be here together. But this is the part of the Middle Ages that is perhaps most medieval. What could be more medieval than monasticism? When I started teaching, which wasn’t that long after the Middle Ages, but when I started teaching, monasticism was a real problem, because it was so alien. What are these people doing?

In a way the situation is better, because monasticism is sort of chic, at least temporary weekend monasticism. People think of monasteries sort of like spas. You go there to get cleansed. In fact a lot of monasteries have taken on a lot of new business with retreats, and detoxification, and pilgrimage, and these kinds of concepts. But at the same time, while I think we understand the desire to renounce the world or to take time off from the world or to leave the personal digital devices at home and think about something for more than three seconds at a time, all of this is temporary. The whole point of detoxification is that you then go and re-toxify yourself or go back to normal life. What we have to understand here are people who have decided to embrace a world-renouncing way of life for good.

Now monks, therefore, are clergy. They are professional members of the Church. But they’re not priests. It’s key that you understand the difference. Priests interact with the laity. Layman, laity, are people who are ordinary people, believers but not clergy.

The priests interact with the laity through mass, the performance of the sacraments, things like baptism, a little bit later than this period, confession, anointment of the sick. These are things in which the sacred is conveyed from the spiritual world to laypeople via priests. Priests are in that sense the intermediaries between the divine and the material.

But because priests are involved in the world, there are certain aspects of their differentiation from the world, and there’s a lot of debate in the Church at various times over whether that includes celibacy, not getting married. In the era that we’re dealing with, there are married priests, or there are priests who are more or less married. And then there are priests who are celibate. But monks are not supposed to interact with the world. They are leading a life of contemplation and self-denial.

True, they cannot focus only on their own salvation. Because that would mean ignoring the Christian’s duty to others. One of the problems about being a contemplative in the Christian tradition is as soon as you say something like, “Boy, I am really contemplating great today.” Or, “Wow, I am really seeing the mysteries of the universe.” Or, “I can’t believe I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for three days and am feeling great.” You are falling off. You’re falling away. You’re selfish. You’re taking pride in your own accomplishments.

So from the beginning is the notion that the monks have to abandon everything, including self-satisfaction. In fact even most importantly self-satisfaction. And this is where Benedict’s notion of humility comes from, which is very strong in The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Chapter 2: Renouncing the World [00:10:21]

Where does this desire to rid oneself of the world come from? It’s very strong in Christianity. It’s all over the New Testament. That is actually part of the Christian message. It’s awkward, because most people don’t follow that, including most people who are believers. They don’t in fact give away everything they have to the poor and follow Christ. They don’t renounce the pleasures of life, of the flesh, and so forth. But that is sort of what they are telling you to do.

The first monk, the first guy who we know of to decide to run away to the desert and lead a life of contemplation is Saint Anthony of Egypt.– Well Anthony, you know how to spell that.– He lived from 251 to 356. I have trouble believing this. The sources are pretty good. I have trouble believing that anybody could live to be 105 in the Roman Empire. Or indeed, at any time before ten years ago or so. But there it is.

At least we know that in 270, he heard the saying of Jesus in a Church: “Go sell all you have. Give to the poor and follow me.” And he followed this literally. He established himself as a solitary hermit in Egypt. And Egypt is a great place for monasticism, because Egypt has a very narrow strip of incredibly fertile land on either side of the Nile. The Nile, which until the building of the Aswan Dam, flooded every year. And its silt, that it brought down from its sources, was so rich that it created this marvelous soil on which all sorts of things could grow. But once you got beyond that limit, you were in the desert.

So you have absolute and total really Sahara-like desert, very close to fertile land, the best land of the Mediterranean. So that you could have a kind of interaction between– I mean, it’s not like you decide that you want to be a hermit and you live in Manhattan. And you drive and you drive and you drive, and you get to Long Island, and you’re in the suburbs, and then you’re in the ex-urbs. And then you’re in sort of gas stations and strip malls. And then you’re in the Hamptons.

It’s very, very hard– I mean you can, actually, if you go north, pretty soon you’ll get if not hermit country, at least a decent isolation. Of course the problem with New York is that it’s really cold. It’s great to be a hermit in September. But the Adirondack hermitages present problems in the winter. Egypt is hot, all right, but certainly no exposure to cold problem.

Anyway, the first monks are in Egypt. And they are known as the Desert Fathers. Often, they live alone as hermits, but sometimes they live in communities. They have their own cells in these communities, but they can come together for prayer or for some sort of spiritual companionship. What’s interesting is that right from the start, these hermits or first monks, appealed to the people who had no plans to become monks. They appealed to the people of the cities of Alexandria or Thebes, etc. of Egypt.

The reason is, and the reason why people would become monks, is the establishment of the Church as the official church of the Roman Empire. There are no monks in the first years of Christianity, because just being a Christian means denying the world. The threat of death at the hands of the Roman authorities and the illegality of the religion means that you are already in a world-renouncing position.

But once the church becomes established, once all sorts of people start joining it for motives that have nothing to do with spiritual reasons, or maybe ten percent spiritual, ninety percent  it’s time, my career, I want my kids to grow up in the sort of right faith. Then those of real spiritual bent, devotion, desire, have to present themselves as more than merely attending church as serious about Christianity in some sense.

So monasticism has to be understood in its earliest years as a reaction against the compromises and comfort of official Christianity. And we see this in Augustine’s Confessions. Where, you will recall, the emotional crisis that finally tipped Augustine over the edge into his conversion experience was hearing about the monks of Egypt from someone who had come to Milan and had been in Egypt, and described these men and actually women who were not well-educated, were certainly not trained in rhetoric, law, and the classics to the extent of Augustine.

Yet nevertheless, they had in Augustine’s words, “stormed the gates of heaven.” They had by their spiritual renunciation hence their spiritual power, become close to God in ways that he, Augustine, and his friends with all their knowledge, had not. And this contrast is what decides Augustine to embrace a way of life that although not monastic and much more active in the world, is a renunciation of the standard career, the standard definitions of success in the Roman Empire, and involvement in the world in things like marriage, property owning, etc.

So in fact, if the monks are these not very well-educated people, if embracing their values means giving up Cicero and the classical tradition, it looks as if monasticism is an anti-intellectual movement. We’ve come back to this paradox of the monks as custodians of learning. It’s not quite the fox as the protector of the hens, but it is not automatic that the monks would find themselves in the position of copying down Cicero.

Chapter 3: Monks and Hermits as Spiritual Patrons [00:17:59]

So the first forms of monasticism are those of the Egyptian desert. There’s a kind of tension from the start between ascetic individualism and collective monasticism. Ascetic individualism means one person engaging in practices that dramatize the renunciation of the world. A classic example is not from Egypt but from Syria. These are the saints who sit on top of pillars for decades at a time. Individual, right? They’re alone on this pillar, maybe it’s this wide, or maybe this wide at the top, thirty feet high, fifty feet high.

These saints collectively are known as Stylites. A “stylite” is a pillar. And the most famous of them, Saint Simeon of the Desert, or Saint Simeon Stylites, lived on top of this pillar for what is it, thirty-five years? Something like that. Thirty-five years up there, in the rain, in the sun. Imagine the sanitary arrangements. Imagine this. I mean this is world renunciation.

But he was not alone. He was alone on top of the pillar. He was a hermit. But people came and visited him. There are pictures of ladders going up to him, people climbing these ladders, sometimes delivering a little message: “Would you pray for my child who is dying of”– well I don’t know what he’s dying of. Asking for things in the world: “Please deliver me from a bankruptcy;” “Please deliver me from illness;” “Please protect me on this voyage.”

Why don’t they ask God themselves? Save a trip to the desert out of Antioch? Save perhaps a donation to the Saint Simeon Stylites Foundation? Because God is going to listen to Simeon, right? Why?

Student: Because he’s worthy to speak to him.

Professor Paul Freedman: And why is he worthy? What has he done to make himself worthier? You’re quite right. He’s renounced the world.

Student: And he knows Latin.

Professor Paul Freedman: Yeah. He’s not unbelievably cultivated, probably Syriac in this case. Probably those notes are in Syriac. But his world renunciation has imbued him with power. This is not unique to Christianity, right? Shamanism, the idea of a person who is an outcast in society, or who has renounced the normal comforts of society. What’s the problem with just getting married, having kids, having a job? Wondering what’s for dinner? From the Christian point of view. That’s what most practitioners are doing.

Student: You’re focusing on the world and not on the–

Professor Paul Freedman: You have to focus on the world. Supposing you wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to be a much more spiritual person.” And then there’s wailing from your kids, and your spouse is nagging you about fixing the dripping faucet. I mean this is stuff you’ve got to look forward to, most of you. I don’t expect you to go into monasteries. But this is a distraction from what the New Testament tells you to do. The New Testament doesn’t say, “Go ahead. Be happy. Amass property. Get a great job. Make a lot of contacts. Get ahead Have a bunch of children. Get them into good schools. Get them coaches for the SAT’s.” And so forth and so on.

If you have done that, because you just got trapped– well, one thing led to another and here you are. If insofar as you have spiritual anxieties and desires, then you’re going to want to have a patron. You’re going to want to have someone who can intervene with you, just like way back when you had somebody write a letter recommendation because they were on the board of some company, or they had some influence. Here your patron is a spiritual patron, and it is monks or hermits.

So the role of the holy man in society is of somebody who has a heroic ability denied to most ordinary people. This is a spiritual superhero who, like comic book superheroes, isn’t just a superhero for his own benefit. He doesn’t just fly around because he likes the sensation of flying around. But who helps those who are weaker than him.

And the intervention of somebody– a very important Saint like Simeon Stylites, transcended the merely curative. Simeon was without fear of the emperor, for example. What could the emperor do to him that was worse than living at the top of a pillar, after all? The emperor Constantius, one of the sons of Constantine in the early fourth century, was going to punish the city of Antioch for defying the tax collectors. Tax had been collected in Antioch. There’d been a riot. Lots of people were killed. Normally, you’d expect the wrath of the emperor to come down on the city and punish it very severely.

Simeon was able to intervene with Constantius to prevent this from happening. Constantius listened to him because he was a little scared of him. People are a little scared of those who are not only not playing the game, but who are playing a different game according to unique and very difficult to imitate rules. So there’s a paradox here. Again, as the withdrawal from society becomes more dramatic, the imputed spiritual power becomes greater.

If Simeon’s renunciation were limited to something kind of small. Suppose he became a vegan. Would people believe in his power? And then this brings up the question of, then, what is the power of The Rule of Saint Benedict? If you read The Rule of Saint Benedict, there’s nothing in there about living outdoors all the time at the top of a pillar. There’s nothing about extreme asceticism. Yet Benedictine monasticism would prove more durable than pillar sitting. It would prove more durable than the desert saints even.

Chapter 4: Monasticism in the West [00:25:18]

Monasticism was brought to the West in several forms. But generally speaking, although there are lots of hermits, we hear more about the communities of monks. Monks who live in an establishment. And beginning in the late sixth, and particularly in the seventh century, a lot of monasteries were established in rural parts of Europe, rural or small town parts of Europe. Places like St. Albans in England, which is not far from London. Or Bede’s monastery of Jarrow in Northumbria, more remote. Or Fulda in Germany. Reichenau, a monastery in southwestern Germany on a little island in Lake Constance.

These monasteries owned property, and indeed many of them became very rich. Because one way of affiliating yourself with a monastery was to give to them, to donate land, money, serfs, coins, booty, whatever. And the reason people donated is because of the violence of their lives. The people who had the stuff to donate usually had gotten it by violence. Because it’s a society that, as you’ve seen in the pages of Gregory of Tours particularly but not exclusively, it is a society organized around warfare.

All of these guys in Gregory of Tours have blood on their hands. You cannot be successful without a certain amount of the infliction of pain on other people. And although the rich and wealthy in any society do not believe themselves to be rich and wealthy for vicious reasons, indeed the rich and wealthy generally speaking think they’re great. In this society, the rich and wealthy think they’re great all right, but they’re also very anxious.

It’s not just a question of, what is the phrase that’s often used by donors to universities, “give back to” Yale, for example, or give back to society. It’s not just a question of giving back to society: “Yes, I made $40 billion, so I feel I need to give back something.” It’s a question of, “I’m going to hell. What can I do? I know I’m going to hell, because I killed 80 people in the course of just business deals. The closing of this deal required that 10 people be killed.” Or 500, or 2,000.

So there is a symbiosis, to be cynical about it. And as you know, I’m not really a very cynical person. I hope that has come through. I hope it’s come through that I’m a really idealistic, even naive. But if you’ll forgive a moment of cynicism, there is a symbiosis between the monks, who are amassing this huge quantity of spiritual energy, and the leaders of society, who are amassing this huge quantity of sins. It’s a natural trade agreement.

So there are paradoxical consequences of monastic wealth. As these places get richer and richer, they become too important to the kings, the leaders of society, just to be left to a bunch of weird, world-renouncing hermits. They start to be administered by people who themselves are from high families, of high lineage. In order to become a monk at Fulda or Reichenau, you can’t just wander in and say, “I’m renouncing the world.” You’ve got to be from a good family. You’ve got to come with an endowment. Generally speaking to get into Reichenau as a monk, the family’s going to have to pay a huge amount of property, money, some form of wealth that endows that monk.

So at some point maybe people will stop believing that Reichenau is such a great place. Maybe they’ll stop believing in its spiritual energy. This would happen later. But not yet. Not yet.

Chapter 5: Rule of St. Benedict [00:30:20]

The preservation of the monasteries and their growth and success is due to the rule of Saint Benedict. The most important development of Western monasticism– and there are all kinds of other monasticisms in the Christian world. But the monasticism that would characterize Western Europe is the rule of Saint Benedict, late sixth century, who devised a set of regulations for communal monasticism.

So The Rule of Saint Benedict is a manual for the monastic life, how to set up and run a monastery. It’s not the first. It’s based on an older rule. We don’t have to go into sort of who is responsible for inventing Benedictine monasticism, as it’s called. But the monasteries of the West would be for the most part Benedictine until the twelfth century, when you start to have other orders. That is, there would be thousands of monasteries throughout Europe. And they would follow more or less the rule that you have read.

Why is this rule so successful? For one thing, it is moderate. It is reproducible on a large scale. It is ascetic, all right. It does involve giving up a lot of things, but not to an extreme. Not to be compared to the life of a desert hermit or a desert pillar-sitter. Or the harsh monasticism of the Irish tradition. You don’t have to go to some little island that’s one square kilometer large and out in the middle of the windy Irish sea, and build some little beehive hut and live there.

Ascetic monasticism of the extreme sort is all over the place. Because hostile environments are all over the place. Now it’s not as if Benedictine monasteries are all located in cheerful, hilly, fertile countryside. But a lot of them are. A lot of them are located in productive land. But more important than that, they require a certain kind of asceticism. The asceticism of a Benedictine monastery is renunciation of self in favor of the community. In that sense, it’s almost an opposite of the kind of monasticism that hermits or pillar saints practice.

What’s ascetic about a Benedictine monastery is not only the celibacy part, or the prayer part, or the isolation from worldly stimulus part, but the fact that you’re not alone most of the time. You have to subordinate your will to communal rituals and life. You have to subordinate your will to the abbot. Remember how much Benedict emphasizes obedience. This is not just a good management tool for making it clear who’s in charge. It is a form of self-abnegation, a form of renunciation.

Benedict also enjoins manual labor. This is a penitential tool. But it’s also something that has perhaps something to do with the economic success of these foundations. These are monks who are engaged in primarily two activities, labor and prayer. Prayer, we’ll talk about in a moment And is quite understandable. But labor is more interesting and innovative. Because the ancient world despised labor. The whole idea of how you should live in pre-conversion Augustine’s opinion, which reflects that of late Roman society, is what was called leisure with dignity.

Leisure with dignity is what most professors aspire to. That is to say, leisure but not just to take naps and play with your dog or surf various dubious sites on the internet. Leisure, to read, to think, to engage in a kind of genteel contemplation. And this is the ideal of those Roman senators who were writing philosophical dialogues. But work, actual work, is degrading, horrible in the ancient world. Not to be engaged in by anybody who could call himself a gentleman.

So by making people work, including people who come from the upper classes, this is a penitential labor indeed, particularly labor with your hands. Though other kinds of labor were envisaged. In Section 48, Benedict talks about labor and sacred reading. And this is one of those places where you can draw out from its meaning that copying manuscripts is a form of labor. Reading texts is a form of labor. So the transformation, or at least the addition of learning as part of the mission statement of monasteries, is implicit here, but certainly not drawn out by Benedict.

Prayer. One of the things that is involved in this surrendering of your will to the greater communal good is the performance of prayers. Benedict emphasizes humility. The monk’s life as a ladder of humility. Humility is encouraged by obedience, silence. In Benedictine monasteries, you weren’t silent all the time. But there is a discouragement against mere chatter. Labor, all of these are penitential activities in which the individual will is suppressed. And if you think of experiences in which the individual will is suppressed so that the person focuses on the community, we are all familiar, in fact you are more familiar than I am probably, more immediately, with such activities.

Any kind of training or boot camp-like thing, or a senior society, or an a-capella group, makes you do stuff with the group that may be unpleasant, difficult, self-sacrificing, but that reinforces the esprit de corps. This is the heart of the military. Military beats you up in order to make you focus on the group. And many other organizations, including businesses, this idea of going out into the mountains and turning you loose with a tent and some rope and seeing which groups are able to survive, or whatever they do.

This is part of this kind of training. It’s not just to train you into depending on other people. It’s to train you into focusing on the success of the organization or group as opposed to your own aggrandizement. The difference again is, you come back from the little upward bound experience. Or you come back from the retreat. Or you come back from the scavenger hunt. In this case, this is your life. But in addition to obedience, labor, silence, prayer is the most important renunciatory activity.

Because these are not just prayers like, “OK, I’m going to go in for five minutes and recite some prayers.” These are prayers that go on all day with some breaks. One of psalms seems to suggest that you should make prayers seven times a day. So they begin a little bit after midnight. Then they go to sleep for a little while. And then they get up a little before dawn and they pray. And then they go back to sleep for a little while. And then they have a kind of early morning session, and so forth and so on, seven times a day.

And these are prayers they go through the psalms primarily. Different monasteries have different liturgies. A liturgy is a kind of ritual cycle. Some monasteries have more prayer and less contemplation, or less prayer and more work. But they all are engaged in the performance of group prayers, not individual but the community. And these go on and on and on. And they take on a kind of rhythm or a monotony, or a kind of visionary power that’s such experiences can convey.

And it is these prayers that are what are really storing up those spiritual reserves I was talking about as characteristic of monasteries. There’s this tremendous power that all these repeated prayers have that cannot be duplicated outside the walls of the monastery. So this heavy round of prayer involves a significant sacrifice of comfort and of the self. This is a kind of sleep deprivation. Monks never really quite make up the sleep deficiencies. They sort of stagger into Matins, as the first hours are called, or Lauds, the pre-sunrise hour. But this is very impressive to the outside world. The outside world, the donors, love this. They love the buildup of these prayers.

And they would like the prayers to take place in a nice place. Rather than having the monastery church being some kind of dank or fire trap wooden structure, they’ll build beautiful churches for them and beautiful dormitories for them as well. And beautiful refectories for them. If you’re a donor, you would rather that the stuff that you’re donating for take place in nice surroundings. Donors like it if the lawns at Yale are well-clipped.

And I think I’ve said this before. The closest thing to a monastery is a college, with some obvious differences. But communal living? The quadrangle is like the cloister, focused in on itself. The emphasis on the group. Identification with the institution. The notion that your activities will benefit society. Not so much your prayers, but all that great research we’re allegedly doing.

OK. The parallel does not carry perfectly. But it is no accident that this university looks a little bit like a monastery. It is to evoke a tradition of contemplation, isolation. People speak about the Yale bubble, but it’s supposed to be a bit of a bubble. It was constructed that way. That is the ideal.

Now you may not have chosen to go to the places that really reproduce the monastic ideal. I went to the University of California at Santa Cruz. It was like up on a hill in a redwood forest. That was sort of like a monastery. Or Earlham College in Indiana, or Marlboro College in Vermont. I know you rejected these places, I know you just laughed at them just thinking about going to them. But there are people who’ve decided to go– no? Devastated that you didn’t get into Earlham? Well, OK. But this is an American ideal that is similar to the monastic ideal. It is a sort of renunciatory ideal. And it is an ideal of learning.

Chapter 6: Monasticism and Learning [00:43:33]

So how do we get to learning? In the last few minutes I just want to trace these connections. The Benedictine Rule, as you will have noticed, does not encourage learning. And Benedict himself did not regard this as a primary duty of monks. He did expect the monks to read the Bible. He expected them to listen to readings from the Church Fathers. And very key, he says that the monks should take out a book from what he calls the bibliotheca. “Bibliotheca” is the Latin word for library.

It’s not clear when monasteries had libraries. But really the idea of collecting books and copying them comes from late Roman culture, from a desire to understand the Bible and from a transformation of that world of cultivated leisure, where the intellectuals like Augustine and his mentors, were the custodians of learning, to a world in which the clergy and particularly the monastic clergy, were the custodians of learning. Because the monks had three key elements: They had learning, that is they were literate. They had time, even though the prayers consumed a lot, they’re not in the world. And they had wealth.

It’s not inevitable that time, learning, and wealth should lead to a cultural efflorescence. But they are certainly favorable conditions. So I leave you with that implication of the rule. We will develop it further in a few weeks. What we’re going to be talking about beginning on Monday of next week is Islam. So we are moving into a different post-Roman reality. Thanks.

 [end of transcript] 

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