This is the assignment page for the topic "The Emergence of Christian Monastic Institutions" for J. B. Owens's sections of the lower-division undergraduate course, History 101, Foundation of Western Civilization. The sole purpose of this page and all of the pages linked to it is to provide an orientation for those students enrolled in History 101.

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The Emergence of Christian Monastic Institutions

ID: Plato (426-347 B.C.E.), monasticism, anchorites, Anthony (251-356) [Desert Fathers], Athanasius of Alexandria (ca. 295-373), Life of Anthony (written between 356 and 362), Symeon Stylites (389-459), cenobites [cenobium/community], Pachomius (286-346), John Cassian (360-435) [Lerins], Martin of Tours (ca. 316-397), Augustine of Hippo (359-430), Celtic monks (550-650), Columbanus (ca. 585-615), Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-ca. 547) [Monte Cassino], Pope Gregory I, the Great (born ca. 540; r. 590-604)

  1. Why did so many serious Christians enter some form of monastic life between the 4th and 7th centuries?
  2. Why did monasticism become so important in Christian life between 300 and 650?
  3. Why did the Desert Father Anthony (251-356) understand the scriptural passages in the books of Acts and Matthew as calls for the type of ascetic renunciation he undertook?
  4. For struggles against what opponent did Anthony train so hard?
  5. Why did Anthony expose himself to danger during the great persecution of Christians in the early 4th Century C.E.?
  6. Why did Anthony treat his body so badly?
  7. Why was the issue of fasting so important in the Christian monastic tradition?
  8. Why did Pope Gregory the Great emphasize asceticism in his biography of Benedict of Nursia?
  9. Why did Benedict roll in the thorn bush at the mouth of his cave?
  10. Why did Benedict select Monte Cassino as the site for his new monastery?
  11. Why did Pope Gregory the Great in his writings urge the practice of charitable actions by those for whom contemplation and meditation were the highest forms of spiritual devotion?
  12. Why did Pope Gregory the Great show in his writings such hostility to personal ambition and the pursuit of worldly success?
  13. Why was it necessary for Irish monks to perpetuate Christian learning in the sixth and seventh centuries?
  14. Why was monasticism so important for the early development of a Latin Christian European identity?


Kishlansky, "Imperial Christianity" (pp. 118-122); Owens, chapter 2, "The Emergence of Christian Monasticism"; Pope Gregory I, the Great, Life of Our Most Holy Father S. Benedict (introduction and chapters I, II, III, IV, VIII, XI, and XXXVI; print these for use in class); The Holy Rule of St. Benedict (read the chapter titles in this Table of Contents, and then read the Prologue and chapters 39, 48, 53, 72, and 73; prints these so that you have them in class); Gregory the Great, Book of Pastoral Rule (from Part II, "Of the life of the pastor," read chapters V, VI, and VII; print these for use in class and in reference to the next chapter).

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Revised: 9 May 2006