3 Monastic Principles of Pachomius for Today

The pursuit of the monastic lifestyle was something that was key to Christianity, and is something that is still relevant to our day and culture. These monks originally started out as hermits who sought the solitude of a cave or the desert in order to have a closer relationship with God but to also remove themselves from the corruptions of the church. Often these first monks were more interested in living a simple life than education or any worldly possession.

By the time of Pachomius around A.D. 320 there were so many hermits living in the desert and caves that Pachomius said we can do this together in one community of hermits (about 100 at the time) with rules to guide our life [as monks], and he started a monastery. As we know from the time of St. Francis, more and more monasteries were being formed and they would eventually have to seek out the Pope for approval of their “Rule”. For the Pachomius monastery, he determined that they would have three rules for living. First, poverty, designed to break the chains that bound people to their possessions, second chastity, to cure you of the sin of lust there would be no contact with the opposite sex, and three obedience, to overcome the self will of the mind. In other words, simplicity of living was the call for a monk.

Present Day Principles for us Non-Monks

Most subsequent monasteries would have their own Rule, which each resident was to follow, and many were adjustments to the original three Pachomius had made back in A.D. 320. If we look at these three principles for non-monastic life in modern 21st century life, we can see that they still apply, much like scripture written two thousand years ago still applies to our lives today.

Vow of Poverty

First, poverty (as a means of obtaining a status of being poor) is something in the 21st century that is almost impossible for one to truly attain, if living in American. Even the poorest citizens of our country have more possessions and benefits from modern times than any other country or time in history. The world (and America) of course has not be able to “rid” society of poor, and Jesus even said that we would always have the poor among us (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), so even though it goes against everything that is capitalism, there are many things we can gain from applying this principle in our lives today.

We have made being poor like a disease, where the cure is to buy more stuff, collect more possessions, and generally consume more and more. Of course one can be materially rich and spiritually poor and they don’t have a correlation with each other. We cannot obtain spiritual riches by physical possessions and we cannot generally obtain material possessions if we are poor by means of becoming spiritually rich (though there are what seem to be obvious exceptions to this, I would suggest that materials means obtained via a spiritual source does not increase the spiritual richness of your life).

Choosing a life that is guarded to the consumerism and materialism of our culture is important. Every possession is an expression of our witness to others and we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) always explain in great detail why we have or don’t have this or that, we either do or don’t, and that is the instantaneous judgment of society. To understand this is principle is to make our witness as effective as possible to those we influence the most, consciously or unconsciously.

Vow of Chastity

Second was that of chastity. If you watch the news much it doesn’t take long to see that there are those who are still fighting [to remove] the chastity of today’s Priest (thought they weren’t always celibate). This principle is more than saying Catholic clergy should not marry, it deals with one of the most accepted and destructive forces in our 21st century lives today, lust.

The word lust appears over 30 times in modern translations and James puts it this way: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15) For Pachomius to deal with this most dangerous of sins he attempted to remove all temptations from his monastery, but one of the biggest issues with lust is that it is an internal sin, committed in the heart of those who Believe against God Himself.

Today these temptations are a way of life. This is how we sell products to consumers, it consumes the Internet, it is all over the news, and evidence of its destruction is everywhere. Is this relevant today and how does this principle help us since we are not all going to just choose not to be married (nor does the Bible tell us not to marry)? It is probably the most relevant of moral issues today. Ignoring lust is a victory for Sin. Understanding our own weaknesses is important. We can look at lust as something that will not sneak up on us, something that we can defeat and overcome; not of our own accord but only with God’s help can we master lust.

Vow of Obedience

Obedience is something else that is talked about throughout scripture, and one of the three Pachomius felt was most important in living a pure life devoted to Jesus. This principle was primarily to fend off ourselves from ourselves, to overcome the self-will of the mind.

Where is obedience in our culture today, does it even still exist? Pachomius wanted his monks to be obedient to the monastery, knowing that, although they (we) might not understand everything but in being committed to obedience they would in turn be obedient to the One who saves (Romans 6:16).

Obedience is another tough principle today when we are dominated and controlled by no one but ourselves. We are (basically) free to live how we want, choose the career we want, live, eat, sleep, and travel any way we want. This may not be the case in North Korea but here in America we can basically be obedient to our self-interests without regards to the betterment of society as a whole. Scripture tells us this is no way to think or live and although we may think we don’t affect anyone but ourselves, inevitably our actions of obedience or disobedience often affect an unknown chain reaction of people, for positive or negative.

People are not Called to Misssions

lightoftheworld

That was the statement our friend Biscuet (he also talked about this great story here) made in his message this morning, no one is actually “called to missions”.   Although this truth rarely seems to be stated in the American church, it is stated in scripture throughout the Bible but most recognizably in the last verse in Matthew.  Jesus was not giving us a suggestion here, it was a definitive statement for His message to reach all nations and to have a heart for those who are living a Spiritually dead life.

Sometimes our Americanized version of missions is to see who is “called to missions” then send them on a sort of mission vacation to a vaguely understood culture, and see what kind of impact can be made.  This might be an exaggerated cynical statement, but those of us who profess Jesus as their Savior are called to a worldwide missionary life.  We are certainly not all called to China like Biscuet but we are called to be missional.

I happen to be reading a passage in a book last night that put this in context.  I am about half way through God’s Passion for His Glory by John Piper which is written in two parts; the first part is a biography on Jonathan Edwards, the second part is The End for Which God Created the World by Edwards himself (see also my essay on Edwards famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Historical Look at It’s Preachability in the 21st Century).  Many don’t associate Edwards with missions but he spent many years working directly with Native American Indians in the 18th century.  In speaking about Edwards, Piper talks about privatism in religion and says:

The worst form [of privatism] is with evangelicals who think they are publicly- and socially- minded when the have no passion for missions of perishing people without the gospel that alone can give eternal life, and without a saving knowledge of the Light of the world who can transform their culture.  So the first message of Jonathan Edwards to modern evangelicals about our public lives is: Don’t limit your passion for justice and peace to such a limited concern as the church-saturated landscape of American culture.

Lift up your eyes to the real crisis of our day: namely, several thousand cultures still unpenetrated by the gospel, who can’t even dream of the blessings we want to restore.

No graphic that I have seen more emphasizes this as the one below from the IMB called You are the Light of the World.  I first saw this in poster form in bslash’s office one day and it has stuck with me since that day.  The dark places in the world, even 2,000 years after Matthew 28:19 was spoken, are large, and on every continent.  Biscuet pointed out today that we, as American’s, can no longer take the Message effectively to a Moslem nation, but we can invest in people who can, like the people in China, but before we can make a huge step (like living in China or Hong Kong), we must be willing to take many many smaller steps and be open to following our Leader, Jesus.

People are not Called to Misssions

lightoftheworld
That was the statement our friend Biscuet (he also talked about this great story here) made in his message this morning, no one is actually “called to missions”.   Although this truth rarely seems to be stated in the American church, it is stated in scripture throughout the Bible but most recognizably in the last verse in Matthew.  Jesus was not giving us a suggestion here, it was a definitive statement for His message to reach all nations and to have a heart for those who are living a Spiritually dead life.

Sometimes our Americanized version of missions is to see who is “called to missions” then send them on a sort of mission vacation to a vaguely understood culture, and see what kind of impact can be made.  This might be an exaggerated cynical statement, but those of us who profess Jesus as their Savior are called to a worldwide missionary life.  We are certainly not all called to China like Biscuet but we are called to be missional.

I happen to be reading a passage in a book last night that put this in context.  I am about half way through God’s Passion for His Glory by John Piper which is written in two parts; the first part is a biography on Jonathan Edwards, the second part is The End for Which God Created the World by Edwards himself (see also my essay on Edwards famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Historical Look at It’s Preachability in the 21st Century).  Many don’t associate Edwards with missions but he spent many years working directly with Native American Indians in the 18th century.  In speaking about Edwards, Piper talks about privatism in religion and says:

The worst form [of privatism] is with evangelicals who think they are publicly- and socially- minded when the have no passion for missions of perishing people without the gospel that alone can give eternal life, and without a saving knowledge of the Light of the world who can transform their culture.  So the first message of Jonathan Edwards to modern evangelicals about our public lives is: Don’t limit your passion for justice and peace to such a limited concern as the church-saturated landscape of American culture.

Lift up your eyes to the real crisis of our day: namely, several thousand cultures still unpenetrated by the gospel, who can’t even dream of the blessings we want to restore.

No graphic that I have seen more emphasizes this as the one below from the IMB called You are the Light of the World.  I first saw this in poster form in bslash’s office one day and it has stuck with me since that day.  The dark places in the world, even 2,000 years after Matthew 28:19 was spoken, are large, and on every continent.  Biscuet pointed out today that we, as American’s, can no longer take the Message effectively to a Moslem nation, but we can invest in people who can, like the people in China, but before we can make a huge step (like living in China or Hong Kong), we must be willing to take many many smaller steps and be open to following our Leader, Jesus.

Theology in the Early Church of Saint Augustine

One of the most common blog posts I have read over the years has been the obligatory apology to the blogging world (or to the blog itself as if it had some human quality to be actually mad at someone) when the writer has for one reason or another neglected the blog.  This always seemed odd to me.  Who really cares anyway (I highly doubt anyone has been distraught at my infrequent posts as of late), but yet we always seem to feel the need to give an explanation as to where we have been.

That was my way of saying where I have been as of late, and that is reading a monstrous biography on Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown.  Some may or may not know I am in seminary work, moving towards an M.Div, and of course this biography was part of that work.  This biography was probably one of the longest, most in depth biographies I have ever read.  It was not a light read, but it left me with a sense of intrigue for the life of the great theologian of the 4th-5th century.

In a time when the theology of the early church was still being hammered out, it gave me a sense of how little (or perhaps how prized) original thought is to us in the 21st century, and the Internet has proven Ecclesiastes 1:9 is so true.  The more information we have at our finger tips, the harder it seems to be able to express an original thought.  Within seconds I can pull up Google Books and be able to read the Divjak letters penned by Augustine himself, yet compiling thoughts of my very own that haven’t been already said seems impossible.  I have a huge list of reasons for going back to school, not only to follow what I hope to be God’s will for my life, but to be able to dig deep into His world, and learn how to think again.   Augustine said that he learned more from writing than he did from reading.  Today I fear, with more information available to us than any other time in history, we do little of either.

The amount of information we have at our finger tips has made, at least my knowledge, surface deep on many levels.  I have always tried to learn a little about a lot of things, which has taught me that I know a great deal about nothing, which is the difference between reading an article on the Internet and a book the breadth of Brown’s biography.  It took me several weeks to get through it, but it was time well spent.  The only problem with the book was that it was so well footnoted that it gave me many more books that I would love to read, like Augustine’s classic Confessions or the City of God, if I could only squeeze more time into a day.

Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown :: A Critical Review

The following critical book review of Augustine of Hippo can also be found in PDF on my writing page, or Critical Review of Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo.

Critical Review: Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown, originally published in 1967 and updated in 2000, is a comprehensive look at the life of the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine, and perhaps even more importantly, an exhaustive study of the life of a North African from A.D. 354 to A.D. 431. Brown, in 1967, at the age of 32, before the information age gave birth to Google and superficial research methods, penned a research giant on Augustine. Although the scholastic study of Augustine continued to advance after the first printing in 1967, Brown’s work on Augustine still remains a benchmark for Augustinian study today and an edifying place to start for those interested in a study of Augustine.

In this highly annotated book, Brown moves chronologically through Augustine’s life, from birth to death, and spares no detail along the way. Brown moves from Augustine’s recounting sin as a child by stealing pears from a fruit tree, which haunted him throughout his life, to contemplation and prayer at the end of his life on two hundred and thirty plus books Augustine would organize before his death. Augustine of Hippo is broken up into five large sections or transitions of Augustine’s life with chronological tables preceding each section.

Through each chapter Brown knits together a mix of Augustine’s personal timeline of life’s major events while never divorcing the history of the Roman Empire, and more specifically, that of 4th and 5th century life in North Africa. Though Brown is never quick to call Augustine out when he is wrong, even when he is obviously wrong, he prods the reader with objective truths until one starts to desire a deeper knowledge of Augustine than even Brown can deliver in 1967.

Augustine, seen as a gifted child by his parents and basically raised by his Catholic mother Monica, was well educated (in Latin but not Greek) in the philosophy of his day, and as such, spent a good portion of his early life concentrating on Manichaeism and then Platonism. He would eventually carry a Neo-Platonist Christian worldview into his Bishopric and be influenced by some of their ideals throughout the remainder of his life. One of Augustine’s life-long struggles that Brown accentuates is that of the flesh. Against his mother’s wishes, Augustine took a concubine, whom he cared for deeply. He eventually set her aside for a traditional, pre-arranged, first class marriage, which he eventually declined anyway. Augustine ends up leaving for Italy, without telling Monica who was to travel with him, to continue his study in Rhetoric. After years of philosophical struggle, at the age of 33, Augustine begged Ambrose to wash away his sins in baptism, and in April of A.D. 387 he was baptized.

From birth leading up to his Christian conversion, Augustine did not live a “Holy” life, as did other Christian philosophers turned Bishop. Once converted though, Augustine spent much of his life writing and preaching long sermons to fight heresies, most of which he was intimately familiar with himself. Here, Brown chronicles in great detail not only Augustine’s conversion and perhaps his greatest literary output of Confessions, but also his shift from free-will philosophy of Manichaeism, through his epic fight with the Donatist’s, and on to his final battle with original sin and baptism against Pelagius. Brown’s use of primary Latin sources here is exhaustive, and sometimes confusing, but he gives these heresy battles in Augustine’s life incredible detail by using Augustine’s own words from his sermons, letters, and books. Brown’s use of secondary sources throughout the text is even larger in number and his seventeen- page bibliography is a historical gift to future Augustinian study.

One of the more interesting aspects of the text comes from the updated 2000 publication being reviewed here. As explained in an amended preface, Brown did not seek to write an updated edition to his 1967 publication. Instead, Brown viewed his original writing as a historical reference point in itself, written at a point in time in Augustinian study, and one to be kept historically in tact. As with any scholastic research, time moves on and new discoveries are made, as was the case with Augustine. To accommodate for new discoveries made since 1967 Brown added a two-section epilogue outlining such evidences as the 1975 discovery of the Divjak letters and the 1990 findings of the Dolbeau sermon manuscripts. If a reader has any prior knowledge of Augustine the suggestion might be made to read the epilogue first to be able to compare and contrast Brown’s findings from 1967 with the more recent evidence.

To conclude the reading of Augustine of Hippo is to begin an Augustinian study. Although Augustine of Hippowould not be considered an all-inclusive biography it certainly has its place in the historical study of Augustine. For one studying the life of Saint Augustine this biography is essential tool, and Brown has provided an important piece into the historical study of possibly the greatest theologian in history.