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More on the New Monasticism

In my last post on the new monasticism, quite a lively discussion was generated regarding the viability of Protestant ecclesiology in general. I’d be curious about further discussions related to this whole topic.

Now, this movement as a whole is broadly ecumenical, the first book bearing “new monasticism” in the title included essays from persons from numerous different denominations and communities, both Catholic and Protestant. The whole thrust of the different communities that are seeking to live in this new monastic way is one of repentance. There are numerous affluent and semi-affluent Christians in America who are coming to see that maybe there are some fundamental ways in which the church in America is unjustifiably compromised with the dominant culture. And yet, these Christians, among whom I include myself are left in a quandary as to how to repent in the context of the culture we inhabit. If we are complicit in the structures of racism & classism, for example, how do we best repent of that in a non-artificial way? There’s really nothing counter-cultural about remaining affluent and just finding ways to have friends from different races, for example, as good a thing as that might be. Likewise, is becoming a “white liberal activist” (such as the many who worked in the civil rights movement) the right course?

To put it another way, it often seems that Christians such as myself see the injustices of our culture, and yet are at a loss for a meaningful way to speak Christianly toward these injustices in light of the fact that they are on dominant side in most of these conflicts. New monastic forms of living are, I think an important way in which Christians in these positions are trying to repent of their middle-classness. It is a way of trying to avoid the problems of faith that is simple activism on one hand or quietism on the other. It is not a matter of trying to solve the problems of the world through utopianism, nor is it a method of withdrawal from the world into interiority. Rather it is a statement that what we need, if we are to bear faithful witness is to construct an alternative space within the world in which we become free to divest ourselves of the idolatries of the dominant culture in such a way that we may live a life that bears the stamp of what we believe true justice and shalom looks like. Only then will we have a meaningful word to speak to the world we wish to critique.

An early example of this is the Koinonia Farms that were led by Clarence Jordan in the 1950s and 60s. Jordan was simply a conservative Southern Baptist who ended up with a Ph.D in New Testament Greek. And, in the process of studying the New Testament toward this end, he came to the conclusion, rather matter-of-factly that the Bible had a lot to say about peace and community between members of different races. So, he and a band of followers proceeded to buy some farm land and together, black and white began to live together in communion with one another, working side-by-side. Nearly a decade before MLK proclaimed his dream, it was being lived out by a small community in Machen, Georgia.

This is the vision that the new monasticism seeks to emulate. It is about constructing concrete, stable, and committed ecclesial communities that live in proximity with close relationship between all the members thereof. This, in my opinion is how Christians such as myself need to repent of the idolatries of our culture. It may be that if we were in a different culture something very different than a new monasticism would be necessary. But, I think it is necessary here, in this day and this time.

A few questions:

How should our practices of life and livelihood bear the stamp of repentance? I think this has particular relevance to Christians in academic pursuits. How might we configure our lives to tangibly bear an alternative shape to that of dominant culture?

How might communities who are not of this new monastic strip learn from those who are? What does it have to offer other Christians in ecclesial contexts where repentance from the idolatries of our culture may look different?

How far is too far? While we often like to rake the Enlightenment notion of autonomy over the coals, are we really willing to give up self-determination in terms of things like career and lifestyle? Don’t we often really fear the idea of letting others discern and speak into how we should live?

7 Comments

  1. Deep Furrows wrote:

    Hans Urs von Balthasar has characterized the vows as a total gift of self (this has become part of the official lingo now). The main question of new monasticism should be how do I live the counsels of Christ (His ever-greater call to follow Him in the Father’s will) wherever I happen to live?

    Balthasar also said that this response to Christ could be lived literally (secular institute, for example) or by analogy: married couples prudentially living this total commitment in a way that is prudent.

    A remarkable example of a married couple living the counsels is Mark and Louise Zwick of Casa Juan Diego. They effected a prudential and gradual shift into their current life, making provision for their children as they did so.

    Fredlm

    Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Where does Balthasar write about Monasticism most? I’ve got most of his books (really), but I want to make sure I have that!

    Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
  3. Deep Furrows wrote:

    The Laity and the Life of the Counsels (LLC). By the way, I posted some belated comments on your previous New Monasticism post.

    I’m posting a series on the laity that draws heavily from this book.
    Third Orders – the attempt to extend the monastic spirit in the world.
    The rise of Catholic Action – a non- monastic hierarchical attempt to renew the laity.
    and here’s an older post that also draws from LLC:
    What are the Laity For?

    Once you discover this theme of finding a Christian form of life in Balthasar, however, you’ll find it everywhere. One of my favorite places is in the introduction to Seeing the Form.

    Balthasar also had close relationships with two particular lay communities. His interview with Angelo Scola, Test Everything records in a symbolic way his friendship with the Communion and Liberation movement of Fr. Luigi Giussani. Balthasar also co-founded a secular institute with Adrienne von Speyr, so details about that are in Our Task.

    Fred

    Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Yes, I did see that. And indeed the Christian form of life is a pervasive theme in Balthasar.

    But that book on the Laity is one of the few I don’t have yet, so I’ll fix that problem.

    Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  5. Deep Furrows wrote:

    Ignatius.com has it on sale for $13.95. I’d love to hear your response to it!

    Fred

    Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    I’ll make sure to get it and put something out on it. How did you come to be interested in Balthasar?

    Friday, March 23, 2007 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Deep Furrows wrote:

    Halden,
    that’s a long story!

    I dropped out of college and went to Washington DC to work with the l’Arche community there (so I was already in a context of lay monasticism – if you will). A friend introduced me to reading Chesterton, O’Connor, and Percy, and he also introduced me to Newman Bookstore where I found de Lubac, Balthasar, Ignatius Press.

    By the way, here’s my guest post on Balthasar at Faith and Theology.

    Fred

    Friday, March 23, 2007 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

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