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§ 33. Position of Monks in the Church.


As to the social position of monasticism in the system of ecclesiastical life: it was at first, in East and West, even so late as the council of Chalcedon, regarded as a lay institution; but the monks were distinguished as religiosi from the seculares, and formed thus a middle grade between the ordinary laity and the clergy. They constituted the spiritual nobility, but not the ruling class; the aristocracy, but not the hierarchy of the church. “A monk,” says Jerome, “has not the office of a teacher, but of a penitent, who endures suffering either for himself or for the world.” Many monks considered ecclesiastical office incompatible with their effort after perfection. It was a proverb, traced to Pachomius: “A monk should especially shun women and bishops, for neither will let him have peace.”302302   Omnino monachum fugere debere mulieres et episcopos. Ammonius, who accompanied Athanasius to Rome, cut off his own ear, and threatened to cut out his own tongue, when it was proposed to make him a bishop.303303   Sozom. iv. 30. Martin of Tours thought his miraculous power deserted him on his transition from the cloister to the bishopric. Others, on the contrary, were ambitious for the episcopal chair, or were promoted to it against their will, as early as the fourth century. The abbots of monasteries were usually ordained priests, and administered the sacraments among the brethren, but were subject to the bishop of the diocese. Subsequently the cloisters managed, through special papal grants, to make themselves independent of the episcopal jurisdiction. From the tenth century the clerical character was attached to the monks. In a certain sense, they stood, from the beginning, even above the clergy; considered themselves preëminently conversi and religiosi, and their life vita religiosa; looked down with contempt upon the secular clergy; and often encroached on their province in troublesome ways. On the other hand, the cloisters began, as early as the fourth century, to be most fruitful seminaries of clergy, and furnished, especially in the East, by far the greater number of bishops. The sixth novel of Justinian provides that the bishops shall be chosen from the clergy, or from the monastery.

In dress, the monks at first adhered to the costume of the country, but chose the simplest and coarsest material. Subsequently, they adopted the tonsure and a distinctive uniform.



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