‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’
The concept of monasticism is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.
In the Greek language the term ‘monk’, μοναχός, monachos meaning solitary, can apply to men and women, but in modern English it is mainly in use for men, while ‘nun’ is typically used for female monastics.
The earliest Christian monastic communities were patterned after Jewish communities such as the Essenes.
The Roman and Orthodox churches continued this tradition, but the advent of the Reformation meant that monasteries and the monastic way of life disappeared from the British isles and other Protestant countries.
With the appalling injustices and inhumanity to man during the second world war, however, a new realisation for the need to commit to the restoration of a church that loves and protects humanity was born.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said in 1935: “the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.”
Jonathan Wilson in his 1998 book “Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World” built on Bonhoeffer’s ideas:
Calling the vision a “new monasticism”, he proposed four characteristics that such a monasticism would entail:
1 it will be “marked by a recovery of the telos of this world” revealed in Jesus, and aimed at the healing of fragmentation, bringing the whole of life under the lordship of Christ;
2 it will be aimed at the “whole people of God” who live and work in all kinds of contexts, and not create a distinction between those with sacred and secular vocations;
3 it will be disciplined, not by a recovery of old monastic rules, but by the joyful discipline achieved by a small group of disciples practicing mutual exhortation, correction, and reconciliation; and
4 it will be “undergirded by deep theological reflection and commitment,” by which the church may recover its life and witness in the world.
12 Marks of new monasticism
More recently in 2004, 12 ‘Marks’ of New Monasticism were proposed by the Rutba House gathering:
1 Relocation to the “abandoned places of Empire” [at the margins of society]
2 Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us
3 Hospitality to the stranger
4 Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation
5 Humble submission to Christ’s body, the Church
6 Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate
7 Nurturing common life among members of an intentional community
8 Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children
9 Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life
10 Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies
11 Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18
12 Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life
Although Kernow Community does not offer a central community in which to live, our Order is patterned after the rhythm of Monastic life, but Wilson’s 4 characteristics, and the 12 Marks are compatible with our Rule.
None of the traditional Monastic elements are compulsory – they are merely offered as a useful pattern from which to view and experience Christian life, “with the world as your cloister”. You are free to adopt as much or as little of the Monastic practices as you find useful.
In a sense, a dispersed community is the opposite of monastic life, since rather than withdrawing, we engage fully with society and our local communities.
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