Monasticism is quite a mixed bag in the history of the Church. Nevertheless, a fresh reading of The Rule of St. Benedict has impressed me anew with an appreciation for the zeal of these men. What struck me most as I read was the way in which the monastic orders were politically subversive without being politically concerned at all. The Rule specifies that advancement in responsibility within the order is entirely dependent upon personal merit. Consequently, neither freemen nor serfs were to be treated differently – all were equal before the Rule. Likewise, when important decisions were to be made, the Rule specifies that the opinion of all the brothers – even the youngest – was to be sought out since the younger brothers frequently had good ideas. These notions, particularly the first, were quite revolutionary in their time. In a sense the monasteries created an alternative model of society within the larger society. As such they performed the valuable function of highlighting what life could be like if the broader society would cease its warlike depredations and give itself up to peaceful endeavors.
James 4:7 (NKJV)7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Recently I have been reading biographies of Christians in the early church written by other Christians in the early church. The Life of Antony written by Athanasius; The Life of Paul of Thebes by Jerome; The Life of Hilarion also by Jerome. All three of these men were instrumental in the foundation of the movement known as monasticism – where men and women separated themselves from society in order to pursue wholeheartedly the presence of God.
For all their faults – and there were many – one thing shines bright and clear throughout their lives – they knew they were at war with the evil one. They knew that Satan was out to destroy them, out to undermine virtue, out to corrupt and taint and distort whatever vestiges of righteousness he could find. And not only did these saints know they were at war – they knew which side they were on. Read the life of Antony – here was a man who hungered and thirsted for righteousness. Read the life of Paul of Thebes – here was a man who sought first the kingdom of God. Read the life of Hilarion – here was a man who panted for the living God and for streams of living water. Years and years they would wrestle and strive and fight. Why? To overcome sin and in so doing to overcome all the wiles of the evil one.
So let me encourage you – read of our fathers. Read of the monastics. Read of the martyrs. Here was faith. Here was abandon. Here was striving in the fight against sin and vice. They understood that the stakes were high. They understood that the war with the evil one was raging constantly. They understood that constant vigilance was imperative. But what of us? I fear that we are too patient with our sin. We fail to perceive the nature of life.
Brothers and sisters, we are in a war. The evil one would like to take us down. He would like to destroy us. He would like to see us corrupted. He would like us to be complacent. Do you see it? When you are tempted to ignore your wife – that’s the battle. When you are tempted to be bitter toward your husband – that is the battle. When you are tempted to yell at the kids – that is the battle. When you are tempted to disrespect your parents – that is the battle. When you are tempted to despise your sibling – that is the battle. A war is raging and many of us are playing with the little tinker toys in the corner. A war is raging and many of us are keeping uncommon close company with the enemy. A war is raging and many of us are consumed with whether we are happy rather than whether we are holy, equipped for the battle.
So listen – let us get our eyes off our navels and get to war. Let us get rid of our selfishness, get rid of our greed, get rid of our bitterness, get rid of our lust, get rid of our idolatry. Let us heed the exhortation of James – Submit to God, resist the devil. And then listen to the promise of God. He will flee from you, from little old you. Listen to the Word of God through the Apostle John, “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” You have overcome the evil one. Have you?
Peter tells us that the Spirit of God has come to give us all things necessary for life and godliness – did you hear that, all things necessary. And this is written by a man who believed firmly in total depravity. So what excuses have we made for failing to achieve it? The monastics didn’t make excuses – they did whatever was necessary to please the Lord. In this let us imitate them.
Reminded that we are in a war and that many of us are playing with the dollies in the attic, let us kneel and let us confess our sin to God.