April 14, 2014 By J. David Nolan
FROM: Fare Foward: A Christian Review of Ideas @ Patheos.com
Religious communities serve as icons of the Christian life. Today more than ever, we need their witness of poverty, chastity, and obedience to counteract our contemporary excesses.
“Fathers and teachers, what is a monk?” asks the Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. “In the enlightened world of today,” he says, referring to Dostoyevsky’s Russia, “this word is uttered in mockery by some, and by others even as a term of abuse. And it gets worse and worse.”
Though monasticism is suffering at our own historical moment as well, Zosima’s grim exposition is dated in a key respect. In contemporary America, “monk” is no longer a term of abuse but of medieval lore. At best, our current cultural imagination allows us to envision hooded old priests and ruler-wielding nuns. Mockery has been replaced by mythology, and the monk has become a thing of the past. Russian peasantry and gentry, though contemptuous of monasticism, could not ignore it. The modern layman, even despite his best efforts, may find it hard to pay attention.
Because consecrated religious stand in opposition to so many of the modern world’s common conceits, their existence is almost utterly inconceivable to us. This unintelligibility is, in part, a tragic effect of the major loss of religious life over the past half-century. And this countercultural witness is precisely why we need a renewed monasticism today. [click here to read the rest of this article at Patheos.com]