AUGUSTINE AND THE MONASTIC TRADITION
Augustine presided over the cradle of Christian monastic life in the West.
He did this not only by writing the first monastic Rule in the West, but also more fundamentally by giving the monastic ideal a philosophical framework and a theological depth that subsequent writers of monastic rules such as Benedict could follow.
Christian monasticism received its earliest form in the East. It came from Saint Anthony (251-356) in the Egyptian desert.
Anthony and his followers were anchorites, i.e., living alone and imposing a severe style of life on themselves.
It was a harsh way of life, and certainly not available to most Christians.
Around the year 320 Pachomius drew his followers into the desert, and later that century the monk Basil declared that the aspect of community was important to monastic life so that all of the Christian virtues could be practiced.
He added instruction in the Bible into the regimen of his communities.
In his serious thoughts about conversion to the Christian Faith while still employed in the imperial court in Milan, Augustine heard about community life.
Pontitian, an African, came to visit Augustine and his friend Alypius.
He told them about two men who had been suddenly turned to the service of God by reading about the strict way of life of Saint Anthony in Egypt.
Augustine was attracted by what he had learned about the way to God attempted by Anthony in the desert.
As one who favoured community, however, after his conversion Augustine placed the notion of community at the centre of monastic community life he initiated.
The main intention behind the ideal of Augustine regarding community life was to form a community of Christian love.
In that community, everything possible would be done to represent in its perfection the Christian mode of living.
Subsequent to the influence of Augustine, there was far less discussion about how difficult ascetic practices should be.
Rather than a harsh external poverty and isolation from other humans while living in the desert, Augustine promoted poverty of spirit and continence of the heart while living in the milieu
of a town such as Hippo.
(Continued on the next page.)