Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Terry Jones and Monks

I flipped briefly by the History Channel while pedaling away on the bike, when I saw the beginning of a show called Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. The episode was on monks. Interested, I watched for while. Jones described St. Benedict as a man who didn't like the fact that people were having too good of a time in Rome. So he left Rome, and lived in a cave, to make sure that he didn't enjoy any of the good things of life. Jones then said that Benedict's solitude was short-lived, since lots of other people came out "in order not to enjoy themselves in the presence of a great man."

His description of monasticism as "not enjoying oneself" was worth a chuckle. But then he contradicted his own statement without noticing it, when he acknowledged the great attractiveness of monastic life. If all these men came out to join Benedict, monasticism can't consist simply of lack of enjoyment; what would be the appeal? How could it be so attractive if it wasn't any fun at all?

An observant person would notice the tension between the glib statement that monasticism consisted of "not enjoying oneself" and the fact that lots and lots of people used to want to be monks.

I have been reading a history book by Peter Brown called "The Rise of Western Christendom", and he relates this fact: In 593, the emperor Maurice issued an edict that forbade all persons liable to military service to become monks. Can you imagine? So many people wanted to be monks that it threatened the security of the Byzantine Empire.

There must be something good about it, don't you think?

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