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Monasticism And Intellectual Life Essay, Research Paper

Religious and intellectual institutions underwent significant changes throughout the middle ages. In some cases, advances were made, and in others, there was a major decline. Through all of these times, the people of the middle ages learned what didn t work, what did, and how to progress once they found what did work.

The true form of monasticism in the western Christian church was founded by Saint Benedict of Nursia. He wrote the famous “Benedict s Rule” between 520-530. The fundamentals of the rule was that each day was divided into a series of activities with an emphasis on prayer and manual labor. The monks would all gather together seven times each day for prayer. These were all male institutions, however, Benedict s sister, Scholastica founded monasteries for women. Many of the texts we have today are with us because of monks. Beginning in the ninth century, the monks used scriptoria, or writing rooms, to copy different manuscripts. Between the sixth and tenth centuries, the monasteries experienced what one might call a moral decline. The purity and poverty which was the ideal for monks was being abandoned. Simony, the buying of clerical positions, was common, as was the practice of priests being married. In 910, Duke William of Aquataine wanted to do something to correct this problem. He founded the abbey of Cluny, which was an independent monastery. Cluny was kept independent from any kind of secular control. It sought to bring back the ideals of the original monasteries. This came to be known as the Cluniac movement. With the new relative stability in the church, cathedral schools developed. These were schools attached to cathedrals where religious and secular men could be trained. By the thirteenth century, there were different religious orders among the monasteries. Two main orders were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The Franciscan order was founded by Saint Francis. They took vows of poverty and lived among the poor. They preached repentance and aided the poor. This order was attractive to many people who were disgusted with the opulent lifestyles many other religious societies lived. The Dominicans were founded by Saint Dominic. This order was made up of mendicant, or begging friars. These were learned men who wanted to protect the teachings of the church from heresy. The Dominicans established schools and also had a representative government for themselves. These were both all male orders, but new establishments for women, called Beguines, were also developed in the thirteenth century. These were poor women who were devout Christians and dedicated to prayer. They lived together and supported themselves by begging and working menial jobs. They took no religious vows, however, and were free to leave as they pleased. They were accepted by the church until the fourteenth century. A religious order that was not accepted by the church were the Waldensians. This order was founded by Peter Waldo in southern France. Waldo was very similar to Saint Francis in his beliefs. He preached the message of poverty. However, Waldensians did not accept the church s authority, and were therefore declared heretics in 1183. Another example of monastic life around this time were the Templars . They were officially recognized in 1128. This was a military monastic order. Templars were monk warriors who were defenders during the crusades. They helped and defended people who were making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and even set up hospitals to help the sick travelers. Because of this, they were also called Hospitallers. Around this same time, universities appeared. Universities were all male, secular developments where students were actually in charge. Universities spread, and became the main schools for intellectuals. The fourteenth century saw the last evolution of monasteries with the development of the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life. These were lay people inspired by Gerard Groote to lead simple lives dedicated to piety and morality in the example of Christ. They took no formal vows, though, and were not controlled by the church. With all of the changes that formal religion experienced in the middle ages, the churches themselves underwent transformations. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, most churches were Romanesque. These churches followed the general architecture of the Roman basilicas, but used barrel vaulting in the roofs. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Gothic cathedrals were born. Gothic churches were higher than their Romanesque counterparts and used ribbed vaulting with flying buttresses for support. Many of these structural masterpieces are still standing today.

Religious life in the middle ages was relatively unstable most of the time. Only when certain reform efforts were made did any unity and progress exist. Schools seemed to make slow but steady progress, at least for men. Throughout all of the changes and reform, Christianity and intellectual life survived and spread to most people in Europe.

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