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The first Christians saw the kingdom of Satan actually realized in the political and social life of heathendom around them.In their eyes the gods whose temples shone in every city were simply devils, and to participate in their rites was to join in devil worship.Hence it is claimed that a form of life which flourishes in environments so diverse must be the expression of a principle inherent in human nature and rooted therein no less deeply than the principle of domesticity, though obviously limited to a far smaller portion of mankind.This article and its two accompanying articles, EASTERN MONASTICISM and WESTERN MONASTICISM, deal with the monastic order strictly so called as distinct from the "religious orders" such as the friars, canons regular, clerks regular, and the more recent congregations.For the truth is that the Christian ideal is frankly an ascetic one and monachism is simply the endeavour to effect a material realization of that ideal, or organization in accordance with it, when taken literally as regards its "Counsels" as well as its "Precepts" (see ASCETICISM; COUNSELS, EVANGELICAL).Besides a desire of observing the evangelical counsels, and a horror of the vice and disorder that prevailed in a pagan age, two contributory causes in particular are often indicated as leading to a renunciation of the world among the early Christians.Hereafter the various items of this renunciation will be dealt with in detail, they are mentioned at this time merely to show how the monastic ideal was foreshadowed in the asceticism of the Gospel and its first followers.
There is no indication that such a custom was ever instituted elsewhere and even at Jerusalem it seems to have collapsed at an early period.
If he must have something in the nature of property then he and his fellows shall hold it in common, just because the world respects and safeguards private ownership.
In like manner he practises fasting and virginity that thereby he may repudiate the licence of the world.
For asceticism is the struggle against worldly principles, even with such as are merely worldly without being sinful.
The world desires and honours wealth, so the ascetic loves and honours poverty.
When Christianity first came in touch with the Gentiles the Council of Jerusalem by its decree about meat offered to idols ( Acts ) made clear the line to be followed.