New Monks for a New Age?

What are your thoughts on the 'New Monasticism'? I recently penned these comments on another blog and thought I'd throw them up here for discussion:

I’ve been a little underwelmed with the ‘New Monasticism’ movement to date.

I’m no expert but I just get the sense that there’s more than a little romanticism in this for evangelicals who’ve had no previous experience with it, and too little critical reflection.

Having coming from a Catholic background I was educated by brothers at Marist Brothers Parramatta and met the odd monk or two in my time 🙂 I encountered both beauty and ugliness in the process, and while there was much to be inspired by, there was also much that was not and its worth considering why the reformers were heavily critical of it too.

Above all else, I’m far from convinced this isn’t just faddishness. They guys I knew made a life commitment that in some cases lasted 70 years or more. Has that level of commitment emerged yet? I’m still to be convinced.

I should add that I'm open to being convinced, I appreciate that some see this as a significant movement of the Spirit, it's just … mmm … I'd need to see more crirtical engagement with Catholic monastic thought. Not just the monastic rules but also the living tradition. I'd also like to see some constructive critics of the celibacy tradition which is so integrally woven into the old monasticism, and deeper consideration of the part asceticism played in the life of monks like St Francis of Asisi. 

6 thoughts on “New Monks for a New Age?

  1. Very briefly… In would say that the issues being explored by the whole new-monasticism (and it’s not that new the conversation has been going on quietly for 10years) are… a) what is the nature of a non-consumer/contractual community in a (nearly)non-geographic culture… in other words how do we develop a sense of mutual commitment and acountability, how do we ensure DNA/core values in a disparate/inclusive ‘church’, b) what does it mean to expand our ‘worship’ beyond the ‘service’… looking at things like rythmn and rule, cells etc. c) what does it mean to be truly outlooking community i.e. ‘Missional’… the question os Ascetism is interesting… although those in the N-M conversation would probably talk more about simple and ethical living… seeking to conserve rather than simply consume… the celibacy question relates more to a Roman model of Monasticism and I think it’s fair to say most new-mopnastic conversation happens around Celtic Models e.g. Lindisfarne and Iona and the outward focused living rather than the cloistered protectionist Roman equivalent. I agree there is a degree of romanticism in the conversation… but that will fade!


  2. Mark,
    There are some important questions there, absolutely, I suppose I am just stretching to see how New Monasticism answers them.
    Take expansion of worship beyond the service for instance. Do rhythms and rules take you beyond the service, or simply break services down into multiple chunks? And even if they do take you beyond the service, do they take you beyond the building? I’m open to this, it’s just I end up with many questions.
    On the distinction between the Celtic model and the Roman model, I think more is made of that than is actually warranted. For one, it’s important to remember that they’re both Catholic and recognised the authority of the Holy See in Rome. For another, the Rule of Benedict which seems to be referred to with reasonable frequency in New Monasticism circles was not a Celtic document, it was Italian. Lastly, celebacy was not made universally compulsory till, oh, sometime near 1000AD but it was practiced to some extent by both the Celts and the Romans prior to that. I don’t see any meaningful distinction between the two on that practice.
    My honest opinion is that New Monasticism actually sounds a good deal more like Opus Dei to me than classic monasticism. I recognise that could sound like a horrid observation for those that only know of Opus Dei through Dan Brown so all I can say to people there is to look up the real deal.
    On the asceticism, at times it amounted to nothing less than self-persectution as a way to virtue. Way beyond simple living. But we can’t embrace people like St Francis and the Desert Fathers holistically without honestly examining their darker sides.
    This is all a bit academic for me though, for as far as I’m aware there are no New Monastic communities in Sydney or even Australia. Don’t know why but I suspect the fact that Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in Australia has something to do with it.


  3. I have to agree with Mark, I think the romanticism will fade as we grapple with the issues of what it means to live in the ways he describes, none of which are easy in a world based on consumerism.
    This is hitting home now as we have teenage and older children, it is something my elder daughter especially grappled with as she moved out to University, but thankfully found two of the ministers affiliated to the Uni were members of the Northumbria Community and therefore understood her worldview… ( this is not something we foistd on her simply something we encouraged).
    The other point is that from a missional point of view this counter-culture dispersed community living is something that many people find intensley attractive, I have more good conversations with people about the problem of consumerism etc…


  4. Sally
    So what community are you actually a part of? I would dearly like to find out more. If the romanticism I’m seeing with my ex-Catholic eyes is being recognized within New Monastic communities then I take that as a healthy sign. It would be good to hear more from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Maybe you could do a few blog posts that focus specifically on your experiences within the movement? I’m still figuring out what to make of it all.


  5. Thinking on that one Matt, as we are a local (Norfolk UK) group, what binds us is a set of values ( simplicity, purity and an atempt at hoilness)and a committment to daily prayer though not together there is a sense that the prayer is not entered into alone.
    Currently we do not sign up to anything but are considering the value of that.
    As for a name again that is something we are working out, so far we go under the title of F5 (Refresh) and have not launched out beyond our local area. We are seeking together how to be Christ in community, and how to engage with the wider community from that context- not an us and them but rather and accompanying approach.


  6. I’ve been reading quite a bit about this recently, and am not sure that “new” monasticism is the best erm for it. Some have been speaking of “urban monasticism”, and there are many forms. The idea seems quite old, and Mother Maria Skobtsova was talking about it in the 1940s.
    There are some links on it here:


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