ISBN is

978-0-85115-303-2 / 9780851153032

Angelic Monks and Earthly Men: Monasticism and Its Meaning to Medieval Society

by

Publisher:Boydell & Brewer Inc

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

Monaticism is often seen as one of the central driving forces of the medieval world, "a specific spiritual ideal and aim of perfection implemented as a lifestyle", which both by example and by precept had a considerable impact on society as a whole. In this book, Professor Milis re-examines the way in which monastic ideals and practices interacted with the world outside the monastery walls. Professor Milis begins with a definition of the concepts of early medieval, Benedictine and Cistercian monasticism, essential to any discussion of the subject. Next, he looks at the sources of our information, and shows how, because monastic records predominate, there is a serious risk that the historian will over-emphasize the monks' role. From this base he sets out to examine what effect monasticism had on the silent majority of ordinary people, a majority which was a minority in terms of social influence. Professor Milis proposes that because monasticism denied the intrinsic value of earthly life and set its sights on a transcendental afterlife, it was almost ineffective as a force for social change, and was largely conservative in outlook. Furthermore, its dismissal of everyday life meant that when the monks were involved in social and economic activities no idealism was involved: as landowners, the monks ran their estates no differently from lay owners. It is therefore, in Professor Milis' view, essential to distinguish between the spiritual and worldly activities of the monks, because monastic attitudes towards the world were ritualized and marginal. The main purpose of monasticism was heaven, and the system of spiritual values developed within the monasteries was steadily imposed on all Christians, but even here the monks' role was limited by the increasingly strict observance of the vows which confined them to the cloister. Indeed, as their spiritual influence grew, their ability to move freely in the outside world and preach those ideals was more and more restricted. The content of their intellectual and artistic activities was addressed to an elite, rather than to the world at large, and its influence on society was therefore largely at second hand. Finally, given that the monks' relationship with the world outside was often tenuous and ambiguous, what was everyday life within the monastery like? How far did this reality diminish the impact of the monastic ideal, and how far was it seen as an easy option, an escape from harsh reality?.

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