The Saints’ Varied Approaches to Religious Life

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The following was a college essay written by Joshua Pippert. It has been edited and approved by Michael Twohig. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Joshua Pippert, Benedictine College

All those called to the consecrated and celibate vocations in life have always held a special place in the world of Catholicism, and certainly one of no little significance. Monks, for example, lived their lives in full devotion to God, giving up their worldly possessions so as to give glory to His kingdom. They may sound to some as if they were just from a medieval fantasy roleplaying game, no different from an armored knight or a cunning rogue, but these holy people are greater than any fantasy characters and still as present as they were centuries ago. As a matter of fact, there’s more than one way to be a monk.

Terms describing the monastic life like Benedictine, Dominican, and Franciscan may be found circulating in everyday language with the layman unaware of what they truly mean. Each one, however, has its own history and identity as a practical model for the religious life. Aside from them are even examples found in less popular religious lifestyles. Consider the life of Saint Daniel the Stylite, a monk who came to learn about his predecessor, Saint Simeon, well. Daniel learned of Simeon’s lifestyle and how he remained at the top of a pillar, preaching and celebrating the Eucharist all his life. It was monastic in that it involved a saint staying at the top of that one pillar and rarely doing much other than praising God. In fact, Daniel adopted the lifestyle himself for thirty-three years.

Among the more commonly known traditions of consecrated life, however, is the Benedictine way of life. When the average person hears the word “monk,” chances are that they’ll think of a Benedictine monk. These are people who give up all private property to relinquish even their own selves to the Kingdom of God. “Never departing from His guidance, remaining in the monastery in His teaching until death” (Blosser, 151), these monks live under the instruction of Saint Benedict’s Rule. “All things [are] held in common” (153), i.e. one monk’s dog belongs to all of the monks, and they eat together, sleep together, pray together, and live in one monastery all functioning as one body since they are one in Christ. If a visitor is to knock on the monastery’s door as well, Saint Benedict tells them to “Let all guests who arrive be received as though they were Christ himself” (153).

Yet because of the rapid spread of heresy, the need for a new kind of order was established, one more mobile and trained in apologetics than the holy homebodies of Saint Benedict. Saint Dominic recognized this after he went with his bishop on a mission to southern France, only to find it under the chokehold of the Albigensian heresy, a heresy that held the world to be a prison made by the devil rather than the loving creation of a benevolent God (161-162). With tragedies such as this going on in the world and the Benedictines remaining in their monasteries, more monks were needed to travel around Europe to debate and preach theology wherever it may be needed. It was out of this concern that Saint Dominic founded the Dominican order.

Now, last but certainly not least is the order of the Franciscans who take after the example of none other than Saint Francis, who spent his youth in a way quite similar to how Saint Augustine spent his; partying and pursuing all the pleasures of the flesh. Then, slowly but surely, he converted. Once, he held a wild and gaudy banquet for many guests only to come to the realization that there is something much greater than the finite pleasures that he can find on earth (169), and following that, he heard a Gospel reading that made him realize his true desires. He had heard that Jesus’ disciples were not allowed to carry more than a tunic, not even shoes, but they lived only to preach. Saint Francis’ heart swelled up with joy and he proclaimed that that exact lifestyle was just what he wanted to do (171).

So began the order of the Friars Minor, the first Franciscans. There’s nothing in the Rule of Saint Francis about being confined to a monastery, but the Franciscans were not out to debate theology either. Instead, they are told to “be not argumentative nor argue with words, nor judge others…be gentle, peaceful, and modest, meek and humble, speaking honestly to all that is fitting” (176). Indeed, these men were extraordinarily humble, “poor in goods, but exalted in virtue” (177), as Francis puts it. They could not obtain money, homes, or anything more than a tunic as they were to preach repentance in short, concise terms and live out the poverty of Christ’s disciples.

Works Cited

“Saint Benedict of Nursia (480-547).” Positively Medieval: The Surprising, Dynamic, Heroic Church of the Middle Ages, by Jamie Blosser, Our Sunday Visitor, 2016, pp. 145–153. 

“Saint Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221).” Positively Medieval: The Surprising, Dynamic, Heroic Church of the Middle Ages, by Jamie Blosser, Our Sunday Visitor, 2016, pp. 161–167. 

“Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).” Positively Medieval: The Surprising, Dynamic, Heroic Church of the Middle Ages, by Jamie Blosser, Our Sunday Visitor, 2016, pp. 167–178. 

“The Life and Works of St Daniel the Stylite.” THEO3420: History of the Catholic Church I, by Benjamin Blosser, Cognella Custom, 2020, pp. 29–34. 

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