LISTEN: The Monastic Reaction: The Origins of Monasticism (The History of Christianity #96 with Daniel Whyte III)

Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago.

I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Lamentations 3:28 which reads: “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He said: “Monastic life became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: The Origins of Monasticism” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Even before Constantine’s time, there had been Christians who, for various reasons, had felt called to an unusual style of life. Reference has already been made to the “widows and virgins” – that is, to those women who chose not to marry or to remarry, and to devote all their time and energies to the work of the church. Some time later, Origen, following the Platonic ideal of the wise life, made arrangements to live at a mere subsistence level, and led a life of extreme asceticism. It is said that he even took literally the Word of Christ about those who have made themselves “eunuchs for the Kingdom.” Also, although Gnosticism had been rejected by the church, its influence could still be felt in the widely held notion that there was a fundamental opposition between the body and the life of the spirit, and that therefore in order to live fully in the spirit it was necessary to subdue and to punish the body.

Thus, monasticism has roots both within the church and outside of it. From within the church, monasticism was inspired by Paul’s words, that those who chose not to marry had greater freedom to serve the Lord. This impulse toward celibacy was often strengthened by the expectation of the return of the Lord. If the end was at hand, it made no sense to marry and to begin the sedentary life of those who are making plans for the future. At other times, there was an additional reason for celibacy: since Christians are to witness to the coming Kingdom, and since Jesus declared that in the Kingdom “they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” those who choose to remain celibate in the present life are a living witness to the coming Kingdom.

A number of outside influences also played a part in the development of Christian monasticism. Several schools of classical philosophy held that the body was the prison or the sepulcher of the soul, and that the latter could not be truly free as long as it did not overcome the limitations of the body. Stoic doctrine, very widespread at the time, held that passions are the great enemy of true wisdom, and that the wise devote themselves to the perfecting of their souls and the subjugation of their passions. Several religious traditions in the Mediterranean basin included sacred virgins, celibate priests, eunuchs, and others whose lifestyle set them apart for the service of the gods. This sense that the body – and particularly sexual activity – was somehow evil or unworthy of those devoted to holiness became so widespread that in an attempt to curb this extreme practice, the Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, ordered that any among the clergy who had castrated themselves be deposed, and no one be admitted into the clergy who had done such a thing. But according to ancient chroniclers even at that council there were already some who wished to order clerical celibacy – a move that was defeated by the impassioned opposition of bishop Paphnutius (pa-ph-nutis), widely respected for his steadfastness during the persecution and his own celibate life. Thus, the ideals of early Christian Monasticism arose both from Scripture and from other sources quite alien to Christianity.

Next time, we will look at The First Monks of the Desert.

Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty University School of Divinity. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for over twenty-seven years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.

When you purchase a book below it supports the Number #1 Black Christian Newspaper BLACK CHRISTIAN NEWS NETWORK ONE ( and it also allows us to spread the Gospel around the world.