PODCAST: Movements of Renewal and Monastic Reform, Part 1 (The History of Christianity Podcast #212 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #212, titled, “Movements of Renewal and Monastic Reform, Part 1.”

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 Scripture for today is Titus 1:7-9 which reads: “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Peter Damian. He said: “What would the bishops of yesteryear have done, had they had to live through all of this? … Every day a banquet. Every day a parade. On the table, all sorts of delicacies, not for the poor, but for sensual guests. Meanwhile, the poor, to whom these things rightfully belong, are not allowed in, and they perish in hunger.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Movements of Renewal and Monastic Reform, Part 1” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The violence and corruption that followed the decline of the Carolingian [KEH-RUH-LIN-JN] empire awakened in many a deep yearning for a new order. The sight of the papacy turned into a bone of contention for petty rivals, bishoprics bought and sold, and the entire life of the church put at the service of the powerful was a scandal for many who took their faith seriously. Given the options open at that time, it was to be expected that most of those who yearned for reform had taken up the monastic life. Thus, it was out of monasteries that a wave of reform arose that conquered the papacy, clashed with the powerful, and was felt even in the distant shores of the Holy Land.

Monasticism itself was in need of reformation. Many monasteries had been sacked and destroyed by Norsemen and Hungarians. Those in more sheltered areas became toys for the ambitions of abbots and prelates. The nobles and bishops who were supposed to be their guardians used them for their own ends. Just as the papacy and the episcopacy had become means of personal aggrandizement, so had the great abbeys. Some became abbots by buying their posts, or even through homicide, and then gave themselves to an easy life on the basis of the abbey’s income. The Rule of Benedict was generally ignored, and monks and nuns who sincerely felt called to the monastic life found that violence was done to their vocation. One such was Hildegard of Bingen [HIL-DUH-GAARD of BING-UHN] (1098-1179), a German Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] abbess whose mystical writings became popular among those who sought a more profound spiritual life. But although there were numerous nuns and monks whose commitment to reformation led them to found new monastic houses, eventually the prevailing corruption would affect them too.

Two centuries before Hildegard’s [HIL-DUH-GAARD’s] time, in 909 Duke William III of Aquitane [A-KWUH-TEIN] had founded a small monastery, hoping that it would be better than the existing ones. In itself, this was not new, for such actions had become common on the part of the powerful nobles. But several wise decisions and providential circumstances turned that small monastic house into the center of a vast reformation.

In order to lead his new monastery, William called on Berno [BER-NO], a monk who was well known for his steadfast obedience to the Rule and for his efforts for the reformation of monasticism. At Berno’s [BER-NO’s] request, William set aside Cluny [KLOO-NEE], his own favorite hunting place, for the use of the monastery. This, with the necessary lands for the sustenance of the monastery, was deeded over to “Saints Peter and Paul,” thus placing the new community under the direct jurisdiction and protection of the pope. Since at that time the papacy was at its nadir [NAY-DEER], such protection would only amount to forbidding the intervention of nearby bishops and feudal lords, including William himself or his heirs. Also, in order to guarantee that the new monastic foundation did not fall prey to a corrupt papacy, the deed explicitly forbade the pope from invading or otherwise taking what belonged only to the two holy apostles. This and other similar donations to abbeys and monasteries may well have been part of a general attempt on the part of many to be reconciled with God as the end of the first millennium approached, for Augustine and others had suggested that, since a thousand years are as a day in the eyes of God, the end of the first millennium would bring about the consummation of creation.

Next time, we will continue looking at “Monastic Reform.”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

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