If you are like me and think that history, when written well, is exciting and enlightening, helping us to understand not only how our past has led us to our present but how it is also leading us into our future, then feel free to read the next four paragraphs. They will hopefully help you understand why I chose to combine two seemingly disparate words into the title of this blog. If you are like me and become annoyed when a hack writer acts like he knows something when he actually doesn’t, feel free to skip said paragraphs…you might like the last paragraph better. Also, regardless of what I said in the first sentence, I do not promise that these paragraphs fall into the category of “written well.”
Humanism has always been a bit of a dirty word in some Christian circles, whether we are talking about the Renaissance humanists who were often caught in the middle of the clash between the Reformers and the Catholic Church, or my secular humanist friends who have seen very little that is redemptive in their experience of the church. The early humanists were themselves Christians. They were not interested in making an idol out of humanity, nor were they interested in supplanting the church. They were teachers who emphasized education in Classical Greek and Latin language and thought, the literature and ethics of a time that appeared less bleak than the life and faith of the Dark Ages in Medieval Europe.
The term has been used in a variety of ways over the last five hundred years. Today it is used broadly to describe beliefs that were popularized in the Enlightenment, seen strongly in the writings of early deism and modern liberalism. Regardless of which period we look at, humanists have held an essential belief that humanity is inherently good, a view that some Christians have agreed with and others have heartily disagreed with.
Monasticism (and for this blog, specifically Christian monasticism) has perhaps an even more varied history than humanism. Derived from the Greek word meaning “alone” or “only,” monasticism began with the Desert Mothers and Fathers dedication to poverty and prayer, and those who followed them into the desert, forming communities around their lives and teachings. Though many great names and orders have come from this tradition, they have primarily shared a focus on prayer, devotion, and a simple way of life.
Through the course of church history, both humanism and monasticism have often received a great deal of criticism. And rightfully so; at their worst, they have been reactionary, a pendulum swing from the abuse and neglect they have seen in the broader church. At their best, they have challenged the status quo and drawn the Christian faith and society at large to deeper self-understanding…things that also regularly draw criticism in this life. Some monks have been humanists; some humanists have also been monastics. Many monastics and humanists would very likely consider the combination of the two words to be rather heretical, as it were.
Now that we have waded through all of that, I must say that this is not primarily a historical blog, nor is it a systematic theology blog. I am a poor historian, and an even poorer theologian. My primary purpose is not to teach you about humanism or monasticism, as if I were an adequate teacher of either. I am a poor humanist, and a far poorer monastic. I certainly don’t intend to convince you of either perspective, as if either had a singular point of view. Rather, over the course of the past two years I have found that my own perspective has increasingly grown somewhere within a combination of these two perspectives. This new perspective has greatly changed the way that I see and describe the world around me, and it seems to be changing almost daily. Through this blog, I hope to share my reflections of life from the perspective of a humanist monastic…a humonastic perspective.