This this page may be of interest primarily to oblates embarked on more
in-depth studies or those who simply love to read the Vatican's official
This page contains
links to key Vatican documents mentioning monasticism.
In general, the Popes and Vatican officials discuss monasticism in the context of two main
1. Monasticism as a foundation of
western theology and European culture.
2. Monasticism as the repository
of practices that lead to deep
Of course, the documents listed here discuss other elements of
monasticism as well as many other Church topics.
It is a tribute to the wise teaching
of the Vatican that monasticism is always placed within the larger
context of the entire scope of the Church. While I might think it
would be super if everyone became a monk, nun, sister, or oblate, these
Vatican documents always reveal that there are many Great Traditions in
our Catholic Church.
However, for the person who wants to know what Popes and Vatican
officials have been saying in the past 20 years about monasticism, the
documents on this page are a representative sample:
“The Origins of Western Theology and the Roots
of European Culture.”
Benedict XVI. Meeting with Representatives
from the World of Culture, in France, 12 September 2008
"Quaerere Deum – to seek God and to let oneself be found by him,
that is today no less necessary than in former times."
A guiding light
is almost always from above and
draws us to the foot of the cross.
Saint Benedict of Norcia
the Founder of Western Monasticism, St. Peter's Square, 9 April
2008, Benedict XVI.
St. Basil (330 AD - 379 AD) Eastern Father
"In speaking of monasticism, the
Servant of God John Paul II wrote: "For this reason many people
think that the essential structure of the life of the Church,
monasticism, was established, for all time, mainly by St Basil; or
that, at least, it was not defined in its more specific nature
without his decisive contribution"
The Congregation for Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
About the Congregation which
"is responsible for everything which concerns institutes of
consecrated life (orders and religious congregations, both of men
and of women, secular institutes) and societies of apostolic life
regarding their government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and
On monks, the article states in
part: "It is Monks, from a historical point of view, were the first
religious to live in community. In the first half of the fourth
century, the desert areas of northern Egypt were populated by
colonies of hermits, whose sayings (dicta) were gathered together in
the Apophthegmata Patrum. Some of these hermits gathered around
themselves groups of disciples, and gave rise to the Pachomian
cenobitical communities, characterized by a strong, and sometimes
harsh, discipline. During the fourth century in Asia Minor,
cenobitic life developed under the guiding influence of St. Basil,
based on the notion of community as the Church and Body of Christ."
The article gives an overview of
all types of religious life -- there are many and this article gives
a good overview.
Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life) Pope John Paul
Exhortation Vita Consecrata of the Holy Father John Paul II to the
Bishops and Clergy Religious Orders and Congregations Societies of
Apostolic Life Secular Institutes and All the Faithful on the
Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World.
Rome, March 25, 1996]
"Monastic life in the East and
"6. The Synod Fathers from the Eastern Catholic Churches and the
representatives of the other Churches of the East emphasized the
evangelical values of monastic life, which appeared at the dawn of
Christianity and which still flourishes in their territories,
especially in the Orthodox Churches.
"From the first centuries of the Church, men and women have felt
called to imitate the Incarnate Word who took on the condition of a
servant. They have sought to follow him by living in a particularly
radical way, through monastic profession, the demands flowing from
baptismal participation in the Paschal Mystery of his Death and
"In this way, by becoming bearers
of the Cross (staurophoroi), they have striven to become bearers of
the Spirit (pneumatophoroi), authentically spiritual men and women,
capable of endowing history with hidden fruitfulness by unceasing
praise and intercession, by spiritual counsels and works of charity.
In its desire to transfigure the world and life itself in
expectation of the definitive vision of God's countenance, Eastern
monasticism gives pride of place to conversion, self-renunciation
and compunction of heart, the quest for hesychia or interior peace,
ceaseless prayer, fasting and vigils, spiritual combat and silence,
Paschal joy in the presence of the Lord and the expectation of his
definitive coming, and the oblation of self and personal
possessions, lived in the holy communion of the monastery or in the
solitude of the hermitage.
"The West too from the first
centuries of the Church has practiced the monastic life and has
experienced a great variety of expressions of it, both cenobitic and
eremetical. In its present form, inspired above all by Saint
Benedict, Western monasticism is the heir of the great number of men
and women who, leaving behind life in the world, sought God and
dedicated themselves to him, "preferring nothing to the love of
"The monks of today likewise
strive to create a harmonious balance between the interior life and
work in the evangelical commitment to conversion of life, obedience
and stability, and in persevering dedication to meditation on God's
word (lectio divina), the celebration of the Liturgy and prayer.
"In the heart of the Church and
the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs
of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things
of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue
and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the
earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city."
---- Pope John Paul II, 1996
Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life)
+ St Gregory the Great.
Pope and Doctor of the Church (c. 540-604). By
BENEDICT XVI, ANGELUS, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 3 September 2006.
Pope Gregory was born three years
before St. Benedict's death in 543. Pope Gregory was
instrumental in making the Rule of St. Benedict the primary rule for
monastic living in Europe.
Pope Gregory wrote virtually all
we know of the details of the lives of St. Benedict and his sister
Most importantly, Pope
Gregory was himself a contemplative spirit and as one Benedictine
abbot said, Pope Gregory the Great "exercised a decisive influence
on the share given in monastic culture to the spiritual tendency."
Quote source, page 25.
ORIENTALE LUMEN (The light of the East)
Pope John Paul from the
Vatican, on May 2, 1995. An Apostolic Letter to the Bishops, Clergy,
Catholics should become
familiar with the traditions of the Eastern Christians and
encourage the process of Church unity.
"Monasticism as a model of
"9. I would now like to look at the vast panorama of Eastern
Christianity from a specific vantage point which affords a view
of many of its features: monasticism.
"In the East, monasticism has retained great unity. It did not
experience the development of different kinds of apostolic life
as in the West. The various expressions of monastic life, from
the strictly cenobitic, as conceived by Pachomius or Basil, to
the rigorously eremitic, as with Anthony or Macarius of Egypt,
correspond more to different stages of the spiritual journey
than to the choice between different states of life. In any
event, whatever form they take, they are all based on
"Moreover, in the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a
separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians,
but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according
to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a
symbolic synthesis of Christianity.
"When God's call is total, as it is in the monastic life, then
the person can reach the highest point that sensitivity, culture
and spirituality are able to express. This is even more true for
the Eastern Churches, for which monasticism was an essential
experience and still today is seen to flourish in them, once
persecution is over and hearts can be freely raised to heaven.
The monastery is the prophetic place where creation becomes
praise of God and the precept of concretely lived charity
becomes the ideal of human coexistence; it is where the human
being seeks God without limitation or impediment, becoming a
reference point for all people, bearing them in his heart and
helping them to seek God."
---- Pope John Paul II,
On commitment to Ecumenism
"Part of the [treasury of the
Churches of the East] are also "the riches of those spiritual
traditions to which monasticism gives special expression. From the
glorious days of the Holy Fathers, there flourished in the East that
monastic spirituality which later flowed over into the Western
world".91 As I have had the occasion to emphasize in my recent
Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, the Churches of the East have
lived with great generosity the commitment shown by monastic life,
"starting with evangelization, the highest service that the
Christian can offer his brother, followed by many other forms of
spiritual and material service. Indeed it can be said that
monasticism in antiquity—and at various times in subsequent ages
too—has been the privileged means for the evangelization of
---- Pope John Paul II, 1995
+ General Audience April 27, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI
— Reflection on the name chosen:
"I wanted to be called Benedict XVI in order to create a
spiritual bond with Benedict XV, who steered the Church through the
period of turmoil caused by the First World War. He was a courageous
and authentic prophet of peace and strove with brave courage first
of all to avert the tragedy of the war and then to limit its harmful
consequences. Treading in his footsteps, I would like to place my
ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony between
persons and peoples, since I am profoundly convinced that the great
good of peace is first and foremost a gift of God, a precious but
unfortunately fragile gift to pray for, safeguard and build up, day
after day, with the help of all.
"The name "Benedict" also calls to mind the extraordinary figure of
the great "Patriarch of Western Monasticism", St Benedict of Norcia,
Co-Patron of Europe together with Sts Cyril and Methodius, and the
women Saints, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein.
The gradual expansion of the Benedictine Order that he founded had
an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity across the
Continent. St Benedict is therefore deeply venerated, also in
Germany and particularly in Bavaria, my birthplace; he is a
fundamental reference point for European unity and a powerful
reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of his culture and
"We are familiar with the recommendation that this Father of Western
Monasticism left to his monks in his Rule: "Prefer nothing to the
love of Christ" (Rule 72: 11; cf. 4: 21). At the beginning of my
service as Successor of Peter, I ask St Benedict to help us keep
Christ firmly at the heart of our lives. May Christ always have
pride of place in our thoughts and in all our activities!"
Roman Cholij Secretary of the
Apostolic Exarch for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain
"Although perhaps strange to our own modern ways of thinking,
absolute marital continence was far from unknown or unesteemed in
patristic times. Tertullian, himself a married man, informs us in
his Catholic period, of lay people who practice continence within
marriage pro cupiditate regni coelestis. So do Jerome and
Augustine in the following century. The rapid growth of monasticism
and an attraction to the ascetic life led many couples to renounce
their intimacy and to enter a monastery or to live in continence
within more domestic settings. Church authorities had to intervene
decisively when the enthusiasm for continence was deemed excessive
and tainted with heretical motives, but at the same time praising
those who lived the life of continence for the right motives. Four
centuries later the Second Nicene Council (787) would still endorse
the possibility of monastic vocations for the married.15 Neither
should one forget the continence that the separated and divorced
were required to live. Augustine did not hesitate to invoke the
example of some of the married clergy, who had had their
difficulties in adjusting to a life of continence, in order to
encourage men separated from their wives to live continently. He
also applies the celibacy logion «eunuchs for the sake of the
kingdom of heaven» (Mt 19:12) to divorcees."