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Monasticism is a mode of life whereby people live in seclusion, take religious vows, and follow some fixed set of rules regulating how they spend their time. Men are known as monks and women are known as nuns. However much the details differ, the common goal of all moastic groups is to achieve greater spiritual purity through withdrawl away from the distractions of the material world.

One of the reasons monasticism developed as a large institution was because the relationship between church and society had been changing. After the death of Constantine and during the reign of Theodosius I, Christianity became more powerful and more fashionable - many people converted who did not have a very strong faith and their behavior was, in the eyes of traditionalists, very lax.

Because not everyone was happy with these changes, some wished to follow the Christian path without being bothered by the distractions and immorality of general society and "fashionable" Christians. Those who lived such a life became monks and nuns. It is unknown who began the monastic movement in Christianity, but Anthony of Egypt (c. 251 - 356) is generally regarded as the father of monasticism because he created a regulated plan for those living in such an environment. Pachomius (c. 290 - 346) was another important figure who founded a monastery at Tabennisi, and this inspired the founding of several other monasteries. He created a rule of living which inspired the rules of Benedict and Basil.

Although most people never entered monastic commnunities, monasteries and the principles behind monasticism nevertheless had a strong influence on the development of Christianity through the centuries. It became common for people to take time to enter "retreats," perhaps for a weekend or even for longer, where they could reflect upon God and their faith without the distractions created by the rest of society. The celibacy of monks and nuns became a model which many tried to impose upon other clergy, although it took a long time for this to be successful.

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Related Resources:

What is Christianity?
What are the various Christian groups, denominations, sects and heresies? What are some key concepts in Christian theology? What are some of the most important events in Christian history? All of this and more are covered in the Christianity FAQ.

What is the Philosophy of Religion?
Sometimes confused with theology, the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of religious beliefs, religious doctrines, religious arguments and religious history. The line between theology and the philosophy of religion isn't always sharp, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of particular religious positions, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself, rather than the truth of any particular religion.

What is Theism?
What is the difference between monotheism and monolatry? Between pantheism and panentheism? How about between animism and shamanism? Or theism and deism? What the heck is henotheism?

What is Religion?
A system of human beliefs, ideals and practices which is harder to define than it may at first appear. Read more about how dictionaries, scholars and others have tried to define and explain religion.

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