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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