Sunday, October 02, 2005

Yancey on "The Monastic Cycle"

If you don't read Philip Yancey, you should. One of Christianity's more sensitive, thoughtful writers, he never fails to reward.

In a recent essay, Yancey wondered aloud why it is that countries with Christian heritages--primarily Europe and America--tend to be perceived both as wealthy and decadent, given the humble lifestyle of Christ. This seems to non-Christians to be an odd development, to put it mildly.

Yancey spoke of the 'monastic cycle' as defined by Gordon Crosby, pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.. In essence, the monastic cycle describes the evolution of idealistic Christian orders from discipline and self-denial--which generates wealth and success--to the decadence that comes from the enjoyment of success. Crosby looks to the idealistic Christian movements of the past such as the Benedictine monks of the sixth century as a model of this phenomenon:
In the sixth century, early Benedictines worked hard to clear forests and cultivate land, investing their surplus in drainage, livestock, and seed. Six centuries later, according to historian Paul Johnson, "Benedictine abbeys had virtually ceased to be spiritual institutions. They had become collegiate sinecures reserved very largely for members of the upper classes." The abbots absorbed about half the order's revenue in order to maintain their luxurious lifestyles, becoming "unenterprising, upper-class parasites."
Crosby saw this repeated not only in other Catholic monastic movements, such as the Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans, but in Protestants as well. Even John Weseley warned his followers:
I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
Crosby's hypothesis is as reasonable an explanation for the paradoxical wealth and decadence of Christian nations as any I've heard. And so for us, the struggle remains not so much how can we avoid getting sucked in by the apparent downward suck of our culture into more and more base impulses, but how we can recapture for ourselves the discipline and dependence on God that contributed to our success in the first place.


At 11:20 AM, Blogger Kc said...

Excellent post. I hope you plan to elaborate.


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