Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4.: THE ORIGIN OF MONASTICISM — ( C. XXXVII .) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 6
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4.: THE ORIGIN OF MONASTICISM — ( C. XXXVII .) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 6 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 6.
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THE ORIGIN OF MONASTICISM — (C. XXXVII.)
For his account of the beginnings of monasticism in Egypt, Gibbon has not given to the Abbot Pachomius his due place, and seems almost to regard him as merely a follower of Antony. Nor has he perhaps brought out with sufficient distinctness the contrast between the hermits and the monks.
The best-known authorities for the origin of Egyptian monasticism are Rufinus, Palladius, and Sozomen. But the accounts of these three writers are, for the most part, not independent. All three, as has been proved by the researches of Lucius and Amélineau, go back to common sources, — works which were written in the Coptic of Upper Egypt, but were probably accessible in a Greek form before the year 400. The Historia Lausiaca of Palladius depends entirely on such sources for Upper Egypt; but the account of the monks of Lower Egypt is based on the author’s personal investigations as well as on literary (Coptic) sources.
One of the most important of the sources of Palladius and Sozomen for the monastic foundations of Upper Egypt was the Coptic Life of the great founder himself, the Abbot Pachomius; and this biography is fortunately preserved to us in various recensions. There are (a) some fragments of the original Life, as it was written down in the Coptic of Upper Egypt, after the death of Pachomius, by monks of Phbôou; (b) a late Arabic version; (c) a version in the Coptic of Lower Egypt; (d) three Greek recensions, and a Latin translation of a fourth, by Dionysius Exiguus (a Roman abbot of the sixth century). The two most important Greek recensions were published in the Acta Sanctorum, May, vol. iii. (p. 25 sqq.); the Coptic and Arabic versions (French translation) have been recently given to the world by Amélineau (Annales du Musée Guimet, xvii., 1889). This publication of Amélineau has put the historical investigation of the work of Pachomius on a new footing. The Coptic and Arabic versions bring us much nearer to the original form of the biography of the saint. We have only one Greek source that does not depend on a Coptic original: a Letter of Bishop Ammon to the Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria (c. 400 ad), — an important document (Acta Sanctt. May, vol. iii. p. 63 sqq.). The mutual relations of all these sources have been investigated in a valuable monograph by Dr. Grützmacher, Pachomius und das alteste Klosterleben, 1896.
Pachomius was born in 285, founded his first cloister at Tabennîsi c. 322, afterwards made the cloister of Phbôou his residence, died in 345. (These dates have been determined by Gwatkin and Grützmacher.) But in his youth, before he became a Christian, Pachomius lived as a monk of Serapis at Schénésit or Chenoboscium, near Diospolis in the southern Thebaid. His biography states that he occupied himself with growing palms and vegetables, which supplied both his own needs and those of poor neighbours and travellers. We must not indeed derive Egyptian monasticism from the cult of Serapis by the recluses who lived together in his temples; but it can hardly be denied that this heathen institution had a considerable influence on the Christian ascetics, and it is significant that the founder of monastic communities had been a recluse of Serapis. The tonsure seems undoubtedly to have been borrowed from the practice of the votaries of the Egyptian deity.
Between the solitary cell of Antony and the organised monastery of Pachomius, there was the intermediate stage of colonies of hermits. Pachomius joined a colony of this kind, which was under the guidance of Palæmon, south of Chenoboscium. Here he became convinced that life in a society of recluses was a more perfect state than the solitary life of an anachoret; and conceived the idea of a strict organisation.
The clergy were at first bitterly opposed to the monastic spirit. The struggle comes out in the Coptic and Arabic recensions of the Life of Pachomius; it has been softened down and almost disappears in the Greek versions. The bishops and clergy persecuted the monks. The Church, however, soon found it necessary to reconcile itself to a movement which was far too strong to be suppressed and to concede its approval to the monastic ideal. This reconciliation was due to the wisdom of the Patriarch Athanasius. It has been well said that his Life of S. Anthony is the seal which the Church set on its recognition of the new movement (Grützmacher).
[Literature. Helyot’s great Histoire des ordres monastiques was used by Gibbon. German works by Fehr, Biedenfeld, Möhler, and Evelt are cited by H. Richter, das weström. Reich, p. 674; also Mangold, de monachatus origine et causis. Weingarten, Der Ursprung des Mönchtums im nachkonstantinischen Zeitalter, 1877 (advocates the Serapean origin of monasticism). Harnack, Das Mönchtum, seine Ideale und seine Geschichte, 1886. Mayer, Die christliche Askese, ihr Wesen und ihre geschichtliche Entfaltung, 1894. Amélineau, op. cit., and Etude historique sur St. Pachome, 1888. Grützmacher, op. cit. For the monks of Serapis: Revillout, Le reclus du Sérapeum, in the Rev. Egyptol., 1880, vol. i. On the sources of Palladius, &c.: Lucius, Ztschrift. für Kirchengeschichte, 7, p. 163 sqq. (1885). For the Regula of St. Pachomius, we have now (besides Palladius, Sozomen, the version of the Vita Pachomii, by Dionysius Exiguus), as well as the Arabic version of the Vita Pachomii, also an Ethiopic recension. It was published by Dillmann in 1866 (in his Chrestomathia æthiopica) and has been translated by Konig in Studien und Kritiken, 1878.]
The history of monasticism in Palestine, where Hilarion ( 291-371) occupies somewhat the same position as Pachomius in Egypt, is derived from the lives of the great abbots (Hilarion, Chariton, Euthymius, Sabas, Theodosius, &c.) as well as the ecclesiastical historians. The recent work on the subject by Father Oltarzhevski (Palestinskoe Monashestvo s iv. do vi. vieka, 1896), though it contains a great deal of material, seems to be superficial and unmethodical.