Christian monks once saved the cultural treasures of the western world from barbarian invasions, and now a major four-day conference in Rome is examining how modern culture affects monasticism.
“We’ve invited scholars from around the world to share around the theme of monasticism and culture – the effects of monasticism of culture and the effect of culture on monastic life,” Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., told CNA June 10.
The conference at the Sant’ Anselmo Benedictine University in Rome is titled “Monasticism between Culture and Cultures” and runs from June 8 to 11.
The word “monasticism” actually comes from the Greek word for ‘dwelling alone’ and has come to denote the mode of life in seclusion from the world, under religious vows and subject to a fixed rule. It emerged in the deserts of northern Africa in the earliest centuries of Christianity.
“A monk is cut off from the world so he can deeply join the world in spirit and in prayer,” explained Fr. Driscoll, who joined the Benedictine Abbey at Mount Angel in Oregon back in 1973, at the age of 22.
“The solitude of a monk and the intensity of the monk’s life apart from the world are precisely done for the world, and to give witness to the world, and in unity with the world.”
The conference is looking at every aspect of monastic life – past, present and future.
For his own presentation, Fr. Driscoll drew upon the life and work of a 20th century Italian priest and monk, Don Divo Barsotti. He was a diocesan priest in Florence but went on to found a community called the Figli di Dio - or Sons of God – on the belief that monastic ideals could be applied to ordinary lay life.
“He wanted to share monastic spirituality with lay people and to really let them think of themselves as a sort of living an interior monastic life in the world.”
“He says that monasticism is nothing less than the Christian life intensely lived and lived,” Fr. Driscoll said.
Given that the work of Don Divo Barsotti is currently little known outside Italy, Fr. Driscoll said this week’s international conference presents an ideal opportunity to change that situation. He hopes that many more lay people will now attempt to live a spirit of monasticism.
“Being cut off from the world is an attitude of being absorbed in Christ and then being united to the world by means of that absorption in Christ - because he is united to the world.”