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The Resurgence of the Gospel, Part Two: Recharting the Christian World Mission

By way of hindsight, the difference between Cyril’s Monophysite followers and Nestorius’ followers reminds this writer of present-day Evangelicals arguing over the relationship of the Father and the Son in Trinitarian theology. Both men were Trinitarians and adhered to the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 318.

In a strict sense of mission as evangelizing, the Nestorians outshone the Egyptians of Alexandria but in a broad sense of the missionary enterprise, the Egyptians lent an institution that was adopted by the western church and integrated into its missionary thrust. That institution was the Pachomian monastery named after a converted Roman soldier from Egypt. Pachomius envisioned not only a place of prayer and solitary devotion but a place also set apart for Christian growth and outreach. The monastery would have a scriptorium for writing and study of the Bible for Christian growth. It would have a place for a garden and a work-house where the crafts could be pursued.

The growth of the church is recorded in histories preserved in monastery libraries around the world.

It was in such a monastery that Jerome did his massive translation of the Bible from the Greek and Syriac manuscripts into Latin for the Catholic Church of the west. Indeed, that was the intent, to have a catholic or universal language, for anyone in Europe to read whether they be in Spain, France, Italy, Belgica, the Netherlands, Britain, or elsewhere. For the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Byzantine Orthodox Church with it patriarchate at Constantinople, the Bible had to be transmitted into the indigenous languages of each people group than to have everyone read the Bible in the Greek of the Eastern Mediterranean world. What Pachomius did with the monastic concept was to turn it into a place not only where the Bible was studied but rendered into the languages of the different countries wherever missionaries would go. It was a place where Christians could learn different crafts and skills by which they could support themselves wherever they went in spreading the gospel.

It was a Byzantine Christian by the name of John Cassian, born about A.D. 360 in what is now known as Romania, who is responsible for the spread of the ideas of Pachomius and Christian monasticism into western Europe. Cassian, the son of wealthy parents, he had an excellent education. He was also bilingual and was able to converse in both Greek and Latin. At one point in his adult life, he not only visited Alexandria, Egypt, but went into the Egyptian desert and saw the operations of the monasteries there. In his first written work, the Institutes, he shared what he saw and experienced, and also wrote to his sister about the monasteries and their operation. After leaving Egypt, he traveled westward to Italy and after spending time there went on to Marseilles around A.D. 415. At Marseilles, he founded the Abbey of St. Victor, a complex of monasteries for both men and women, one of the first such institutions in the West. It served as the model for later monasteries throughout Europe. It was the model for the monastery of Armagh in Ireland, which traces its origin to Patrick. During his lifetime, John Cassian got to know Benedict. Benedict incorporated many of Cassian’s insights into his own monastic rule and encouraged the adoption of Pachomian ideas as relayed by Cassian.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2018

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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