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A Time of Weakness, A Time of Strength: AD 315-450

Another strength emanating from these men came from the fact that they were both monks. The men of the monasteries were the regular ministers of the gospel. They were ministers under a regula (Latin, rule.) The Monastery has as its origin in the desert of Egypt when two men, Antony and Pachomius forsook their ordinary lives and retired into the fastness of the Egyptian desert to maintain a pure Christian life. Antony gained his fame after his death in a biography written of him by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. He can be considered the first of the Desert Fathers of the Church and the originator of the hermitage and laura concepts of “retreat.” It was Pachomius who conceived of a community of men who withdrew from the urban centers. Each had his own house and a cell where he slept and where he prayed. In the middle or center was a main building having a sanctuary, a common eating-place, and a scriptorium where one studied, copied the scriptures of the Old and New Testament into Latin, Armenian, Georgian, Amharic, Coptic, and other indigenous languages. This cenobitic concept was what made the monastery. All lived under a regula established by a ruling monk.

Pachomius’ sister had the same idea for women. She is considered the originator of the nunnery. She borrowed the concepts of her brother. The importance of these monasteries in the desert of Egypt were that they were the school houses of evangelists, later pastors, bishops, and leaders. Pastors at that time were referred to as secular ministers. Secular comes from the Latin word secula, meaning world. They walked with their congregants in this world to make it through this world as believers in Jesus.

In these monasteries the four gospels were gathered together with the letters of Paul, James, John, Peter, the unknown author of to the Hebrews, and the Revelation. In short, the monasteries gathered all together into what became known as the Kaine Diatheke, more popularly known today as the New Testament.

It was in Athanasius’ Paschal letter of A.D. 365, that all 27 books of the New Testament as we have them were enumerated. It was at the Council of Carthage in A.D. 389, which Augustine attended, along with Chrysostom and many more from East and West, that the 27 segments of the New Testament as we have them were officially declared Novum Testamentum, whence we gain from the Latin, New Testament, or Kaine Diatheke, the Greek form of New Testament.

Out of the monasteries came the copiers and then the evangelists who then spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, east and west, north and south. They went into Gaul under Martin of Tours and John Cassian; into the north of Ireland by Patrick where he established a monastery at Armagh where the gospel was preached and taught to a group of new believers in Christ who later gained fame as the Irish pedestrians or peregrini who walked all over Europe between between A.D. 389 and A.D. 450.

What Pachomius started became a powerhouse of the Holy Spirit and raised up such men as Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Theodoret, Augustine, and others too many to enumerate. Under Basil the Great, the monastery took on a theological rationale for outreach, the kenosis of Christ Jesus who emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Servanthood meant creating hospitals for the infirm and the ill, and homes for widows and orphans. This was derived from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:7).

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Category: Church History, Winter 2014

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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