Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tan Books: The Foundations of Western Monasticism

There's something appealing about monasticism. In my single days, I did some minor discerning toward it. What initially drew me toward this lifestyle was the naive thought that if I was a monk, I could just spend all my time reading and praying, and that life would be easy. In reality though, the life of a monk is anything but easy. We on the outside world think our life is tough. However, monastics have it just as tough if not tougher. The closer you are to God, the more the devil will pursue you and try to capture your soul. It is my love for monastics that led me to request a review copy of The Foundations of Western Monasticism from TAN Books.

"The Life of St. Antony," "Rule of St. Benedict," and "Twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride" compose the book Foundations of Western Monasticism. These three texts serve to provide a small glimpse into what exactly monasticism is. They were chosen because, according to the preface, "St. Antony is presented as monasticism's foremost founder, St. Benedict as its greatest law-giver, and St. Bernard as its greatest mystic." Dr. Fahey, the editor of this book, chose three fine texts and also provided a new translation of the "Rule of St. Benedict."

You might already be familiar with one, two, or all three of the above texts. I personally was familiar with two of these texts, but "Twelve Degrees of Humility" was a new one to me. My familiarity with some of these texts did not keep me from re-reading them though. I personally love "The Life of St. Antony," and if you have never read it, you need to at least once in your life! In this work, which was written by St. Athanasius, the reader not only receives a biography of St. Antony, but spiritual wisdom and advice on how to resist the devil and his assaults against us.

I won't elaborate on the other two works in great detail. The "Rule of St. Benedict" contains a number of prescriptions for monastics to practice, such as, "How Morning Prayer is to be Said." Dr. Fahey's translation is superb and easy to read. "Twelve Degrees of Humility" is a spiritual "Chutes and Ladders," to explain it in terms that make sense to me. There are twelve degrees one can take to grow more humble and closer to God, but there are also degrees one can take which will make them more prideful and further from God. While this text was intended for monastics, it contains great spiritual truths for the laity as well.

Apart from the texts, which are gems, what I appreciated most about this book were the prefaces Dr. Fahey wrote for each text. They provided background for each great monastic saint and put their teachings/writings in the proper context. He also included suggestions for further reading. I love when an author does this, as it gives you the option of taking what you just read and diving deeper if you choose to do so. So if you want to learn more about Western monasticism's roots, practices, and three of the great Western monastic Saints, pick up this 5 star book.

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