Poverty, Monastic

Poverty, Monastic.

The Roman Catholic Church exacts of its monastic orders, besides other privations, that of absolute abandonment of worldly possessions. SEE MONASTICISM. To a certain extent this obligation was recognized even from the first origin of Monasticism; but it was enforced with far greater strictness than before by the two great Mendicant orders, the Franciscans ant Dominicans, which took their rise in the beginning of the 13th century; one of the fundamental rules of these orders being that their members must possess no property, but be wholly dependent on alms for their support. Until the rise of the Mendicants, the individual members of the various monastic orders were bound to deny themselves the enjoyment of personal property, but the community to which they belonged might possess ample revenues. Even the Dominicans, though under a strict vow of poverty, allowed their convents to enjoy in common small rents in money. But St. Francis prohibited his monks from possessing either an individual or a collective revenue, and enforced a vow of absolute poverty. When asked which of all the virtues he thought was the most agreeable to God, he replied, "Poverty is the way to salvation, the nurse of humility, and the root of perfection. Its fruits are hidden, but they multiply themselves in was that are infinite." In accordance with this view of the importance and value of poverty, the Franciscan monks for a time adhered strictly to the rule of their founder; but ere long a division broke out among them as to the precise interpretation of the rule, and in consequence a relaxation of its strictness was made, first by Gregory IX in 1231, and then by Innocent IV in 1245. About a century afterwards a dispute arose between the Franciscans and Dominicans in regard to the poverty of Christ and his apostles-the Franciscans alleging that they possessed neither private property nor a common treasure, while the Dominicans asserted the contrary opinion. The pope decided in favor of the followers of Dominic, and many of the Franciscans, still adhering to their opinions, were committed to the flames. SEE MENDICANTS. For this practice there is not the least authority in the early practices of celibates (see Lea, Sacerdotam Celibacy, p. 104, 114); and, however rigidly it may have been accepted by the monastic orders at their first institution, it has in modern times existed only in name. Convents of monks and nuns have succeeded in becoming rich communities. In England they laid hold of the greater part of the riches of the kingdom; their possessions were so vast that the monopoly became the occasion to enact laws preventing the increase of their wealth or depriving them of their ill-gotten self. In the United States the monastics of Rome threaten to become the most powerful possessors of wealth. In New York they own property mounting up to several millions, and even in smaller cities are fast accumulating immense possessions low admirably their rules are adapted to seize upon the property of unsuspecting individuals and to transfer it to some rich fraternity! Already in several states civil enactments have become necessary in order to restrain the inordinate acquisition of landed and other property by Roman Catholic institutions, and to prevent an undue interference by priests in the bequests of the sick.

The Fakirs and Dervishes of Mohammedan countries are under a vow of poverty, and go about asking alms in the name of God, being wholly dependent for their support upon the charity of the faithful. The Mohammedan monks trace their origin to the first year of the Hegira; and it is said that there are no fewer than thirty-two different orders existing in the Turkish empire, all of them grounding their preference of the ascetic life upon a saying of Mohammed, "Poverty is my glory." The monks of the East, particularly those of Buddha, are not allowed to partake of a single morsel of food not received by them in alms, unless it be water or some substance used fir the purpose of cleaning the teeth. Hence the Buddhist monk is seen daily carrying his alms-bowl from house to house in the village near which he may happen to reside. The Aegyrte of the ancient Greeks were mendicant priests of Cybele, and their origin is supposed to have been Eastern. The same priests among the Romans went their daily rounds to receive alms with the sistrum in their hands. The institutes of Mallu lay down explicit rules for the Brahmin mendicant: "Every day must a Brahmin student receive his food by begging, with due care, from the houses of persons renowned for discharging their duties. If none of those houses can be found, let him go begging through the whole district around the village, keeping his organs in subjection and remaining silent; but let him turn away from such as have committed any deadly sin… Let the student persist constantly in such begging, but let him not eat the food of one person only; the subsistence of a student by begging is held equal to fasting in religious merit.... This duty of the wise is ordained for a Brahmin only; but no such act is appointed for a warrior or a merchant." In the same sacred book the householder is enjoined to make gifts according to his ability to the religious mendicant, whatever may be his opinions. — Gardner, Faiths of the World, 2, 688, 689; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, p. 744; Barnum, Romanism, p. 287, 293 sq.

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