Christian Communities

Another fine reflection with Desperation. The bottom line seems to be what we do to create an alternative lifestyle so that Christianity can survive in our life. What alternative can we offer to secular society?

The most “intensive” kind of Christian community is the monastery, typically following the Rule of St Benedict and financing itself through running a business, getting tax perks and donations from the few old ladies who are still of this world. Communities for married people and families? There seem to be a number of Evangelical and Charismatic communities dotted around, depending on various institutional Churches and served by their priests and pastors.

It (Christianity) must offer an alternative to the West.

Perhaps there is no room for Christians in the west. If not, where? I have always been attracted to the ideal of alternative and micro economies. The trouble is that many such communities fall victim to malignant narcissistic personalities and become cults. Many intentional communities have democratic systems of government to prevent that happening. Such communities would have to be strictly lay, because having them run by priests would link them to this or that institutional Church and therefore with the said malignant narcissistic personalities. Such an idea implies the basic ecclesial community popular in South America and linked with Liberation Theology.

My own intuition is that intentional communities are better based on practical considerations rather than religion or political ideology. There is nothing wrong with a priest deciding to live that way of life as a private individual and not hiding his priesthood, going to the extent of building a private chapel in or near his lodgings and allowing people to come to services if they want to. Surely, some of us need to get out of the modern world and live at the edges of the “grid”, take people as we find them and be very discreet with our religious and political messages. I am frankly very sceptical about any Christian communities other than monasteries and democratic lay systems. Monasteries are totalitarian and radically communist societies, which is fine if the monks accept that as their way of life and asceticism. The quality of a monastery depends on the personality of the abbot. I’m not sure there were any in the early Church, merely people living in towns and going to services where they were held.

Another way of thinking about this whole thing is continuing with modern life and living in the world, and going privately or secretly to the hidden churches wherever they might exist (priests’ homes perhaps). Forget about changing political and public institutions. Another way is to leave where we are living and go and live in Africa until the Muslims take over the entire continent – but be prepared for culture shock and racial discrimination!

Perhaps the kind of community I could relate to would be non-denominational and would come up with a line something like: We are Christians of different backgrounds and traditions, and only ask for people to be open to the spiritual outlook of life and respectful of those who are believers. Priests who belong to this or that institutional church are simple members like any other and have no authority by virtue of their priestly calling. They may be asked for their advice on the basis of their experience of life and knowledge of things useful to the community. Perhaps something like that might work. I would welcome ideas.

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24 Responses to Christian Communities

  1. Two words…Little Gidding.

  2. The Rule of St. Benedict presumes that the monks, including the leadership, will be laity.

    “Of priests who wish to dwell in the monastery

    “If anyone of priestly rank asks to be received into the monastery, let not permission be too quickly granted him. Yet if he perseveres resolutely in his request, he is to know that he shall be obliged to the full rigor of the Rule and that nothing will be relaxed in his favor, according to that which is written: “Friend, for what purpose hast thou come?” Nevertheless, it may be granted to him to hold rank after the Abbot, to give the blessing, and to celebrate Mass, if so the Abbot commands him. Otherwise, let him presume to do nothing, knowing that he is subject to the discipline of the Rule, and should rather give to all an example of humility. If an appointment is to be made, or deliberation is taken regarding a matter in the monastery, let him keep the place which was assigned to him at his entrance into the monastery and not that which was granted to him out of reverence for his priesthood.

    “If any cleric should similarly desire to be admitted into the monastery, he may be placed in a middle rank; but to him, too, this shall be granted only if he promise observance of the Rule and his own stability. – Chapter 60, Rule of St. Benedict


    “Of the priests of the monastery

    “If an abbot desires to have a priest or a deacon ordained for his community, let him choose from among his monks one who is worthy to perform the priestly office.

    “Let him who is ordained beware of arrogance and pride, and presume to do nothing that is not commanded him by his Abbot, knowing that he is now all the more subject to the regular discipline. Let him not by occasion of his priesthood forget the obedience and discipline of the Rule, but let him progress ever more and more in the Lord.

    “Let him always keep the place due to him according to his entrance into the monastery except during the exercise of his priestly functions, or unless the election of the community and the will of the Abbot should decide to promote him out of consideration for the merit of his life. Nevertheless, he should know that he is to obey the commands given him by the deans and the Prior; should he presume to act otherwise, let him be treated not as a priest but as a rebel. And if, after being frequently admonished, he does not correct himself, let even the bishop be brought in as a witness. If after his faults have been repeatedly made known to him, he still does not amend, let him be cast forth from the monastery; but this shall be done only after his obstinacy has become such that he will not submit to or obey the Rule.” – Chapter 62, Rule of St. Benedict

    • Jim of Olym says:

      Gregory, do not these quotations from the Rule imply that even the Abbot might not be a priest? I wonder if the current situation in most western orders presuppose that most of the monks would be ordained. Certainly true in the ones I’m familiar with. I think it was one of the early desert fathers who said that if any of the brethren were approached regarding ordination, he should run away as fast as he could!

      • Yes. Under this rule as written, it seems that the Abbot himself would not normally be a priest. Was St. Benedict himself ordained? I don’t think so. (St. Francis was ordained a deacon, but refused to accept the priesthood.)

  3. The Anti-Gnostic says:

    I have been saying this for quite some time: Christians need to focus on community in order to improve their life in Christ and nurture their children in the Faith instead of telling them good bye and good luck in a secular world that hates orthodox Christians and wishes they were dead. If Christians developed real community, they’d actually have something to evangelize about instead of arcane theology.

    Most Christian blogs where I’ve raised this topic won’t publish such comments.

  4. GCM says:

    What does this “real community” entail? In what specific ways do secularists “hate Orthodox Christians and wishes they were dead?

    • I’m not sure about “wishes they were dead” (that’s a matter of time, I suppose) but secularists have an ideology to uphold, an ideology of champagne socialists and Bourgeois Bohemians, and Christianity is the opposite of that. Christianity upholds monarchy, they don’t. Christianity upholds the sanctity of marriage and monasticism, they don’t. Christianity believes in Church and State, they don’t. And so on, we all know the depressing details.

      A real community means isolation from the modern world except in such things as are necessary, such as small scale trade and money. A real community will live according to the temporal and liturgical seasons, eating fruit and vegetables (which they grow themselves) when they are ripe, for example. A real community will have no rule except the rule of God laid down in the Scripture. It’s the subject for an article, of course. In short, I see it as the only way of transferring the traditions of Christianity in a diminished way to the next generation. Leave it to the mainstream churches and it will be snuffed out eventually; there will be no persecutions for a long time, just the silent, unnoticed means of legislations and treaties.

    • The Anti-Gnostic says:

      Try telling a couple of homosexuals you won’t bake them a cake or deliver pizzas to their wedding reception because you object to ‘gay marriage.’

      The inability to allow people individual discretion in determining with whom they’ll associate and transact business is surely hateful, and they want to criminalize their very viewpoints and have them prosecuted for ‘hatespeech.’

      I think they’d roll out guillotines if they thought at some point people wouldn’t start shooting back.

      • Stephen K says:

        The thing that strikes me, though, is if it’s fine to not bake a cake for one lot on ‘religious’ grounds, why not refuse on the same grounds to allow another lot on a bus or tram, so to speak? Or buy a house? Or promote another lot to the Board? We wouldn’t want flour producers, or produce provedores to refuse ingredients to bakers or pizza parlours who had themselves refused their cakes or pizzas, on such grounds, would we?

        In any case, I think talk about whether there should be individual discretion to associate and do exclusivist business is missing the point of what Father Anthony’s post was all about. I think he is talking about “Christian” communities and the common pursuit of the inner kingdom, and God. Monasteries and convents are one model, various communes, such as the Bruderhof, are another. Most people do not live in them. He wonders if communities can function meaningfully in the modern world where its members are not physically co-habiting. It is, I think, doubtful whether the old/current parish model ever met this bill in the urban world, i.e. outside of actual self-contained villages, since so many were thrown together simply by demographics and even then, only for an hour a week.

        And what would distinguish a “Christian” community, as opposed simply a co-operative of mutual self-interests? This is the real question. It seems arguable to me that any form of “isolation” or “quarantining” is really at heart fundamentally ‘anti-Christian’, since it appears the imagery and language of the Gospels involve ideas of “leaven”, ‘generosity’, inter-action and outreach and embracing of others in various ways, at its core. Perhaps it is an error to think of the monastic or professional religious model as being the epitome of Christian living, but rather the reverse, the nadir, an admission of limitation, a model for those who find the immersive life too difficult, or maybe even, not a nadir but simply an option for particular individuals, since one should hardly compel anyone either way.

        And the question gnaws away here: how much of this “retreat” or “fortress” religiosity is simply an expression of discomfort, insecurity, personality, prejudice or anxiety masked by crusading bravado? How much of it is light years away from the kind of trust that may be discerned in Luke 12:22 ff.?

        And perhaps we are in any case putting the cart before the horse: how, in the cacophony of dispute, even amongst and within spokespeople for this or that brand of church, or across the generations, can any of us claim the perfection of truth and wisdom? If Christianity – pardon me, Catholicism – is so great and blindingly obvious, why haven’t any of us transformed and converted everyone we meet and the great spiritual Nirvana not yet evident? Can it have something to do with ourselves, the message we shout and demonstrate?

  5. The Anti-Gnostic says:

    Stephen K – the Amish and Mennonites seem perfectly content and attuned spiritually in their Christian faith by restricting their communities to other Anabaptists. Likewise, I don’t see Muslims or Hasidim knocking down their walls for everybody else to tramp through their cultural space. By contrast, the message of modernist, Western Christianity appears to be complete atomization and endless cession to one’s enemies, and no safe space for their people. Airily assuring young persons that the Christian faith is ultimate truth and their reward is in Heaven is not a selling point. They have to get jobs and navigate the sexual marketplace and marry and raise children in the here and now. Modern Christians, while purporting to evangelize (i.e., discuss arcane theology and liturgics with other middle-aged intellectuals) actually remind me of the exquisitely chaste, doomed Shakers.

    There is something about the British and Anglo-American personality that seems horrified of the notion some people, some where, might be perfectly happy with their own. Perhaps that explains the imperialist impulse.

    • Stephen K says:

      Airily assuring young persons that the Christian faith is ultimate truth and their reward is in Heaven is not a selling point.


      Modern Christians, while purporting to evangelize (i.e., discuss arcane theology and liturgics with other middle-aged intellectuals) ..………etc.

      Would you call the traditionalistic posters and bloggers on this, and other places, “modern Christians”? Would I be correct in understanding you to be saying you are neither a modern Christian, an evangeliser or a middle-class intellectual? In other words, what do you say you are, and do?

      • Stephen K says:

        Correction: you referred to “middle-aged” not “middle-class” – my mistake.

      • ed pacht says:

        There seems to me to be a very deep problem with being “…perfectly content and attuned spiritually in their Christian faith by restricting their communities…” Seems to me I recall something about “Go ye into all the world…” with an imperative to spread the Good News, to invite others (even apparently incompatible others) into the community of faith. Are isolated, restricted, non-proselytizing communities really an expression of the Gospel? There has to be a way of building real community and yet bringing the Christian example and Gospel into an alien world. In the early centuries of the Church this approach resulted in a veritable army of martyrs, but it did ultimately transform society. Might that not be our calling in the here and now? Even though Western society is labeled “Post-Christian” with more than a little truth, ultimately it’s not much different from the Pagan society that the Church first encountered — and conquered.

        As for me, I am part of the Body of Christ, and glad of it — and worship with the body is of the highest priority — but it is my friendship and association with those outside the faith and my determination to be a Christian among them that comes next in priority, even above the community of Christians. I believe this to be a sacred calling.

  6. The Anti-Gnostic says:

    It’s pretty ironic how the commenters on a blog devoted to a Rite which is a product of a very particular people and place are so rabidly universalist. Has it occurred to anybody how, universally, people actually want their own Rites with their own cultural expressions? That our militantly open-borders, all-inclusive attitudes might actually be atomizing and harmful? Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Was he just an idiotic bigot who had no idea what he was talking about? The Islamic, Hasidic and Anabaptists faiths are actually growing while modernist Christianity shrinks. Is ed pacht telling us there’s nothing we can learn from them?

    Jesus prophesied on the fall of Jerusalem, instructing his followers not to tarry and flee to the hills with only what they could carry ahead of a brutal Roman army. Does anybody doubt that was a statement in the context of a particular time and place? So why is there a total lack of nuance over the Great Commission? He also instructed His apostles to shake the dust off their feet from cities which rejected the Gospel. Now we have the ludicrous spectacle of numerous Christian sects all tripping over each other to find some remote South American or African village and squeeze in with the Catholics and Baptists for photographs for their donors back home. For a lot less money they could actually be evangelizing their Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish neighbors back home. Of course, it’s easier to evangelize Third World cultural followers than Muslim surgeons or Jewish businessmen.

    As Mr. Sheridan pointed out, communities along the lines of the Amish, Hasidim and others would put meat on the bones of our evangelism. True catholicity means every nation gets its own Church, a point to which Fr. Anthony’s blog is apparently devoted.

    • Stephen K says:

      I’m unsure, A-G, about what it is you’re advocating. It seems obvious, even trite, that put any bunch of people together and there will be a sorting out of likes, attractions, dislikes and distrusts etc. But are you saying that the natural and healthy thing is for people to hive off behind high walls to keep out people they don’t like? At what point does the onion slicing stop? When does it become a case of one-wall-too-many? Is the basis of your ideal cultural enclaves perfect agreement on doctrines, behaviour – if that is ever completely achievable – or something else? What is there in the Gospel that persuades you that it preaches silo-isation?

      And what is this universalism you have a problem with? A universalism of being able to see that all humans have a common nature and common transferable issues? A universalism that sees social benefit in enlarging the sphere of commonalities rather than shrinking it?

      Are you sure this cultural ghetto-ism you espouse is not simply another species of universalism, a perhaps resentful admission of the failure of your own particular values and preferences to persuade or conquer others?

      We all have to avoid the temptations of imperialism, it seems to me.

      • ed pacht says:

        I wrote this poem as a result of this discussion, and finally decided to post it here.


        “Good fences make good neighbors,”
        as the warm man with the cold name said,
        standing in his own field by the stone wall,
        looking into lands that weren’t his own,
        cherishing that which was his own,
        pleased indeed it was his own,
        with the life that he and his could live,
        enclosed by walls that were his own.

        Good fences set aside a place
        where loved ones live a certain way
        by standards that they call their own,
        standards that are kept and cherished,
        mapping out a way of life,
        a way of peace,
        of fulfillment, the best that there can be.
        Good fences hold and keep those standards,
        that outside forces may be kept at bay,
        hindered from a sudden change of values,
        from an overturning of a way of life,
        destruction of the peace,
        and chaos.

        Good fences mark the borders of a life,
        the limits of the rule of local standards,
        beyond which rules cannot be imposed,
        changes cannot be forced,
        and another’s peace cannot be broken.

        Good fences make good neighbors.
        Good neighbors have respect for fences,
        and respect for those who dwell beyond them,
        and allow their neighbors their own standards,
        whether they like them or perhaps do not,
        and do not force them to make changes,
        yet neighbors are influenced by their neighbors,
        and changes will perhaps occur.

        Good fences make good neighbors,
        but fences are not prison walls,
        and neighbors step across those fences,
        if they respect the standards practiced there,
        whether liking them or not,
        and if their standards are respected
        by those who live beyond the fence.

      • Stephen K says:

        A few thought-provoking things expressed there, ed. What about this short dialogue?

        “Good fences make good neighbours” said the man.
        “And bad fences make bad neighbours, on either side of the fences” said the woman.
        “What makes a fence good?” asked the child.
        “When it keeps everyone at bay” said the man.
        “When it keeps our children safe” said the woman.
        “Can I play with the boy and girl on the other side of the fence?” asked the child.
        “I don’t want you to do that,” said the man.
        “You may, but the wall is too high to climb” said the woman.
        “Why don’t we put a gate in the middle?” asked the child.

      • ed pacht says:

        Spot on, Stephen.
        “Of such as these is the kingdom of heaven.”
        I’m appending your lines as an endnote to my poem.


  7. Corvinus says:

    “Has it occurred to anybody how, universally, people actually want their own Rites with their own cultural expressions?”

    Those communities observably exist independently, yet somehow, when they express themselves in a Christian fashion, you would argue that this space is a threat to your own way of life.

    “Now we have the ludicrous spectacle of numerous Christian sects all tripping over each other to find some remote South American or African village and squeeze in with the Catholics and Baptists for photographs for their donors back home.”

    It’s actually spectacular and splendid how Christians in this case spread the word of God.

    “For a lot less money they could actually be evangelizing their Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish neighbors back home.”

    You mean shame them into submission at best or bludgeon them over the head with “cannonballs and gin” at worst.

    “True catholicity means every nation gets its own Church…”

    Every nation has its own churches, whose members of that church profess a faith, and who as citizens of a nation enable the practice of all faiths without an exclusivity or dominance.

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