Protestantism, Calvinism and Monasticism

Protestantism (particularly in the Swiss Reformation that spawned both Calvin and the Anabaptists) attempted to convert the city into a monastic movement. Again, check out

The role of the secular magistrate IS the division between the “magisterial reformers” like Calvin and the anti-magisterialism of the anabaptists. In some ways the anabaptists lost the fight and over time won much of the war. The West eventually adopted a more anabaptist posture when the American experiment was tried and that experiment pretty much won the West.

Monasteries addressed the poor. Cities in the wake of the Swiss Reformation took over deciding who were the deserving poor to help. Even in the Catholic parts of Europe it was the magistrate that would employ the sword to burn or punish heretics. Church and state worked together hand in glove sometimes, not always. In many ways the Protestant Reformation where it took off did so because some areas were done doing Rome’s bidding and sending Rome its money and having the church land and wealth set aside from secular use. There is no escaping the political aspect of the Reformation.

Churches now in some ways once again seek the high walls of the monasteries as the state is no longer a willing partner and the culture itself is increasingly hostile. The group that wants to host the PVK, Vervaeke, Pageau conversation in Thunder Bay Ontario is called “Urban Abbey”. It is an old converted Baptist church. If you want to listen to Scotland’s story (the abbot) and the story of the abbey here it is.

His sister is now a regular on the Bridges of Meaning discord. She’s a therapist who took part in our generational handoff conversation which if you watch offers more than her share of wisdom there. The roots of the Urban Abbey are squarely in revivalist evangelicalism.

It’s helpful to remember that Monasticism 1.0 was not alone. It was always segment of the larger church project. It’s important to reflect on the whole history of the church’s complex relationship with the monastic orders plus their other efforts. The church sort of inherited the Roman Empire in the West as the old empire collapsed, and then had to navigate the barbarian conversions and the always modulating relationship with power. It should be remembered that the empire in the East lasted a long long time further and that the church and state were in some ways a not-too-seemless whole, until the collapse of both under the weigh of Islam which too was a whole.

I have no question a new monasticism is both inevitable and necessary, but it is only part of the way forward just like in the past it was only part of what was on the menu for the church. The monastics were in many ways the savings account of the church offering credibility it needed even as the rest of the church (far larger than the monastic wing) wrestled with corruption and nearly everything else. The Protestant Reformation in some ways raided that savings account (quite literally in the iconoclastic efforts) but tried to embody it “out in the world”. We are the heirs of that attempt especially in America which is offspring of Reformed utopians in the North East and successful drug dealers (tobacco) in Virginia plus of course the rest of the non-conformists in between.

I think the new monasticism has to continue to develop and it will, but it is only part of what the church needs to work on because as was true in the past, it will only be a part of the whole. pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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