New Monasticism

New Monasticism

New Monasticism, or Neomonasticism, can refer either to a modern movement modelled on a monastic way of life in a contemporary context or a movement within Roman Catholicism to expand the way of life of traditional monastic communities to lay people.



New monastic Shane Claiborne with Ron Copeland and Brian Farrell at Our Community Place, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 2008

The origin of the new monastic movement is difficult to pinpoint. Some communities now identified with new monasticism have been in existence since the 1970s and 80s. Other well-known communities, such as the Simple Way in Philadelphia formed in the mid-90s.[1]

The notion and terminology of “new monasticism” was developed by Jonathan Wilson in his 1998 book called Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World.[2] Wilson was, in turn, building on ideas of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said in 1935: “the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ”[3] and philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Noting the decline of local community that could sustain the moral life, MacIntyre ended his book After Virtue, by voicing a longing for “another . . . St. Benedict.”[4] By this he meant someone in the present age to lead another renewal of morality and civility through community. Wilson identified with that longing in his own book, but outlined a vision to carry it forward within the Christian tradition.[5]

Calling the vision a "new monasticism", he proposed four characteristics that such a monasticism would entail: (1) it will be “marked by a recovery of the telos of this world” revealed in Jesus, and aimed at the healing of fragmentation, bringing the whole of life under the lordship of Christ; (2) it will be aimed at the “whole people of God” who live and work in all kinds of contexts, and not create a distinction between those with sacred and secular vocations; (3) it will be disciplined, not by a recovery of old monastic rules, but by the joyful discipline achieved by a small group of disciples practicing mutual exhortation, correction, and reconciliation; and (4) it will be “undergirded by deep theological reflection and commitment,” by which the church may recover its life and witness in the world.[6]

The summer of 2004 became a defining moment for the movement, when there was a gathering of a number of existing communities and academics in Durham, North Carolina, where they drew together something like a "rule of life," referred to as the "12 marks" of new monasticism.[7] The gathering took place at a new monastic community called "Rutba House," of which some founding members were Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove. Not coincidentally, Leah is a daughter of Jonathan Wilson whose writing has galvanized the movement.[8]

Common themes


Most new monastic communities emphasize the following:

  • Thoughtful, prayerful, and contemplative lives
  • Communal life (expressed in a variety of ways depending on the community)
  • A focus on hospitality
  • Practical engagement with the poor

"Twelve Marks"

The "Twelve Marks" of new monasticism express the common thread of many new monastic communities.[9] These "marks" are:

  1. Relocation to the "abandoned places of Empire" [at the margins of society]
  2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us
  3. Hospitality to the stranger
  4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation
  5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the Church
  6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate
  7. Nurturing common life among members of an intentional community
  8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children
  9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life
  10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies
  11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18
  12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life

Differences from traditional Christian monasticism

The movement differs from other Christian monastic movements in many ways.

  • A rule of life is associated with the New Monastic movement though traditional monastic vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience are not normally taken as do members of traditional orders such as the Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, and Basilians.
  • Communities do not always live in a single place but geographic proximity is emphasized by the movement.[10]
  • The movement allows married couples. The Springwater community, in Portland, Oregon has membership that includes both married couples and celibate singles.[11] Most traditional forms of Christian religious life do not admit married couples. However, certain Roman Catholic and Anglican orders, known as "third," "secular," or "lay" orders, admit married individuals who profess the spirituality of the order (including the Franciscans and Dominicans).
  • Members of the movement do not wear religious habits.

Roman Catholic lay movements

After the Second Vatican Council's call to encourage the laity to be more involved in religious life there was a growth in the number of lay movements linked to religious orders. These lay organisations, such as the Lay (or Third Order) Franciscans, have existed for centuries. They encourage the laity to take on the principles behind certain religious orders and try to live them in the secular world away from the monastery, friary or priory to which the religious community is linked. An example is the Lay Dominicans. They are called to live by the Four Pillars of Dominican life. These are study, prayer, community and preaching. So Lay Dominicans are encouraged to study the faith regularly, pray and meditate daily, build strong communities of faithful and to evangelise. Whichever religious lay movement someone belongs to they are encouraged to go on retreat at least once a year to a monastery or friary of that community. Lay groups usually meet once a month in church or in people's homes.

Religious orders that have lay movements include Cistercians, Benedicitines, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians, Carthusians and Dominicans.

See also


  1. ^ "the simple way" (website). Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  2. ^ Byassee, Jason. The Christian Century. "The New Monastics: Alternative Christian Communities." 24 Apr 08.
  3. ^ "The Northumbria Community" (website). Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  4. ^ MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (2nd ed.). Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 263. ISBN 0268006105 : 9780268006105 0268006113 : 9780268006112. OCLC 10751724. 
  5. ^ (Wilson 1998, p. 69)
  6. ^ (Wilson 1998, pp. 72–75)
  7. ^ Moll, Rob. Christianity Today. "The New Monasticism". 24 Apr 08.
  8. ^ Divinity Online Edition - Fall 2005 Feature Article - The New Monasticism In Durham’s Walltown, a Covenant Community
  9. ^ (Rutba House 2005, pp. xii-xiii)
  10. ^ (Rutba House 2005, p. 124)
  11. ^ [1]


  • Mike Broadway and Isaac Villegas, "A New Monasticism", Radix vol. 31 no. 4 (2005): pp12–28.

Further reading

  • Cross, Simon (2010). Totally Devoted, the challenge of new monasticism. Authentic Media. ISBN 978-1850788683. 
  • Dekar, Paul R. (2008). Community of the Transfiguration: the journey of a new monastic community. New Monastic Library: resources for radical discipleship. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. ISBN 9781556354304. 
  • Stock, Jon R.; Otto, Tim; Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonathan (2007) Inhabiting the Church: biblical wisdom for a new monasticism Eugene, OR: Cascade Books ISBN 9781597529907 
  • Rutba House (2005). Schools for Conversion: 12 marks of a new monasticism. Eugene, OR : Cascade Books. ISBN 9781597520553. 
  • Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonathan (2008). New Monasticism : what it has to say to today's church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press. ISBN 9781587432248. 
  • Sine, Tom (2008). The New Conspirators: creating the future one mustard seed at a time. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books. ISBN 9780830833849. 
  • Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. ISBN 9780310266303. 
  • Claiborne, Shane; Haw, Chris (2008). Jesus for president: politics for ordinary radicals. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. ISBN 9780310278429. 
  • Bessenecker, Scott A. (2006). The New Friars: the emerging movement serving the world's poor. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books. ISBN 9780830836017. 
  • Freeman, Andy; Greig, Pete (2007). Punk Monk: new monasticism and the ancient art of breathing. Ventura, California: Regal Books. ISBN 9780830743681. 
  • Wilson, Jonathan R. (1998). Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: lessons for the church from MacIntyre's "After Virtue". Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. ISBN 9781563382406. 
  • Zdero, Rad (2004). The Global House Church Movement. Pasadena: William Carey Library Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87808-374-9. 
  • Zdero, Rad (2007). NEXUS: The World House Church Movement Reader. Pasadena: William Carey Library Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87808-342-8. 
  • Zdero, Rad (2011). Letters to the House Church Movement: Real Letters, Real People, Real Issues. Xulon Press. ISBN 978-1-61379-022-9. 

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