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Lately I have been very interested in the different ways that Christianity (and religion in general) has to address all the different ways that we as mere mortal humans have to get closer to God. In the world of today, so full of superficialities and consumerism, one of the purest ways to getting into contact with God is that one of rejecting all these mundanities and live a fully spiritual life as a monk. But, of course, (at least for me) it is clear that this spiritual life can be meaningful in different senses and pursuing different aspects and connections to God and His creation.

I personally have been interested in this kind of life because I think that today it is one of the purest ways of living that a Human can pursue. However, I do not like complete religious isolationism forgetting thus completely the Creation itself. I feel really attracted by those monks that at the same time that they were living a monastical life were able to make scientifically relevant contributions connecting thus with God and His Creation from an epistemological point of view. And I feel that this is a truly great thing and that monasteries should become in these days more and more a place where this kind of spiritual work is pursued. (Of course, being ample and open-minded about which path and knowledge one considers best suited in order to accomplish the communion with God). My point is that this communion with God might be pursued by a pure development of the knowledge that God let us have as Humans made as image of Himself. Hence the intellectual works of the monks in the previous link should be considered not as a side hobby during their monastical life but a central part of this kind of life, a part that makes them (and, by extension, the rest of Humanity because of the sharing of knowledge common in science) closer to the Creator. Thus, for example, Mendel works founding genetics should be considered as truly spiritual works carried over during his spiritual retire and in connection with God.

In this sense, what I see is that monasteries could evolve more towards this direction and publicising this point of view. Nowadays, we all know that spiritual vocation is at its minimum and this is emptying many monasteries that had a great impact and enormous importance in the development of science and knowledge during previous centuries. However, pushing more into this direction could attract many young scientists that do not pursue money or fame (although pure science is not giving much of this anyway) but knowledge and quiet and noiseless (in an ample metaphorical sense that includes all the mundane distractions that keep us nowadays far form the very important things on this life) places where people live in community pursuing true knowledge in different directions and helping each other in the mundane things and tasks that God asks us to do in order to survive (like making food, cleaning, etcetera).

Seeing the linked list with so many scientists that were monks and funded completely new branches of many sciences makes me think that this is effectively a way of connecting with God that it is encouraged or at least respected and tolerated during a monastical life. However, it seems to be declining in the last years. I am a mathematician and I would expect that many deep discoveries could come from monasteries where monks completely devoted to mathematics and committed towards the development of their knowledge spent their days thinking about these topics. However, I do not see this very often even though many great figures of Mathematics basically ended living like monks: I am thinking here about Grothendieck or Perelman, for example.

My point of view working in Academia is that the environment of Academia where publish or perish is the main leitmotif feeds the development of small but progressive discoveries; and do not misinterpret me: I consider that publish or perish is something that Academia needs in order to evaluate who is better playing its completely necessary game for society because academicians get paid for what they do in Academia and then results are expected. At the same time that I consider thus that Academia is necessary, I see that monasteries could accomplish a complementary mission where publish or perish is not having a meaning and where monks devoted to knowledge could spend years without having any result just thinking and getting spiritually more involved until one point where maybe they come with something new that could then of course be published and shared with the world.

This main difference between Academia and Monastery would be the materialism expected from their developers: nothing else than spirituality is expected from the monks because they are not paid materialistically for their work but spiritually (which from my point of view is much better) and as people in Academia are materialistically paid salaries something material in the form of a publish or perish environment is expected from them. I really think that both approaches are necessary for our society and thus I am not really criticising them here but just describing their different mechanisms in order to draw correctly the line that separates between them. At the end of the day not everyone can be a monk and there is people who consider science as a job to get some mundane reward in exchange (which is completely okay) but there is also people in the other side of the river where material rewards are not expected but only the spiritual one, which again reminds me of Perelman's rejection of all the money and awards.

Summing up, my question is basically if these ways of connecting with God are recognised inside the any Christian church (or monastic order) and encouraged by some of these Institutions or if they are seen nowadays far from the current mission of the followers of God on Earth? Being more practical, if I go to a monastery saying that I am a mathematician and that I want to be there because I feel that I want to search my connection with God via the isolated and quiet study of the Mathematics that God created, would I be suggested to not follow the monastical life (even though I do not look for anything material) and not accepted to form part of the monastical community or would I be understood and encouraged to follow the direction that my soul aims me to pursue in order to find the closest connection with God that I feel created by Him to accomplish?

I hope that you can illustrate me in order to understand better the monastical life and its surroundings. Thank for any side suggestion or correction in the comments! Or if it varies between different religions or orders, which one is the closest to this epistemological point of view. I know more about catholic monastery because that is my religious background but of course I am also interested in different points of views from other confessions.

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    @NigelJ I actually referred to those churches or orders whose mission feels closest to this point of view if there is some out there because with the time I discovered that religiously this is in fact my point of view about what is the best path to get communion with God. I feel that it is the one that I described in the post: knowledge of the creation should be encouraged because it encapsulates important topics of the will of God. I am searching for other people that follows my spiritual point of view and I search for them within Christianity because I come from a catholic environment. – Hvjurthuk Dec 27 '20 at 21:06
  • Can not tell you how many books I have read by a Monk of tell and tell Abbey of Religious Order. The name being with held, points to their spirituality. Such monasteries include Fontgombault and the Grande Chartreuse, both in France. – Ken Graham Dec 28 '20 at 1:10
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    Welcome to the site, Hvjurthuk. Would it please be possible, to shorten the length of this question. A good post, but I find it a little too rambling on somewhat. Nevertheless a good post. – Ken Graham Dec 28 '20 at 1:30
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    The Dominican Order would be the closest to what you are looking for, for they took the Benedictine motto of ora et labora and replaced manual labor with intellectual labor. The Jesuits followed them, especially in the sphere of education, and some Benedictines also have a strong tradition of liberal education and study. Yet all of these groups are still going to give pride of place to theology (and philosophy). Finally, the shortage of priests means that it is more difficult to become a priest-scientist. Check out those three Orders, but you would have to teach and engage in academia. – zippy2006 Jan 22 at 5:33
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St. Thomas Aquinas described the necessity of studying God's creation in his Summa contra gentiles bk. 2 (Creation) ch. 2 ("That the consideration of creatures is useful for instruction of faith"):

  1. through meditating on His works we are able somewhat to admire and consider the divine wisdom;
  2. it leads us to admire the sublime power of God, and consequently begets in men's hearts a reverence for God,
  3. inflames the souls of men to the love of the divine goodness, and
  4. bestows on man a certain likeness to the divine perfection.

cf. Jean Leclercq, O.S.B., The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture.

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Intellectual work of monks as a way to getting closer to God by understanding better His creation?

This question reminds me of St. Benedict’s iconic expression that can be found in his Holy Rule:

Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus (That in all things may God be glorified - 1 Peter 4:11)

As we more frequently see is his very well known motto:

Ora et Labora (Work and Prayer)

It has been the constant tradition of truly contemplative hermits and monks to incorporate every aspect of their daily existence in to aiding them in the spiritual life and to contemplate spiritual things in order to bring them into closer union with God.

Hermits and monks (nuns) do a variety of daily activities in order to maintain a healthy relationship with God. That naturally includes intellectual work (such as studying the Scriptures, theology, Catholic mystics, etc). It also includes the mundane such as working (cooking, gardening, cleaning, etc.), sleeping, praying (the Divine Office and personal prayer).

Most traditional Catholics has a form of recreation for the Brethren to be able to talk and enjoy one another’s company. Depending on the monastery these recreation times can be either daily, weekly or even monthly. Remember that true religious in these types of monastic settings value silence of the upmost importance to their spiritual life.

Many monasteries have two different types of vocations within their ranks. There are the lay brothers who by nature prefer to sanctify themselves through more physical work and less intellectual studies. And then there are the choir monks who by their intellectual aptitude’s given them by God prefer to study various Church works in philosophy, theology, Church history, science, etc. Most choir monks go on to become ordained priests.

A monks life is totally ordered towards union with God. In some monasteries, the communities take more advantage of the Roman Ritual’s prayers for blessings on various occasions. Here follows a little sampling:

  • Benedict vini in Festo S. Joannis Ap. et Ev.
  • Benedictio auri, thuris et myrrhffi in Festo Epiphaniæ
  • Benedictio herbarum in Festo Assumptionis B. M. V.
  • Benedictio seminum et segetum In Festo Nativitatis B. Mariæ Virg
  • Benedictio numismatum S. Benedicti
  • Benedictio agni (Blessing of the lamb on Easter Sunday)

Some foods are traditionally found on monastic tables to not only be traditional, but to remind the religious to remember what the particular signifies, whether it is a feast related to some Divine Mystery or simply a gentle reminder to pray to the saint of the day.

A monk life is centred towards his Creator and prays for other’s salvation at the same time. The sacrifices they make is to draw not only themselves to God, but all of mankind. His intellectual studies are always geared towards this!

Let the monk always keep death daily before his eyes. - Rule of St. Benedict.

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