How did the Christians get the idea to create monasteries? As far as I know, monasteries, monks and nuns did not exist in the religion Jesus was born into and he did not ask, he did not even talk about founding monasteries. And then, how did the Christians get this idea? Was it adopted from the previous, Roman religion? Or maybe it was inspired from Budhism?

  • "As far as I know, monasteries, monks and nuns did not exist in the religion Jesus was born into" They did, actually, and they had fairly strong links to early Christianity. Some of the earliest surviving Christian texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls) have been found in the area they were known to have settled in. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essenes
    – nick012000
    Apr 13, 2023 at 21:02

1 Answer 1


Where Christian monasteries originate from?

Christian Monasticism developed out from the eremitical way of life of the Desert Fathers of the second and third centuries.

The Desert Fathers, and other hermits moved away from cities into solitude, sometimes due to persecution, but most other times were from a desire to be in solitude and living a life of solitude, prayer and perfection.

Fathers of the Desert

The hermits and monks of the early Church who developed religious life from its Gospel origins and laid the groundwork for all future institutes of Christian perfection. Since most of them lived in the deserts of Egypt, from the third through the fourth centuries, they are called Desert Fathers. The standard collection of the lives of these Fathers is in ten volumes and contains the biographies of Sts. Paul, Anthony, and Hilarion, and of the women religious Sts. Eugenie, Euphrasia, Euphrosyne, Mary the Egyptian, and many others.

Eventually, the Desert Fathers stated to lived in closely structured communities which slowly developed into the original or primitive form of monasticism as we understand it now.

By the second and third centuries, the Desert Fathers of Egypt had emerged as the leaders of this ascetical way of life and prayer. Among the Fathers, St. Anthony the Great is generally regarded as the first Christian monk; St. Athanasius wrote a biography of him which eventually introduced him to and sparked enthusiasm for monasticism in Europe. St. Anthony and the other first Christian monks lived as hermits and exemplified the form of monasticism called eremitic. The first formal Christian monastic communities both of men and of women were organized by St. Pachomius, a peer of St. Anthony. Their form of monastic life is called cenobitic. Pachomius instituted a formal way of life that included fasting, periods of prayers and manual labor. Even to this day, Christian monasticism exists according to one of two forms: eremitic and cenobitic.

St. Basil the Great (modern-day Turkey), St. Martin of Tours (Gaul), and St. Augustine of Hippo founded some of the first Christian monasteries. The Italian St. Benedict (480-547 A.D.), known as the father of Western monasticism, was greatly influenced by the communities of monks in Egypt and wrote “The Rule” which became the set of guidelines used by nearly all Christian monastic communities in Europe. - What are the origins of monasticism?

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St. Anthony of the Desert went twenty years without seeing a single person! Later, on he founded the primitive form of Christian monasticism. Thus the ancient hermits once organized in ascetic communities had more access to the sacraments on a regular basis.

The Monastery of Saint Anthony is a Coptic Orthodox monastery standing in an oasis in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, in the southern part of the Suez Governorate. Hidden deep in the Red Sea Mountains, it is located 334 km (208 mi) southeast of Cairo. The Monastery of Saint Anthony was established by the followers of Saint Anthony, who is the first Christian monk. The Monastery of St. Anthony is one of the most prominent monasteries in Egypt and has strongly influenced the formation of several Coptic institutions, and has promoted monasticism in general. Several patriarchs have come from the monastery, and several hundred pilgrims visit it each day.

Saint Anthony is a Christian saint who was born to a wealthy family in Lower Egypt around 251 AD. He was orphaned at the age of eight years. Most of what is known about him comes from the biographical work of Athanasius of Alexandria, Vita Antonii. This biography depicts Anthony as an illiterate and holy man who through his existence in a primordial landscape received an absolute connection to divine truth. The moment that St. Anthony dedicated his life to God and the church was due to the words he heard from Mark in which he was told to give up all of his belongings and seek God. At the age of 34, Anthony gave away all of his property and worldly possessions; he ventured into the Eastern Desert to seek a life of humility, solitude, and spiritual reflection. Saint Anthony took the words he heard in a literal sense and that is what caused him to venture into the desert to live a life of asceticism. He made his abode in a small cave where he lived ascetically. Although St. Anthony was not the first monk, he attracted many followers and disciples, and is one of the fathers of modern Christian monasticism.

It is also worth noting that even during the lifetime of Jesus, the Jewish Essenes were living in small communities under strict quasi like monastic rules.

The Essenes were a mystic Jewish sect during the Second Temple period that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE.

The Jewish historian Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers; thousands lived throughout Roman Judaea. They were fewer in number than the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the other two major sects at the time. The Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to voluntary poverty, daily immersion, and asceticism (their priestly class practiced celibacy). Most scholars claim they seceded from the Zadokite priests.

The Essenes have gained fame in modern times as a result of the discovery of an extensive group of religious documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are commonly believed to be the Essenes' library. These documents preserve multiple copies of parts of the Hebrew Bible untouched from possibly as early as 300 BCE until their discovery in 1946.

Rules, customs, theology, and beliefs

The accounts by Josephus and Philo show that the Essenes led a strictly communal life—often compared to later Christian monasticism. Many of the Essene groups appear to have been celibate, but Josephus speaks also of another "order of Essenes" that observed the practice of being engaged for three years and then becoming married. According to Josephus, they had customs and observances such as collective ownership, electing a leader to attend to the interests of the group, and obedience to the orders from their leader. Also, they were forbidden from swearing oaths and from sacrificing animals. They controlled their tempers and served as channels of peace, carrying weapons only for protection against robbers. The Essenes chose not to possess slaves but served each other and, as a result of communal ownership, did not engage in trading. Josephus and Philo provide lengthy accounts of their communal meetings, meals, and religious celebrations. This communal living has led some scholars to view the Essenes as a group practicing social and material egalitarianism. - Essenes

  • +1, but if we are speaking of monasteries (the OP's question) as distinct from monasticism I'd give more credit to Pachomius because of his focus on communities rather than groups of hermits. The monastery of St. Anthony was not founded by him. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monastery_of_Saint_Anthony Apr 13, 2023 at 22:36
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    I've never understood how cutting yourself off from the rest of humanity can be seen as a Christian virtue. How does that build up the church? I can't see how intentionally seeing no people for decades couldn't be considered a grave sin. It doesn't seem to have much in common with monasticism either, so it probably doesn't belong in this Q&A.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 13, 2023 at 23:59
  • @curiousdannii I'm in agreement, but I imagine that one could form a counterargument based on the times that we see prophets secluding themselves in the mountains/wilderness while they seek something from God--Moses at multiple points in his life might be a prime example, or Jesus when He goes to the mountain to be alone (before the 5000 come after Him and He feeds them). The extrapolation "if they gained some benefit from spending a little time alone, I'll gain even more from spending all my time alone!" doesn't hold up for a lot of reasons, but I can see where it might come from ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
    – Lige
    Apr 14, 2023 at 12:21
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    "I can't see how intentionally seeing no people for decades couldn't be considered a grave sin" well it depends on your intention for not seeing people for one, but primarily Christianity is not a religion of fellowship for the sake of fellowship but a religion aimed at God.
    – eques
    Apr 19, 2023 at 14:44

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