The Monastic Life of a Medieval Nun

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Monasticism, in general, involved the “special and real calling of the Christian, [and] the ideals most beset for every Christian, that he free himself from the world and dedicate himself alone, in a monastic life, to God and Christ.”[1] This monastic life, then, was not only steeped in an engagement in continually renewed struggles to realize [one’s] own spiritual ideals, [and] the ideals of Roman Catholic Christianity,[2] but included the “wish to give all [of one’s] good to the poor, and preach to all [people] the gospel of repentance and love.”[3] It is precisely in this ideological framework that those committing a life to monasticism did so out of seeking a practical Christianity, which was, in effect, the monastic-ascetic that came to bear through the power of God’s irresistible love.[4] Subsequently, this was the goal of monastic life: to seek God’s love through the adherence to a strict Christian lifestyle ordered and structured around the ultimate crucifixion of the flesh and all of its affections and lusts.[5] This monastic message spoke not just to men, but to women who sought, above all, spiritual freedom and entirely new social relationships.[6] With that, in mind, monastic life for the medieval woman was one of relative equality with that of the medieval man, specifically through their chastity and virginity, where their virginal bodies “offered to the world of the fourth century a powerful image f the advent of a new kind of woman.”[7] What this new kind of woman, as a result, exemplified was an “intent on achieving a new kind of egalitarian living” that, sometimes, involved wealthy women disposing of their wealth in favor of living and practicing a more evangelical life.[8]


[1] Rudolph Sohm, A History of Christianity (New York, NY: Hunt and Eaton, 1891), 154.

[2] Ibid., 151.

[3] Ibid., 154.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Mary T. Malone, Women and Christianity: The First Thousand Years: Volume 1. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), 134.

[7] Ibid., 140.

[8] Ibid.


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