Cenobitic life was closely linked to ascetic life. In the first three Christian centuries, but esp. after the ending of the persecutions, Jesus’ teaching and his invitation to vigilance, renunciation, death to self, taking up the cross after him, voluntary poverty, and virginity led to the birth and development of a significant spiritual movement, asceticism, first in the form of eremitism anchorism, and then of cenobitism, which spread everywhere from Mesopotamia to Gaul to Ireland. Though recognizably influenced by the contemporary philosophical-spiritual atmosphere, it undeniably involved an authentic evangelical experience and a desire to return to primitive Christian ideals see Acts 4:34ff.. If Anthony ca. 250356, though not the first to seek solitude in the desert, was the father of anchorism, Pachomius was the first legislator and founder of cenobia 320, Tabennesi in the Thebaid, the father of the koinonia, who found a balance between the individualism of the first Desert Fathers and a severely regimented community life. In the 4th c., monasticism in Egypt knew the anchorism practiced in the north Nitria, Desert of the Cells Kellia, where ascetics lived in individual cells and were bound together almost as a corporate institution, cenobitism in the south Thebaid, which also served as a preparation for anchorism Jerome, Ep. 22,36; Cass., De inst. coenob. 2,3,2, and some solitaries still further south, living a very austere life. Egyptian monasticism was a school for numerous visitors Eustathius, Basil, Jerome, Rufinus, the two Melanias, Paula, Palladius etc., who spread its practices everywhere. The Cappadocians had considerable influence in the ascetic and cenobitic movement of their time. Basil’s mother, Emmelia, on the advice of her daughter Macrina, retired to the family property of Annesi in Pontus 351 and there led a common life with noble ladies and their maids. Basil, basing his conception of life on the precept of charity, saw cenobitic life as the place where a synthesis could be made between bi,oj evrhmiko,j and bi,oj tou miga,doj see Greg. Naz., Or. 43,62. The Regula Magistri 1,2 and the Rule of Benedict 1,2 consider cenobites the genus primum of monks, the genus monasteriale almost par excellence, i.e., militans sub regula vel abbate, following a classification directly inspired by John Cassian, who saw life together in submission to an abbot as the full imitation of Jesus, who came to do the will of him who sent him Regula M. 1,50-52.
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