War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture

By Bouchard, Constance B. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2012 | Go to article overview

War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture


Bouchard, Constance B., The Catholic Historical Review


War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture. By Katherine Allen Smith. [Studies in the History of Medieval Religion, Vol. XXXVIL] (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer. 2011. Pp. x, 239. $90.00. ISBN 978-1-843-83616-2.)

During the last twenty-five years or so, medievalists have broken down the old artificial distinction between "those who fought" and "those who prayed" to demonstrate how closely the monastic world and the world of the secular aristocracy were intertwined. Crusaders and members of such groups as the Templars were simultaneously fighters and men following religious dictates, and, as many recent scholars have demonstrated, the spread of ascetic monasticism would have been impossible without the support of the warlike leaders of society. Building on that work, Katherine Allen Smith here takes the analysis one step further to reveal how much monastic language and metaphor owed to warfare. Monks saw themselves as warriors engaged in spiritual battles, as Davids overthrowing Goliaths, as fighters requiring the same fortitude and determination against their enemies as knights in battle. Those converting to the religious life gave up violence but did not give up being soldiers- they were just a different sort of soldier. Although scholars have long noted monastic use of the term miles Christi (a soldier of Christ) to describe a monk, this is the first in-depth study of how those in the cloister fashioned their image and their mission in terms borrowed from secular warfare. Smith's chief focus is northern France and England in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, with forays back to early Christian writers.

The first chapter explores the prevalence of war- both real and metaphorical- in the Bible and in the writings of the Church Fathers, indicating how thoroughly the monastic liturgy would have been imbued with the language of armed combat. …

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