Encyclopedia of Monasticism

By Vivian, Tim | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview
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Encyclopedia of Monasticism


Vivian, Tim, Anglican Theological Review


Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Edited by William M. Johnston. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. xxiv + 1556pp. (2 vols.) $295.00 (cloth).

Most Episcopalians, I suspect, are unaware that their Church is (or once was?) essentially monastic. As Daniel Rees notes in his article on "Anglican Monasticism" in this fine two-volume encyclopedia, "The Book of Common Prayer was an adaptation to universal use of the [monastic] Breviary" and, although "the reformers and their immediate heirs were highly suspicious of monasticism itself," such eminent figures as Lancelot Andrewes and William Law "among the next generation of Anglican theologians... argued for the legitimacy of religious [i.e., monastic] life and pleaded for the installation of monastic communities within the Church of England" (p. 28).

It is sad to note, then, that the main Anglican presence in these otherwise excellent volumes comes in the article "Dissolution of Monasteries: England, Ireland, and Wales" by Norman L. Jones (pp. 399-403) and in the photographs of the bare ruined choirs of abandoned English abbeys (pp. 400-403, the color page of "Ruins in England" following p. 374, and pp. 447-449): these bear mute, condemning witness to Henry VIII's greedy and criminal liquidation of Great Britain's thousand-year-old monastic traditions. In the volume under review, no Anglican religious orders are listed under "Western Christian Orders" (p. xxviii) and the article on "United States: Western Christian" by Elizabeth Sutera, O.S.B., assumes-wrongly -that the history of monasticism in North America is entirely Roman Catholic, omitting both the (admittedly much smaller) Anglican and Orthodox contributions.

Denominational grumblings aside, however, I highly recommend the Encyclopedia of Monasticism for any library that has the wherewithal to purchase it. As the editor, William M. Johnston, notes, the encyclopedia "emerged as a result of its publisher's intuition that the time is ripe to undertake a conspectus of monastic life past and present-its practices, doctrines, lifestyles, spiritualities, and art as pursued in Buddhism and Christianity" (p. ix). This encyclopedia is, he says, the "first work in any language to examine monasticism past and present, devoting mainly equal attention to .

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