I just finished my first official online course on Monasticism and Monastic Theology, part of my uThM Program.
I looked for awhile before I uncovered the free courses by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B at Saint John’s Seminary. The website is actually a treasure trove of courses and other resources available to the public.
You can check it out here.
Likewise, all of my coursework from my uThM Program can be found here.
I also keep a monthly Research Journal that analyzes and integrates what I’m learning. You can find that here.
So, let’s dig into my review of the online course, Monastic Spiritual Theology.
What does the Course Cover?
This course is actually rather old-school. I say that primarily because of the means by which it is delivered. After all, the site still uses html tables.
I assume these courses are no longer used for actual seminars or classes at the seminary. They are a throw back from the 1990’s. But, the material is timeless, and the audio lectures are a great addition to the text available.
It’s designed as a 16 week course, but I finished it in probably 3 weeks. As with most seminary courses, there is a LOT of reading. I did some skimming. A few books assigned I could not find free copies so I had to skip those. Some of the chapters, though, are included in the documents section.
Overall, this is an introductory course on the history and beliefs of monasticism as it developed from the first few centuries after Christ to today. It tackles some of the subject areas I really wanted to dive into – lectio divina, the rosary, Origen’s theology and hermeneutics.
It provided fair balance between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It covered the historical development of the Daily Office, praying of the Psalms, the Jesus Prayer, and other developments.
Lastly, it covered some of the major reforms that have occurred in Monastic communities over the centuries.
It provided primary source texts, secondary sources, text lectures, and also audio lecture recordings that were keyed to the website itself, which was kind of informative and helpful in getting my arms around the hefty materials. The primary texts were selections throughout history, but there was a great deal of in-depth exposure to the Church Fathers (both East and West), which was wonderful.
There were Discussion Questions at the end of each week’s section.
What Kind of Assignments Did I Complete?
In addition to the lectures and required reading, there were Discussion Questions at the end of each week’s section. These I answered, often re-framing the questions to my personal situation.
Here is the finished document.
Check out my new book Ashen Monk Mountain – a new monk is invited to a monastery hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies, only to discover the monks there have a secret they seem unwilling to share…..
What I Wish the Course Had Included
Certainly, as a protestant, I wish there was more discussion about Monasticism from that perspective. Granted, something like that would end up as a longly-worded lecture about how Monasticism is wrong and against God and I should just get married already (tried that, no thanks – I will certainly not be doing that again).
The Catholic perspective was beneficial, though, as it provided a great deal more insight into the thought process and theological thinking of Catholics, which Protestants typically are not exposed to (don’t you love the echo chambers we box ourselves into).
I do realize the primary sources require a thorough contextual reading from beginning to end. It’s such a massive undertaking, though, and I’m not sure when I will be able to do so. Maybe I can add it as part of my daily devotionals and just spend a lifetime working through the ancient texts. I’m referring to the Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection, the Sayings o the Desert Fathers (Alphabetical) and then the Philokalia from Eastern Orthodoxy. This would constitute tens of thousands of pages of deep, often dense reading.
Video lectures would have been a nice addition, but you know what they say about beggars…can’t complain. My uThM program is thus far 100% free and I just finished an introductory theology course by a seminary professor. I should be able to manage with just audio.
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What Do I Think About the Course Overall?
I was elated by the material on lectio divina and also, particularly, on the account and historical development of the praying of the psalms and the development of the daily office. These were topics of great interest to me.
I also believe I have a better understanding of the issues surrounding Mary, the Rosary, and the implication of tradition and church authority. I would say this course has re-confirmed some of my protestant beliefs, such as the final authority of Scripture (over tradition), the invalidity of papal and church authority, and I now have a much better understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy and their approach to monasticism.
I have, at least at this point (I go back and forth alot), concluded that I am not called to a monastic vocation. I believe I can serve Christ through writing and research and the blog. But, of course, I am quick to delude myself.
I do still believe I am, by nature (or nurture), fundamentally and intrinsically a contemplative solitary. This is not only the kind of lifestyle I am naturally drawn to, that naturally manifests if I am being completely authentic, but it is the perfect lifestyle for my given avocation (writing and researching).
Overall, this was a really good introduction and overview of Monasticism.
Until next time…..
Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what decision Christopher will make.
Click here and grab your copy today!
But, buckle up for the ride of your life. You’ll never guess what happens next!