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Desert Origins of Monasticism

Benedictines are contemplatives, but Benedictine monks preserved ancient texts and helped form western civilization after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west.


There is a strong tradition of work in the Benedictine charism which makes it perfect for "regular people" who work full time, but who want to live a life of deep spirituality. The Benedictine way is for people wanting a single life dedicated to God — not a life of work and a separate life of spirituality.

It was in the chaos and fall of civilization that Saint Benedict wrote his famous Rule for monks.

Most European cities grew up around Benedictine monasteries — the modern world has similarities to the times of Saint Benedict and hence Saint Benedict's appeal to Oblates — the fully integrated Christian life with prayer and seeking God as its purpose — while also "in the world."

An Ancient Tradition

But there is more, a part 2. Saint Benedict's Rule is a skillful adaption and modification of a still earlier monastic tradition. He knew what parts to keep and what to craft for a community family.

To fully understand Saint Benedict, it can help to know those earlier monastics.

The ancient and central spirituality of the Benedictines can be traced back to the earliest Egyptian desert fathers, whose wisdom was brought to the west by Saint John Cassian. Some think that Egypt's greatest contributions to the world are in its great Pyramids or ancient civilizations, but Egypt's greatest contribution is Christian monasticism.

The spiritual teaching of the earliest Egyptian desert fathers continues to be practiced today through the prayer lives of Benedictine monks, the ancient Catholic order credited with preserving western civilization during the dark ages.

Modern Monks

Modern Benedictine monks in the Order of Saint Benedict (O.S.B.) are fulfilling the same role in today’s spiritual dark ages.

Few enter Benedictine spirituality either as a monk or an Oblate. Although the Benedictine Order is one of the oldest institutions in the world, it is often unknown to modern Catholic culture. However, the Benedictine monk still exists as one of the most ancient strengths of the Church.