Friday, May 24, 2013

How the Monks Saved Civilization

[Continuing prepping for next school year by doing a chapter by chapter summary of Thomas E. Woods's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.]

Summary of Chapter 3 “How Monks Saved Civilization”

Woods writes that the “history of monks” can be summarized in “Christ’s words: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you’” (25).  In seeking Christ first and laboring out of love, the monks reinvigorated Europe by means of a simple life style -- “comparable to that of a contemporary Italian peasant” – devoted to work and prayer (27).

The most notable of monks were the Benedictines founded by St. Benedict of Nursia in the 5th century (26).  In the West, St. Benedict’s writings, known as “The Rule of Saint Benedict,” became the foundation for western monasticism where according to The Rule all were equal in the eyes of Christ; therefore, St Benedict never took into consideration the worldly status of a perspective monk (27).

Though the main purpose of the monks was to find a way of salvation by retiring from the world, they also had a habit of bringing with them knowledge of the arts, learning technology, and more.   The monks were not stupid and their contributions are many:


·         The monks were agricultural specialists and an agricultural college.  They tamed the wild and make that which is unlivable into a home.
·         Monks embraced difficult tasks and inspired others to labor and that in work there is dignity.
·         Selective breeding of horses and cattle (genetic engineering)
·         Brewing of Beer
·         Raising of bees
·         Orchards
·         Vineyards
·         Corntrade in Sweden
·         Irrigation in Lombardy
·         Routed springs to Paris so the city could have water
·         Used water, rivers and streams, to Mill flower
·         Champagne (Dom Perignon)
·         Pioneers in the making of Wine
·         Cistercians were specialists in metallurgy
·         Monk - Eilmer flew 600 feet with a glider
·         Skillful clockmakers


The monks of then, as well as those of today, were known for their charitable works.  Every person whjo darkened the doors of the monastery was “received as though they were Christ” (38).  Two such actions, hospitals that had the “bell of the wanders”  and the “Bell Rock”, a bell to warn ships of dangerous rocks (33).  Copenhagen is said to own its origin to an Abbot who built a monastery with the specific intention of aiding those who were shipwrecked.

One of the most important contributions the monks made to Western Civilization as well as history is the sharing, copying and keeping of books.  By sharing books, technology, science, and learning could e easily spread to other monasteries and be put to use.  Most copies of classical texts come to us almost exclusively from the monks.  “The fact is, the Church cherished, preserved, studies, and taught the works of the ancients which would otherwise have been lost” (41).  The monks ensued that literacy and culture “would survive political and social catastrophe.

Learning was a central theme to the monastic life.  Where the monk went so too education followed.  They set up schools that would eventually become the foundations for the university (45).

"The monastic contribution to Western civilization, as we have seen, is immense. . . Who else in the history of the Western civilization can boast such a record?  The Church that gave the West its monks also created the university" (45).

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