The Monkhood of All Believers
The Monastic Foundation of Christian Spirituality
- ISBN: 9780801098055
- Published By: Baker Academic
- Published: November 2018
Greg Peters is a Benedictine oblate who is the author of several books that reflect his monastic scholarship, including Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life (Cascade Books, 2013) and The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality (Baker Academic, 2015). These two volumes were followed by The Monkhood of All Believers: The Monastic Foundation of Christian Spirituality, in which Peters argues that monasticism is essential and pertinent to all Christians. Although not every Christian is an institutionalized monk, all believers are monks because they have been called to interiorized monasticism.
Peters starts by introducing the importance of monasticism to every believer, then provides “a highly selective historical overview of Christian monasticism” (2) throughout the rest of the book. In the first part, he comprehensively defines monasticism to demonstrate that monks are single-minded in their desire to be in union with God. He then examines monastic history as he further contends that one does not have to engage in institutional monasticism to be a monk, since a believer who interiorly seeks God single-mindedly can also be ascetic. He concludes the section by discussing interiorized monasticism as a life of faithful devotion to God in keeping with one’s baptismal vows. In the second part of the book, Peters describes ascetism as a part of the “remedy for humankind’s sinfulness” (106) and a practice for all Christians to engage in. The ascetic life is a concept grounded in scripture and shared by both Catholics and Protestants. In his last section, the author defends why monasticism is for all Christians, then discusses the vocation of monastic living.
Peters mainly uses two theologians, Paul Evdokimov and Raimon Panikkar, to support his argument for interiorized monasticism. Evdokimov is from the Eastern Orthodox tradition while Panikkar did extensive studies in non-Christian religions. Both Evdokimov and Panikkar are geared towards a theology of a “nontraditional, noninstitutionalized form of monasticism” that showcases that “all human beings have something in common that manifests itself in a monastic lifestyle” (80). To further substantiate his thesis, Peters also includes research from Martin Luther, a former Roman Catholic monk, who argued that monastic vows were in violation of the gospel and ultimately resulted in two classes of Christian disciples (84). The gospel is meant to unify all believers; therefore, interiorized monasticism based on one’s baptismal vows is the stable foundation upon which monastic living should be based.
Peters provides adequate historical support for his overall claim that the monastic lifestyle is common to all Christians. He includes relevant research from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant sources to demonstrate that monasticism is present across all Christian traditions. He also includes biblical references from the book of Acts to show the practices of the earliest Christians. Although Peters’ research is thorough, the basis for his assertion that there is a monkhood of all believers primarily rests on the two theologians, Evdokimov and Panikkar, who support this claim. A wider selection of monastic interlocutors that included dissenting voices could have added more depth to his argument. Furthermore, Peters could have included more biblical exegesis to support his monastic foundation of Christian spirituality.
The Monkhood of All Believers is a useful book that challenges the reader to reimagine monasticism as a fundamental part of Christian spirituality. It reexamines an aspect of spiritual formation that has long been limited to institutional and external forms of monastic living and proposes a theology of monasticism that is a necessary part of the Church and daily Christian practices. It is therefore relevant to all Christians who desire to live with an interiorized, single-minded devotion to God.
Kevin D. Clarke is an assistant professor at South Florida Bible College and Theological Seminary in Deerfield Beach, Florida.Kevin D. ClarkeDate Of Review:June 18, 2022