[P2P-F] The Economics of Monasticism by Nathan Smith

Kevin F kev.flanagan at gmail.com
Sat Feb 2 08:03:06 CET 2013

Hi Anna,

Just to clarify when I refer to monastic settlements I mean to in the
more general sense including settlements established by women.
Personally I have no doubt that women and convents also played a
significant role and I would love more details on this.

It is certain that many orders sought to establish themselves in
secluded places away from towns and cities in an effort to distance
themselves from 'the world'.
However it seems that the organisational structures lent themselves to
economic efficiencies and made these monasteries highly productive. In
turn these became attractive and safe places for regular folk to
locate communities.

There are different kinds of intellectual knowledge. After the fall of
the Roman Empire monasteries preserved and reproduced ancient greek
and roman philosophical texts. The practical value of these texts to
lay communities is debatable however the author of the paper also
gives examples of invention and innovation. He refers to the medieval
Cistercians use of water mills for processing grain. His source is a
book called the Medieval Machine by Jean Gimpel. A brief look through
the book gives other examples relating to agriculture and metal work.


I also want to make it clear that while I was raised Catholic, I no
longer identify myself as such. Being Irish I am all too familiar with
the hypocrisy and the abuses of the Church and I have no special love
for it.



On 1 February 2013 11:59, Michel Bauwens <michel at p2pfoundation.net> wrote:
> Thanks Kevin for these illuminating comments.
> - celibacy must also be seen in the context of their times, i.e. where
> unbridled sexuality with limited birth control technologies caused many
> additional social problems (child killing, child abandonment, child abuse,
> see the Institute for Psychohistory for their history of child abuse); the
> majority of monks were surplus males from both feudal and popular
> environments who could not benefit from inheritance mechanims, as well as a
> huge number of abandoned children which were routinely deposited at monastic
> doors (the famous 'tourniquet' were especially designed for that); with
> their mutualizing of knowledge and resources, they were essentially the
> intellectual class in their societies, next to the working farmers and
> warrior nobility, and especially in christian lands, they were the
> depositors and progenitors of technical knowledge and advancement
> in premodern worldviews, spiritual work was not parasitic on the contrary,
> it was seen as the pinnacle of civilization, and the population felt they
> had a huge debt to the monks and the Church for these intercessionary
> services; these apart from the fact that churches and monasteries were the
> very centers of social life, for festivals, medical care, food reserves, and
> the like; in times of routine feudal abuse, monastic lands were also the
> refuge for widows and orphans
> by the way, before the 11th cy, priests were married, and churches were
> often private property, while monasteries were generally run by the family
> members of the nobility on which lands they were settled  (it was called the
> 'adelskirche' by historians)
> You could argue that intentional communities are the pluri-gender
> descendants of the monastic communities and they are doing quite well in our
> times; given the huge number of empty church buildings, there is a huge
> opportunity to create a new wave of spiritual co-working centers, such as
> the Borderlands Augustine ctr in Melbourne, The Monastery in Manchester, or
> the church building taken over by the p2p-oriented communautique in
> Montreal,
> Michel
> Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2013 20:54:12 +0700
> From: Kevin F <kev.flanagan at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [P2P-F] The Economics of Monasticism by Nathan Smith
> To: P2P Foundation mailing list <p2p-foundation at lists.ourproject.org>
> Message-ID:
>         <CACpSwUeeaExQQ26TCkBFSyzsJsJbq+7ZX+s_CNLsS1fAppK6XQ at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252
> Hi Anna,
> Monastics also provided services to the communities of which they are
> a part. In the past the monasteries were great repositories of
> knowledge. They were not limited to scriptural works alone. In the pre
> print era scribes also produced copies of philosophical, technical and
> historical works. They provided opportunities for people to educate
> themselves and in turn those same people became stewards of that
> knowledge which was of general benefit to communities that grew up
> around the monasteries.
> Now as you say it is true that as celibate institutions they fail to
> reproduce themselves. However it can also be said that the knowledge
> of which the monasteries were caretakers contributed to the
> sustainability and in turn the re-productivity of the lay communities
> and that seeing monasteries as socially valuable in this way was one
> reason people from those communities chose to join.
> Of course this is not the only motivation to join. For some it was to
> pursue the spiritual life, for others it was to escape poverty, while
> others joined because of social or family pressure.
> One of the big rules was that monks and nuns should not own property.
> If monks or nuns were to have families things become more complicated
> as humans tend to look out for the welfare of their own before that of
> the community as a whole. One of the arguments for celibacy in the
> church is that it acts as an anti corruption measure. When Priests,
> Abbots and Nuns have families it is easy for mini dynasties to emerge
> as quite quickly it is the son of the Abbot who inherits his fathers
> prestigious and influential role. This situation is avoided when they
> are required to be celibate.
> The other advantage of a celibate community is that its members have
> more time to focus on intellectual work. When this is applied to
> technical problems, inventive and innovative solutions can be shared,
> improving the health and sustainability of the broader lay community.
> All of these dynamics change as societies become better off. Today we
> no longer depend on monasteries to preserve and reproduce important
> texts. Nor do we depend on them for education or health. None of this
> was true 500 years ago. As the quality of life improves for people
> across the globe the appeal of monastic life is waning. Everywhere
> fewer and fewer young people are taking vocations. The tables have
> turned in a way. While at one time communities depended on monasteries
>  today most monasteries depend heavily on charity. What they have to
> offer society more generally has come into question and their futures
> are indeed uncertain.
> I do not wish to romanticise the historical role of monasteries, I
> just want to point out that their social function has changed over
> time. While I agree that today these institutions have become in some
> sense parasitic my point is that it was not always so.
> What I gained from reading this paper was more from the analysis of
> incentives and motivations both of which can be applied to analysis of
> intentional communities. Also worth considering is the power of shared
> values that may be not be so strong in more secular arrangements.
> Regards
> Kevin
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