This blog is about how I was freed from an incorrect application of fuga mundi.
Fuga mundi (flight from the world) is sometimes used to describe the distinguishing characteristic of the monastic life as it developed long ago. For example, the excellent “RB 1980" states:
“The ascetic tradition in Christianity, on which the monastic movement is built, can of course, be traced back to the New Testament.... What distinguishes the monastic movement from the earlier tradition of asceticism within Christianity is the practice of withdrawal from society... This distinction ...provides virtually the only way of distinguishing the monastic movement from the earlier period.”1
As a former atheist until I was 37 years old and then Protestant for 20 years, many of my views about the monastic life were incorrect or placed too much emphasis on a few characteristics. For example, I had known for over 30 years that there was some kind of Catholic monastery near my home, but I thought incorrectly that no one could visit it (even if someone was foolish enough to want to), that the monks never left the monastery, and that none of the monks spoke because they had all taken a vow of silence because that’s what being a monk meant. Of course, all of that is wrong, but it illustrates the great divide existing between the real world of monastic living and the sheltered world of the uninformed — like I was.
Although I have now been a Benedictine oblate at that very same Catholic monastery for a couple of years and have a better understanding of monastic life, fuga mundi has had an unwelcome grip on my understanding of what it means to be monastic. And for the past year or so I have tried to flee its hold on my mind.
I have “felt” that fuga mundi is a term that camouflages a fuller view of monasticism, but a clear insight that set fuga mundi in its proper place in my understanding has been just beyond my reach — I have wrestled with this for a long time.
Recently I read the following article on Monachos.net which is an Orthodox web site. This fine article finally cleared away the last hold fuga mundi had on my thinking.
The article is “A Gospel motivation for the monastic life,” by M.C. Steenberg and it sought to answer the question of why people seek the monastic life. Here is the key part of the article:
"In the final analysis, D. Chitty's words in the Epilogue to his great work come again to mind. There are many factors for, many reasons behind the eager flight of thousands into the Egyptian deserts; yet if we are to discover the truest and most fundamental answer to the question of ‘why?', we must seek for it in ‘the search for personal holiness, the following of the Lord Jesus' in the life of the individual Christian. Perhaps the most succinct statement to this effect comes from Paul the Great:
"Abba Paul said, ‘Keep close to Jesus.'
“This is the goal of the monastic, both of ancient Egypt and of the modern day.
“In closing, a short story from my own experience. I met with an old monk and spiritual mentor some years ago, and our conversation quickly turned to the monastic life. I said to him, ‘Father I don't know if I am ready to become a monk; I don't know if I can so easily run away from the world.' He replied, ‘No, indeed you are not ready. No one is ready for the tonsure until they stop seeing it as running away from the world, and start seeing it as running toward Jesus Christ.'”
Amen, Jesus, a good place to start and finish.
Picture is "Start | Finish at Madison St. at the Giro di Burnaby," by sillygwailo
1. “RB 1980,” page 4 and footnote 3. I have understood the limited purpose of the RB 1980 quote for some time as a result of my reading of the “Life of Anthony,” 11 (“Vita Anton.” 11) by Athanasius:
“He goes to the desert and overcomes temptations on the way.
“11. And on the day following he went forth still more eagerly bent on the service of God and having fallen in with the old man he had met previously, he asked him to dwell with him in the desert. But when the other declined on account of his great age, and because as yet there was no such custom, Antony himself set off forthwith to the mountain. And yet again the enemy seeing his zeal and wishing to hinder it, cast in his way what seemed to be a great silver dish. But Antony, seeing the guile of the Evil One, stood, and having looked on the dish, he put the devil in it to shame, saying, 'Whence comes a dish in the desert? This road is not well-worn, nor is there here a trace of any wayfarer; it could not have fallen without being missed on account of its size; and he who had lost it having turned back, to seek it, would have found it, for it is a desert place. This is some wile of the devil. O thou Evil One, not with this shall you hinder my purpose; let it go with you to destruction. Acts 8:20 ' And when Antony had said this it vanished like smoke from the face of fire.”