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A Short History of Monks and Monasteries   By: (1865-1933)

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A Short History of Monks and Monasteries by Alfred Wesley Wishart offers a concise and informative overview of the role of monks and monasteries throughout history. Wishart’s passion for the subject shines through in his writing, making this book an engaging read for both scholars and casual readers interested in religious history.

The book’s structure is well-organized, with each chapter delving into a different aspect of monastic life and its evolution over time. Wishart begins by providing a thorough background of monasticism's origins in both Eastern and Western traditions, highlighting key figures and locations that influenced its development. He then proceeds to explore various monastic orders and their distinct practices, shedding light on the shared principles that unite these diverse communities.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its ability to encompass an extensive timeframe, ranging from the early days of monasticism to its decline during the Renaissance and Reformation, as well as its subsequent revival in more recent centuries. Wishart seamlessly weaves historical events and cultural shifts into his narrative, offering readers a broader understanding of how changes in society impacted the lives of monks and the monastic institutions they inhabited.

Wishart’s writing style is accessible and engaging, providing readers with an enjoyable learning experience. While the book may not delve too deeply into some subjects, it serves as an excellent introduction to monasticism for those seeking a general understanding or an exploration of specific topics. Additionally, the inclusion of illustrations and photographs further enhances the reading experience, bringing the monastic world to life.

One minor critique of the book is that, at times, it may feel somewhat rushed. Given the vast scope of the subject, certain aspects could have benefited from further exploration, offering readers a more comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of monastic life. Nevertheless, this does not detract significantly from the overall quality of the book.

In conclusion, A Short History of Monks and Monasteries by Alfred Wesley Wishart is an enlightening and concise exploration of the fascinating world of monasticism. Wishart’s passion for the subject, coupled with his clear and engaging writing style, makes this book a worthy addition to anyone’s library. Whether you have a passing interest in religious history or seek a deeper understanding of monasticism, this book will undoubtedly satisfy your curiosity and inspire further exploration.

First Page:





Sometime Fellow in Church History in The University of Chicago




The aim of this volume is to sketch the history of the monastic institution from its origin to its overthrow in the Reformation period, for although the institution is by no means now extinct, its power was practically broken in the sixteenth century, and no new orders of importance or new types have arisen since that time.

A little reflection will enable one to understand the great difficulties in the execution of so broad a purpose. It was impracticable in the majority of instances to consult original sources, although intermediate authorities have been studied as widely as possible and the greatest caution has been exercised to avoid those errors which naturally arise from the use of such avenues of information. It was also deemed unadvisable to burden the work with numerous notes and citations. Such notes as were necessary to a true unfolding of the subject will be found in the appendix.

A presentation of the salient features of the whole history was essential to a proper conception of the orderly development of the ascetic ideal. To understand the monastic institution one must not only study the isolated anchorite seeking a victory over a sinful self in the Egyptian desert or the monk in the secluded cloister, but he must also trace the fortunes of ascetic organizations, involving multitudes of men, vast aggregations of wealth, and surviving the rise and fall of empires... Continue reading book >>

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