2.25 How did monastic life begin?
Among the first Christians there were already people who chose a life of prayer, austerity, abstinence (celibacy), and helping their neighbours. When the persecutions and martyr’s deaths had mostly come to an end, people began to search for other ways to give their lives to God.
Some monks chose to live as hermits in the desert (e.g. in present-day Egypt and Syria). Around 325, some hermits started to live in a community where they were obedient to their superior. This is the beginning of monastic life. In later years, orders for both male and female religious were established. In addition to their prayer life, these religious devoted time to study, medicine, agriculture and the copying and writing of books.
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[The writings of Saint Basil] were used by various writers of monastic rules, even including Saint Benedict, who considered Basil as his teacher... For this reason many people think that the essential structure of the life of the Church, monasticism, was principally established by Saint Basil. If anything, his contribution was decisive to defining the more specific nature of monastic life. [John Paul II, Patres Ecclesiae, n. 2]