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Late antiquity refers to the period between 250 and 750 CE, when considerable political and cultural changes took place in the world. The medieval period refers to the period, which followed immediately after the late antiquity. The late antiquity period had a great impact on the medieval period, specifically on the two views of the monastic life: the east and the west formats.
When the late antiquity period ended, the medieval period used much of what the late antiquity left behind to shape its philosophy (MacDonald & Kretzmann, 1998). Much of the cultural changes that took place in late antiquity continued to exist in the medieval (middle age) period. The monastic life of the medieval period experienced significant impact from the late antiquity since most of its philosophies originated from ancient resources found during this period. Monastic life refers to the kind of life that is led by individuals who have devoted their lives to spiritual perfection through religion. The western format of monastic life, which was made of Christian monks and nuns from Europe, utilized the late antiquity resources such as Augustine, the Latin Church Fathers, and Boethius to form their monastic philosophies (MacDonald & Kretzmann, 1998).
During the late antiquity, as many social institutions of the late Roman Empire demised, the institution of the Church remained. The Church was the only institution, which was capable of providing cultural and social support to those who transited from the late antiquity period to the medieval period. Ancient texts, both sacred and secular were stored in the churches’ libraries and scriptoriums (MacDonald & Kretzmann, 1998). For this reason, the west monastics relied on the ancient Christianity doctrines of the late antiquity for training and formulation of their philosophies.
The western format of monasticism adapted the written rules of monastic communities, which existed during the late antiquity. These were the monastic rules of Saint Benedict generated by Benedict of Nursia for a monastery he had founded at Monte Cassino in Italy. The rules stated that monastics should live a life devoted to spiritual perfection through prayers either individually or in a community of other monastics. The monastics lived in sacred places such as churches and abbeys to enable them achieve spiritual perfection. Life of monastics revolved around fasting, silence, celibacy, and obedience to spiritual leaders. All these rules were adapted by the western monasticism of the medieval period. The most noticeable monasticism orders of the medieval period, which were adapted from the rule of Saint Benedicts, include the Cistercians, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, and the Carthusians orders (Huddleston, 1997).
Just like the western monasticism, the eastern monasticism of medieval period experienced impacts of the late antiquity. Eastern monasticism was made of monks and nuns who lived in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and other Middle East countries (Huddleston, 1997). During the late antiquity eastern monastics lived in the deserts. There was no communal monasticism like in the case of the west, monks and nuns lived in the deserts, mostly as individuals. Desert life assisted them to avoid temptations thought to be present in the community life at that time (Huddleston, 1997).
The eastern monastics of the late antiquity followed the rules of Saint Basil the Great, which emphasized on the role of the elderly monks over the young and the newly professed monks (Huddleston, 1997). When the late antiquity ended, eastern monastics continued to follow the rules of Saint Basil since they were the only sources of training and education to the new members of monasticism. Different ranks of monks and nuns were observed among the eastern monastics in the medieval period like in the late antiquity period. Elderly monks and nuns who had practiced monastic life for a long time acted as teachers and spiritual leaders to the young monks and nuns (Huddleston, 1997).
In addition, the eastern monastics of the medieval period ceased from living pure desert life and they started engaging themselves with the community. The idea of community engagement was borrowed from the ancient rules of Saint Basil. Another significant impact of late antiquity on eastern monastics of the medieval period is their continued espouse for the theory of Christian humanism, which was founded by Saint Basil. According to Saint Basil the Great, “monastics were bound to consider their duty to the whole of Christian society: they should care for orphans, feed the poor, maintain hospitals, educate children, and provide work for the unemployed” (Huddleston, 1997). Eastern monastics of medieval period showed great commitment to this theory by engaging more in community life as opposed to solitary desert life. However, it is important to note that despite the introduction of community engagement in the eastern monasticism, eremitic form of monasticism was observed in Syria in the late medieval period. This implies that the philosophies of eastern monasticism present in late antiquity were still dominant in the medieval period and made a lot of significance in the medieval period (Huddleston, 1997).
The late antiquity period had significant impact on the medieval period. The ideologies and philosophies of the medieval western and the eastern monasticism had their foundation based on those of the late antiquity period. The western monasticism of medieval period based most of its ideologies on the rules of Saint Benedict while the eastern monasticism of medieval period based its ideologies on the ancient rules of Saint Basil the Great.