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1. A man who withdraws entirely or in part from society and goes to live in a religious community to devote himself to prayer, solitude, and contemplation.
2. In Christianity, a man who has withdrawn from the world for religious reasons; especially, as a member of an order of cenobites (members of a religious order living in a convent or community) living according to a particular rule and under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
3. In any religion, a man who is a member of a monastic order; such as, a Buddhist monk.
4. A man who is a member of a brotherhood living in a monastery and devoted to a discipline prescribed by his order.
5. Etymology: an early borrowing from Vulgar Latin monicus (French moine, Spanish monje, Italian monaco), from Late Latin monachus, "monk", originally "religious hermit", from Late Greek monakhos, "monk"; noun use of a classical Greek adjective meaning "solitary"; from Greek mono-, "single, alone", from monos, "one, alone".

Not all religious priests are monks

A monk is a man who retires from the ordinary temporal concerns of the world, and devotes himself to a specific religious belief. Monks usually live in monasteries where they take a vow to observe certain religious rules. Some "monks" have lived as hermits in solitude and others have lived a strolling life without any fixed place of residence.

A monk may be conveniently defined as a member of a community of men, leading a more or less contemplative life apart from the world, under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to a rule characteristic of the particular religious order to which he belongs.

The word monk is not itself a term commonly used in the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a popular rather than a scientific designation, but it is at the same time very ancient, so much so that its origin cannot be precisely determined.

In any case the fact remains that the word monachus in the fourth century was freely used by those consecrated to God, whether they lived as hermits or in communities.

So again St. Benedict, a little later (about 535) stated at the beginning of his rule that there were four kinds of monks (monachi):

  • cenobites who live together under a rule or an abbot,
  • anchorites or hermits, who after long training in the discipline of a community, go forth to lead a life of solitude (and of both of these classed he approves; but also
  • sarabites and
  • girovagi (wandering monks), whom he strongly condemns as men whose religious life is but a pretense, and who do their own religious activities without the restraint of the obedience of a religious order.

It is probably due to the fact that the Rule of St. Benedict so constantly described the brethren as monachi and their residence as monaslerium, that a tradition has arisen according to which these terms in Latin and English are commonly applied only to those religious bodies which in some measure reproduce the conditions of life contemplated in the old Benedictine Rule.

The mendicant friars; such as, the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, etc., though they live in their respective communities and chant the Divine Office in choir, are not correctly described as monks.

Their work of preaching, mixing with their fellow men in the world, soliciting alms, and moving from place to place, is inconsistent with the Roman Catholic monastic ideal.

—Excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM.

This entry is located in the following unit: mono-, mon- (page 2)