The Greek word koinōnia (often translated as “fellowship”), frequently used in the New Testament, now came to refer to the idea of a common corporate life, characterized by common clothing, meals, furnishing of cells (as the monks’ rooms were known), and manual labor for the good of the community. Monastic communities were increasingly seen as being more spiritually beneficial than solitary forms of the Christian life, in that communal charity could more easily be practiced and experienced.
The monastic ideal proved to have a deep attraction for many. By the fourth century, monasteries had been established in many locations in the Christian east, especially in the regions of Syria and Asia Minor. It was not long before the movement was taken up in the western church. By the fifth century, monastic communities had come into existence in Italy (especially along the western coastline), Spain, and Gaul. Augustine of Hippo, one of the leading figures of the western church at this time, established two monasteries in North Africa at some point during the period 400–25. For Augustine, the common life (now designated by the Latin phrase vita communis) was essential to the realization of the Christian ideal of love. Furthermore, intellectual study and spiritual reflection were best done together with other believers, rather than in solitary isolation. The monastery, Augus- tine argued, was thus the basis for the kind of study and reflection that would enrich both personal devotion and the life of the church.
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