Were Medieval Catholic Monasteries Corrupt?
An Evangelical friend mentioned that the Monasteries of the middle ages were corrupt with monks dating nuns, participated in all kinds of sexual sin, and other sorts of sin. My friend had heard this in an Evangelical Lutheran Church. Much misinformation is still circulating 500 years after the Reformation. Our friend Mark Bonocore who is an expert in Church history responded. He contributed to this article.
Well ...there were, of course, cases when monks and/or nuns broke their vows, and even when corruption overtook whole monasteries in particular (e.g. when the abbot of some provincial monastery was a bad guy and allowed his monks to frequent prostitutes or keep concubines). However, this was certainly not the norm, and most monasteries (even during the period of the Protestant Reformation) were faithful to the monastic rule and avoided such corruption (although Protestant pamphlets of the time made it seem otherwise).
The famous abbey of Cluny is a prime example of a great monastery. It was a
beacon of holiness and orthodoxy for the whole Christian world. The idea that
monks and nuns were "partying" together is not a very realistic one, since
there were no "co-ed" monasteries (then or now) and the monks would not have
had the opportunity to "date" the nuns. :-)
The fact that monks and/or nuns sometimes messed up is clearly no condemnation on the institution of monastic celibacy itself, given that married men sometimes cheat on their wives, and no one suggests doing away with marriage itself because of that common failing.
Matt 19:12, 1 Corinth 7:32-34 are pretty good precedents for the monastic
life. And once a commitment is made vows are important, and they
should be. Jesus says, "Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no, all else."
Luther preached against the monastic life after leaving it. Some Catholic nuns (including his future wife Catherine von Bora) were attracted to break their vows after hearing Luther's sermons against the monastic life. This was a mistake on his part to draw people from their vows, even if he did get a wife out of it.
Monks in monasteries preserved the Bible over the ages and protected it from fire, flood and war. They copied the Bible out one letter at a time. Thousands of monks dedicated their lives to this task and it took a whole lifetime to copy one Bible. This was long before the Guttenberg press.
The great mystic Thomas Merton said that far more world peace is accomplished by monks praying in monasteries than the politicians and diplomats.