As martyrdom ceased to become the defining experience of early Christianity, we see the rise of a new movement. That of monasticism, which would prove to be extraordinarily dynamic and influential across the whole expanse of the Christian world. And in this journey, we're going to begin in the desert of Egypt. And then travel west to Italy, north to the Celtic lands, the western shores of Ireland, and then to Christian Northumbria. The tensions within monasticism are reflected in its extreme asceticism. An emphasis on individual versus corporate spirituality. We will look at some remarkable figures, including that, of course, of Benedict and St. Patrick. But our story begins in the early fourth century, where two models of ascetic spirituality appeared in Egyptian lands. And those are represented by the figures of Antony and Pachomius. The story of Antony and his temptation of the desert is famous from generations of artistic representations. One of the most famous here being that from the 16th century of Hieronymus Bosch. Antony, the story tells us, written by Athanasius, renounced the property that had been given to him by his parents. And he moved away from society to be amongst the distant and inaccessible tombs, to fight with devils in the desert. The church at this time was growing exponentially. This was, as I say, no longer the age of martyrs. New ideals were taking hold. And there was a radical demand to return to the simplicity of the teaching of the gospels. Antony's story was told by the influential Athanasius. And it became remarkably popular in the early Christian world. Antony's contribution was to teach that one could retreat into the desert, to live the solitary life, to fight against temptation. According to Athanasius, Antony was not simply a contemplative. But he worked with his hands, he wove baskets, he survived by the givings of other people. But at the same time, he trained himself like an athlete, a spiritual athlete, so that he could combat the temptations of the devil. So tells Athanasius the story. But the devil, who hates and envies what is good, could not endure to see such resolution in a youth. But endeavored to carry out against him what he had wanted to effect against others. First of all, he tried to lead him away from the discipline. Whispering to him the remembrance of his wealth. Care for his sister, claims of kindred. Love of money, love of glory. The various pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life. And at last, the difficulty of virtue and the labor of it. He suggested also the infirmity of the body and the length of time. In a word, he raised up his mind a great dust of debate wishing to debar him from his settled purpose. But when the enemy saw that he was too weak for Antony's determination and that he was rather to be conquered by others in firmness. Overthrown by his great faith and following through his constant prayers. Then at length putting his trust in the weapons which are the navel of his belly and the boasting in them. For they are his first snare for the youth. He attacked the young man as disturbing him by night and harassing him by day. So that onlookers saw the struggle which was going on between them. Antony spent more than 20 years in the desert, and he lived to the extraordinary age of 105. But at the same age, also saw the figure of Pachomius, who was to die in 346. He was a contemporary of Antony. He had converted to Christianity after service in the military. Pachomius had a different vision. He started a community down south on the Nile from where Antony was located. It was a community of ascetics who worked together in manual labor. Pachomius used his military training to prepare those ascetics. And he was the most successful founder of a community, or what is referred to as cenobitic monasticism. The of monasticism of the spiritual life was known as eremitic. In the communities founded by Pachomius, there was regular prayer, work, and meals. And he too wrote a rule for the life of those who were to live in this community. Who were to be distinguished by a particular garb, a cloak. The monastic spirituality, both communally and individually, also sprung up across the Christian world. In Syria, for example, where we have the remarkable figure of Simeon the Stylite. Who put himself on a pedal so that others would journey to him. He would lead this life which placed him between God and humanity. Here represented in an image from the 15th century. In Syria, in Mesopotamia, in Egypt, in Judea, in the Sinai Desert, monastic communities spread rapidly. But it wasn't just men. Women played a central role in its development. They adopted ascetic lives, and their sayings became important to Christian communities. As the age of martyrs drew to a close, it was the spiritual heroes of the desert communities that sustained the faithful. Their sayings were recorded and repeated. And here, extraordinarily from the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai. We have an Arabic translation of the sayings of the desert fathers from the tenth century. Another significant, well, crucial figure in the development of monasticism was Basil of Caesarea. He formed a community, an educated, well-informed scholarly figure. He wrote an account of the ascetic life. But he turned increasingly to focusing on the communal way of living. And once he became a bishop, he worked hard to integrate the contemplative and active life, a life of prayer and service. And to this end, he established hospitals and hospices for those who were traveling. Basil was the first to give institutional form to the novitiate and to provide the solemn profession. He insisted on obedience to restrain excess. He did not have time for this sort of radical, excessive ascetic behavior of individuals. Whom he believed were damaging the reputation of monasticism. His emphasis on restraint takes us forward to what we will see in St. Benedict. The problem for these extreme ascetics and individuals was how to keep them within the church. And if we return to Athanasius' Life of St. Antony, one of the crucial themes in the story that he tells of the temptations is how Antony remained Orthodox. The drive for asceticism in the fourth century was strong, with groups springing up across Asia Minor. Such as the Euchites, who believed that devils had to be driven away by intense prayer, not by the sacraments of the church. Basil, as I say, sought to bring this to order by instituting monasticism with his rule of obedience. And that the houses should be under the control and authority of bishops, and not self-standing. This theme continues later. We see in Augustine, who's writing On the Work of Monks from 401, revealed that the question of order and duty in the monastic life remained controversial. This dynamic force, this searching for spiritual rigor, and a taming of the body and an ordering of life continued to take multiple forms. Across Syria and Mesopotamia, a tremendous range of monastic practices were to be found. In the Judaean Desert, there was the location of many of these movements. But Egypt remained the center of this ascetic life. But alongside this developed, also in Egypt, the contemplative tradition of Greek, sorry, of ascetical prayer associated with the extraordinary church father origin. This tradition of contemplative prayer and of asceticism was brought into the West, ultimately, by the figure of John Cassian. Who was to make The Life of St. Antony very popular and well known. What he did for monasticism in the West was similar to what Basil had been doing in the East. Because the lives of monks in monastic houses often sprung up apart from the hierarchical church and institutions, monks had to work to survive, for their daily sustenance. And this we had seen in the life of Antony, who wove baskets. The result of this was increasingly that work became a spiritual exercise. Not something separate from prayer, but part of this. And this would be integral to Benedict's vision. Monasticism, in both the East and the West, expanded exponentially during the fourth and sixth centuries. And in our story, we shall see how it spread north and westward to the Celtic lands. But it was in Italy that it would be given profound shape, by a young man from Nursia.