Conspiracies and Catholicism: Monk-y Business

Why the title? Because “albino assassin monks” is entirely too long of a title for the file formats at Catholic Stand. However, Silas of The da Vinci Code is a good example of the kind of thing I’m talking about; you may also be familiar with “The Albino” from The Princess Bride.  On to the post!

It seems like every time a monk shows up in a show, they’re either going to be evil or they’re soon to be dead.  If it’s a historical setting, they’re probably sinister, torturing, and crazy, possibly part of the inquisition.  If they are the main character, they may be okay, but you can bet that an Evil Monk will show up soon enough.

These characters have all the elements of an evil Catholic Priest in bad popular culture, and without the positive associations with non-Catholic preachers — plus they have justification for outfits that look really odd to modern eyes.  All of which are perfectly good dramatic points, but it does get tiring, and frankly, I prefer Anime’s habit of treating Catholic monks exactly like Shinto or Buddhist ones to the horrible mangling that American stories tend to inflict.  At least then you don’t have the false impression that you’re being informed!

What Are They?

If you are like me, you may have a vague notion that monks are in monasteries and go by “brother,” while friars kind of wander around and might be some kind of roving priest.

Since a large part of the reason this Catholicism and Conspiracies series even exists is that “vague impressions are often very, very wrong.” Therefore, I went looking for an actually definition.  Here’s a short description, per theCatholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.

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 order to which he belongs. The word monk is not itself a term commonly used in the official language of the Church.

That’s simple enough.  To summarize the history a bit, our use probably traces back to Saint Benedict’s rules for how Monasteries would be set up.  He disapproved of roving monks on the basis that they tended to want to be spiritual without having to be religious, if I may interpret it into modern modes of speaking.  It’s (probably) due to the Rule of Saint Benedict (his set-up for organizing religious places that are now known as “monasteries”) that we call them “monks” and their places “monasteries,” even though when he used the word it was for all who were consecrated to God.  The wandering monks he wrote so critically of in that time are not the same as what we call friars, whose title comes from an ancient word for “brother,” and are most assuredly disciplined.

Monk or Friar?

So, what is the difference between Friar Tuck and Monk Silas, besides the quality of the story around them?  The simplest explanation of the difference between Monastic orders (“monks”) and Mendicant Orders (“friars”) is that the focus of a monk is isolated, contemplative, inside of the monastery, while a friar’s work is focused on public ministry.  Friar Tuck is part of the Robin Hood gang in part because in the time he was added to the story, everyone knew that such a person would only be there if the Merry Men were truly justified in challenging Prince John;Brother Cadfael joined the his Benedictine order because he’d gone out fighting the Crusades and found a need in himself to aim for something less…worldly in its support of God’s Work.

Monks teach, Friars preach

That’s not all that they do, and they may not all do it, but those are situations you’ll most likely find them in when it comes to accurate fiction.  For some reason, English language shows tend to only have Nuns founding schools, even though a great many monasteries were founded for exactly that reason– teaching the natives what they needed to know to deal with the Catholic (or even just Christian) cultures.

If the Church did have an order of assassin religious that wandered the world doing bloody work for the glory of God, it’s very unlikely that they’d be monks.  Monks are in the Monastery.  Somehow, “Albino Assassin Friar” just doesn’t have the same sort of ring, you know?  And don’t even get started on “Albino Assassin Lay Brother of theOrder of Saint Dominic” or something similarly ludicrous.

Conspiracies and Catholicism is a series of posts about things like albino assassin monks, hidden Bible books, pagan Santas and secret councils— popular culture related to Catholicism, sometimes in unexpected ways. If you have a suggestion for a future article, please leave a message in the comments or email me at my pen name using gmail’s free service. Prior posts available here.

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5 thoughts on “Conspiracies and Catholicism: Monk-y Business”

  1. A few years back, I saw a cartoon (don’t know if it was Anime) where a bunch of Vikings attacked a monastery and one old monk went Ninja on them.

    Obviously not accurate but much better than the da Vinci Code character. [Smile]

      1. The old Monk had a crucifix that he used like those “throwing stars” that Ninjas use. [Wink]

  2. First time I came across anything like this was the Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn movie “Foul Play”. I don’t remember if the albino assassin was a monk though, it’s been a couple of decades since I’ve watched it.

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