24/7 Prayer Movement History
The Historical Background
The Early Monastic Tradition of 24/7 Prayer
Alexander Akimetes and the Sleepless Ones
Comgall and Bangor
Bangor Mor and Perpetual Psalmody
At Bangor, Comgall instituted a rigid monastic rule of incessant prayer and fasting. Far from turning people away, this ascetic rule attracted thousands. When Comgall died in 602, the annals report that three thousand monks looked to him for guidance. Bangor Mor, named “the great Bangor” to distinguish it from its British contemporaries, became the greatest monastic school in Ulster as well as one of the three leading lights of Celtic Christianity. The others were Iona, the great missionary center founded by Colomba, and Bangor on the Dee, in Wales, founded by Dinooth; the ancient Welsh Triads also confirm the “Perpetual Harmonies” at this great house.
Throughout the sixth century, Bangor became famous for its choral psalmody. “It was this music which was carried to the Continent by the Bangor Missionaries in the following century” (Hamilton, Rector of Bangor Abbey). Divine services of the seven hours of prayer were carried out throughout Bangor’s existence. However, the monks went further and carried out the practice of laus perennis. In the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of Comgall and Bangor, stating, “the solemnization of divine offices was kept up by companies, who relieved each other in succession, so that not for one moment day and night was there an intermission of their devotions.” This continuous singing was antiphonal in nature, based on the call and response reminiscent of Patrick’s vision, but also practiced by St. Martin’s houses in Gaul. Many of these psalms and hymns were later written down in the Antiphonary of Bangor which came to reside in Colombanus’ monastery at Bobbio, Italy.
The Bangor Missionaries
The ascetic life of prayer and fasting was the attraction of Bangor. However, as time progressed, Bangor also became a famed seat of learning and education. There was a saying in Europe at the time that if a man knew Greek he was bound to be an Irishman, largely due to the influence of Bangor. The monastery further became a missions-sending community. Even to this day, missionary societies are based in the town. Bangor monks appear throughout medieval literature as a force for good.
In 580 AD, a Bangor monk named Mirin took Christianity to Paisley, where he died “full of miracles and holiness.” In 590, the fiery Colombanus, one of Comgall’s leaders, set out from Bangor with twelve other brothers, including Gall who planted monasteries throughout Switzerland. In Burgundy he established a severe monastic rule at Luxeil which mirrored that of Bangor. From there he went to Bobbio in Italy and established the house which became one of the largest and finest monasteries in Europe. Colombanus died in 615, but by 700 AD, one hundred additional monasteries had been planted throughout France, Germany, and Switzerland. Other famed missionary monks who went out from Bangor include Molua, Findchua, and Luanus.
The End of Greatness
The greatness of Bangor came to a close in 824 with raids from the marauding Vikings; in one raid alone, 900 monks were slaughtered. Although the twelfth century saw a resurrection of the fire of Comgall initiated by Malachy (a close friend of Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote The Life of St. Malachy), it unfortunately never had the same impact as the early Celtic firebrands who held back the tide of darkness and societal collapse by bringing God to a broken generation.
In the ninth and tenth centuries, Viking raiders and settlers were forging a violent new way of life in Europe. Feudalism was taking root and the monastic way of life was shaken—not only by the physical attacks that Bangor experienced, but by the consequences of the raids, when many houses were subject to the whims of local chieftains. In reaction to this movement, reform came about in several ways, one arguably being the most crucial reforming movement in the Western Church: the Cluniac order.
In 910, William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, founded the monastery at Cluny under the auspices of Abbot Berno, instituting a stricter form of the Benedictine rule. William endowed the abbey with resources from his entire domain, but more importantly gave the abbey freedom in two regards. Due to the financial endowment, the abbey was committed to increased prayer and perpetual praise—in other words, laus perennis. Its autonomy from secular leadership was also important as the abbey was directly accountable to the church in Rome.
The second abbot, Odo, took over in 926. According to C. H. Lawrence, he was “a living embodiment of the Benedictine ideal.” His reforming zeal meant that the influence of the monastery at Cluny expanded widely during his leadership. Known for its independence, hospitality and alms giving, Cluny significantly departed from the Benedictine rule, removing manual labor from a monk’s day and replacing it with increased prayer. The number of monastic houses which looked to Cluny as their motherhouse increased greatly during this period, and the influence of the house spread all over Europe.
Cluny reached the zenith of its power and influence in the twelfth century; it commanded 314 monasteries all over Europe, second only to Rome in terms of importance in the Christian world. It became a seat of learning, training no less than four popes. The fast-growing community at Cluny necessitated a great need for buildings. In 1089, the abbey at Cluny began construction under Hugh, the sixth abbot. It was finished by 1132 and was considered to be one of the wonders of the Middle Ages. More than 555 feet in length, it was the largest building in Europe until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome during the sixteenth century. Consisting of five naves, a narthex (ante-church), several towers, and the conventual buildings, it covered an area of twenty-five acres. However, even before these great building projects, it is interesting to note that the decline in spirituality led to the ultimate demise of Cluny’s influence.
Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians
Zinzendorf’s Early Years
The Reformation of the sixteenth century saw much-needed reform enter the European church, which also caused the closing of many monasteries that had become spiritually dead. The next great champion of 24/7 prayer would not appear until the start of the eighteenth century—Count Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf.
Zinzendorf was born in 1700 to an aristocratic but pious family. His father died when he was only six weeks old. The young boy was therefore brought up by his grandmother, a well-known leader of the Pietist movement and friendly with the established leader of the Pietists and young Zinzendorf’s godfather, Phillipp Spener. Growing up in the midst of such passion for Jesus, Zinzendorf speaks of his early childhood as a time of great piety: “In my fourth year I began to seek God earnestly, and determined to become a true servant of Jesus Christ.”
From the age of ten, Zinzendorf was tutored at the Pietist school of Halle under the watchful eye of Augustus Francke, another leader of the Pietists. There he formed a school club which lasted all his life, The Honourable Order of the Mustard Seed. After several years at Halle, Zinzendorf’s uncle considered the young count too much of a Pietist and had him sent to Wittenberg to learn jurisprudence, so that he might be prepared for court life. Soon the young count was accepted in various circles of society in Europe. He kept these connections for the rest of his life, although his position in the Dresden Court and future plans for Saxon court life as Secretary of State would not be fulfilled.