Opting out like a monk

Europe’s two most productive groups of scribes that written culture depended on were the slaves of the ancient period and the monks of the Middle Ages. Other individuals wrote, copied and disseminated books, but these two groups of dedicated writers, filing papyrus membranes and parchment leaves day in, day out, were responsible for pushing the letters forward, and the reason why the written word is the hallmark of the world we live in. 

But while slaves had not much of a say in this, monks were voluntary scribes. They chose to devote themselves to an embedded world ruled by the written word, and their vocation of professionals of the quill was a call that they deliberately and intentionally chose to answer. 

And it involved a great deal of opting out of other things. Opting out of the contractual constraints of the world, the terms, conditions and obligations of living in the saeculum. Although unprotected, theirs was the right to be forgotten, the right to die to this world in search of an alternative, the Kingdom of Heaven, the dominion of the Logos. 

Media vita in morte sunt. No social prefix required by the dauntless deselectors.

What those strong-fingered men and women signed up to was the scriptorium, the place where most of the writing was to be done for many centuries. While the ancient slaves had been forced to opt out of a life of freedom and civic liberties, the robed scribes of the middle period freely chose to bend over their freshly-scraped vellum, in self-sacrificial hope and self-imposed thraldom, ink mixed with the blood of their toil, a gift born out of the candlelit halls of their dusty old desks.

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