A thematic analysis of the manuscripts which were read, copied and written by the monks, the paper raises the issue of education and knowledge amongst the members of the Greek Catholic congregation of the Basilians of al-Šuwayr (Mount Lebanon) during the 18th century, a time in which the order constituted an intellectual centre in Syria, although its influence remained mainly restricted to the own communiy. Despite all efforts the level of knowledge remained—compared with European standards—low. But the monks nevertheless developed a basic attitude, which was important for the introduction of modernity to the Arab world in the 19th century. They had broad interests beyond the narrow limits of their own religion and did not assume from the start a disapproving attitude towards the knowledge and inventions of the West. These were decisive preconditions for a process of learning that had become imperative if the Orient wanted to close the quickly widening scientific gap between East and West.