February 22nd, 1983, Serial No. 00868

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Monastic Spirituality Set 10 of 12




The question basically, what is a monk, and so we're going to take a kind of roundabout
and sometimes direct question answering this question, and then we have to look at some
history, and we have to look at some of the answers that have been suggested to this question.
It's not something that's surprising.
It's a very simple thing.
It's the essence.
It's kind of the essence of simplicity, the monastic vocation, but it's not simple to
define it.
Monasticism, this particular thing, I'm definition.
Like many other simple things, the things which have a unity and a power of their own,
a being of their own, they can't be described in a few words or defined in a few words.
Because remember, a definition is usually specifying something in terms of something
else, isn't it?
When something has a very strong reality of its own, it's not its definition that you
know it by, and its definition is secondary, and maybe rather difficult, because the definition
doesn't come right out of the thing.
That is, what distinguishes it from other things, or what puts it into a framework?
It's what comes out of the thing itself that makes it known, that expresses it.
And this is typical of spiritual reality, and hence it's true also of monasticism.
So the definition doesn't come so easy.
But as we try to define it, we get different models, and we also locate it among other
So what may seem like a kind of head trick, an intellectual or academic exercise, really
helps us to understand it.
And we'll find that it helps us later on as well, when we have to make certain decisions
about life.
And we wonder whether we're being faithful, or whether we're being unfaithful.
Whether we're being monks, whether we're being good Christians, if we have a conflict
between the two, and so on.
And what does monasticism have to do with being human?
There was a time when you didn't have to worry about these things, but today you have
to worry.
I remember we took that introduction to the book Consider Your Call, and went through
the two questions that he asked.
The first question, whether monasticism is purely and uniquely and originally Christian,
and whether Christian monasticism can be considered as completely the thing in itself, or whether
monasticism exists before Christianity as a kind of general movement in various places
in the world, and that Christianity specifies it somehow, picks it up and makes it unique.
And the option of the author is that the second is true.
Second question, which is primary?
The individual or the community?
The reality of the individual monk and his vocation, or the reality of the community
of monks?
You find different answers to these two, and in fact they sort themselves out a little
bit according to that first question.
The Christian response is more likely the monastic community, but by no means always.
By no means always.
You find somebody like Fourier very often opting for the individual monk and his vocation.
And we don't have to answer that question in terms of a clear priority.
In the end we have to keep closing it side by side, but we do have to understand how
to do that, and when they are true and when they're not true.
There's this third question here, which he raises on page five.
That of the relationship between monastic life and the various forms of religious life that
are found in the Church of the West.
We should go into this a little bit.
Piper goes into it rather thoroughly, you'll notice.
He says, it may not be wise to attempt to demarcate monasticism so as clearly to differentiate
it from these other forms of religious life, because then we're trying to sort of build
a castle for ourselves, which in some way we're trying to prove our uniqueness.
At that time we're kind of nervously trying to patch up an identity for ourselves.
As a matter of fact, the distinction between monasticism and the other forms is a little
hard to find, because, as he points out, they originate from monastic life.
It's like trying to distinguish the trunk from the branches, something like that.
They're not two different trees.
And the branches have more or less of the trunk in them, sometimes depending on antiquity,
always depending on monasticism.
Because, in fact, all types of Christian religious life in the West are in some way developments
from the monastic idea.
And here you find the problem of the scholastic framework for understanding monasticism.
Because in the 13th century, the religious life was understood in terms of
a kind of scholastic point of view, which means with a certain philosophy in it,
which was not originally in monasticism, and was difficult to fit into it.
And it's this thing about the genus and the species.
To consider religious life as being a general category, and then monasticism as being a
particular category, it's okay, but it doesn't express the true spirit of monasticism.
So you have to complement it with something else.
And you'll notice that Piper is wrestling with the same thing in his first two chapters.
Monasticism which arose in response to no specific apostolic challenge.
What was the challenge in response to which monasticism arose?
Well, it depends on your point of view, but usually they express it as the challenge of
a kind of life, the challenge to live an authentic life in the face of things that were compromising
the authenticity of Christian life.
When the world made peace with the church, the church made peace with the world, or whatever.
It shares with various forms of religious life the role of witnessing to the eschatological
tension of the church, and so on.
But it also has its own ways of realizing and signifying the church's mystery, especially
in its power to constitute, through the close Christian fellowship of the monastery, hospitality,
a sign of the koinonia of early Christianity.
And he goes on with that.
And there he's opted for his second, the community view of Christianity.
That's how he gives his witness.
He would also say that he gives his witness as a witness to interiority, or to holiness.
He says, today, it should not be a problem that monasticism does not find itself markedly
different from other institutions in the church that are not highly specialized.
That can send a shudder up your spine when you hit the word institution.
If monasticism becomes one institution in the same block that all these other institutions
have, it's kind of deadening language.
So, at a certain point here, we find that our anxiety wants to express itself in distinguishing
the spirit of monasticism from this institutional model that it can be given, as if the invisible
community, or as if the institution, were the key factor in monasticism.
Whereas, as we've seen, it can be suggested that monasticism arises along another line
in the church.
That is, that its core is somehow on the intuitive level, on the level of charism or spirit,
rather than on that of institutional morality.
Without opposing the two too much, it's only that there's a polarity in the church in
which monasticism has a very important role.
And when that polarity disappears, or is suppressed in favor of one element, then monasticism
too tends to lose its position, tends to disappear, to get squeezed out, or to forget even what
it is, and turn into something else, turn into something more acceptable.
This discovery need not point to any crisis of identity.
It may suggest that the meaning of monasticism is to be sought in the center, rather than
on the periphery of the church's life.
Okay, that's good.
When he says that, that rings a bell.
It may at least ring a bell.
I read Panicard's, I think.
Panicard defines it in that way.
We'll see later what we mean by the center and the periphery.
The center is life, life and simply life.
The periphery is life plus something, life plus some function, life plus some special
job, whether it be teaching, preaching, aspiring, whatever kind of ministry.
All of us have some of that plus, but monasticism keeps returning.
When it knows itself, it keeps returning to that center.
It keeps returning to the simplicity of life itself.
And what we mean by life itself has to be left to emerge.
Then he goes on later in a kind of Merton-esque paragraph, talking about how the monk is not
for anything.
The monk is not in search of any immediately demonstrable relevance.
He is not for anything.
And that refers to the center.
The center isn't for anything else.
On the other hand, you can say the center is for everything, but the center exists not
in function of something else.
That's another way of putting it.
See, we can get our words from various angles and fit it in various ways.
Livelihood can mean how you make a living, but that's how you earn a living.
It does for most people.
It can mean lifestyle.
Now, see, somebody's vocation may be to serve.
Somebody may have a vocation to serve the poor in some way.
So it's hard to distinguish vocation from lifestyle, in that sense, or from function
for some people.
It depends on what you mean by livelihood.
I think you mean lifestyle.
Oh, I see what you mean.
Okay, we're talking mostly about people who are without poverty, so they don't directly
make their own lives.
They don't directly support themselves.
That is by the kind of common sense.
Of course, the monks should.
But this doesn't focus directly on that, on poverty and self-support.
About that theme of the religious life and what that's all about, let's go back and
look at Pfeiffer to try to get that straight.
You have to look into history to understand this, because otherwise, not looking at it
historically, you can understand more or less the way that the various kinds of religious
life relate to one another.
Now remember, religious life is a legal or juridical term, an official church term, a
canonical term, referring to forms of life in which people make profession, they make
vows to the poverty-testing, in our view, since we have a juridical council.
So this is a very specific thing.
So religious life has a broad meaning, and then it has this very specific meaning, and
that's what we're using here.
So it's important to realize that, otherwise it gets very confusing.
See, Pfeiffer starts out his first chapter talking about religious life.
I didn't put that on the reading list, but it's good to read it.
You'll find it kind of, maybe kind of hard to read, because of the way he approaches
it, talking in terms of means towards perfection and so on.
The language sort of tends to grind to a halt.
Somebody described it as being bland, but that's what John says.
That's, you know, the advice of the author of this book, but it's something else that
gets in there.
You notice there's an alien vocabulary in some way.
Anyway, we'll wrestle with that later.
It's a question of a biblical point of view, or a traditional point of view.
Monasticism is one form of religious life.
Okay, there you are.
Now, you wouldn't have said that, maybe, in the 6th century.
Maybe you would.
There might have been still ascetics and virgins living in town, and so you'd say that they
were another form of religious life.
They were the earliest religious people.
They were the pre-monk monks, who simply lived to celebrate life, without going out and separating
themselves from society.
So you can say, in that way, that religious life existed before monastic life.
I mean, they didn't make vows.
No, they didn't make the three vows.
There are many other forms in the Church which have never ceased to affect monks.
There's a word you just said, I'm really aware of it.
There is good, good Catholic, and an interior direction, an interior path, an interior impossibility
of living that way.
I would just see the way that person is living, and try to limit it.
So that's how the Holy Spirit works.
And then the vows come afterwards, you're right.
And the first one, probably, is celibacy.
Because the first choice, really, and the first solitude, even, the first grain or seed
of monasticism, is living an unmarried life, in which you're not totally immersed in human
life, the way you are, living with another person, with family and everything.
So that's the first thing that detaches you from society, and frees you from that.
It's instinctual.
And then maybe poverty would come along.
And then finally, obedience.
Because you can't really have obedience until you have somebody to obey.
Which implies that there's some form of society developing, you know, for this form of life.
So it begins to be some kind of institution when obedience crops up.
And the first form of obedience, then, and now we're getting monasticism, properly speaking,
is to an Abba, is to a spiritual father.
That kind of total thing, and not merely external.
Okay, so, that's true.
What we really need to find is a real sense of the tradition, a real sense of history,
so that we feel, and sort of feel along the line of the historical development,
since we know what we're talking about all the time.
Because otherwise you slide into abstractions.
And then we make judgments according to these abstractions.
We're not really judging.
It's difficult to get that historical feeling, but it's really familiar.
If we wish to situate monasticism in the life of the Church, therefore,
we must begin by examining the concept of religious life in general,
and which monasticism is which.
Now see, the trouble with this is, it's a cross-section.
You take, you sort of freeze it at a particular stage in history,
and then you chop it laterally, and you look at it all side-by-side,
whereas there's a historical development behind it.
And he gets into that historical development in the second chapter,
but he takes the cross-section, and a contemporary cross-section in the first chapter,
just photographs it, a still photograph, and analyzes it.
So it doesn't quite bring the realities out.
And it's much more abstract in the first chapter than abstract theology.
In the second chapter, he gets to a historical treatment,
but here he follows it.
All forms see the idea of religious life in general as a genus,
and monasticism as a species within it.
All forms of religious life have this in common,
that they constitute a means of achieving supernatural perfection
through the practice of the evangelical council.
Now some people may be turned on by the language,
and other people will be turned off by the language.
A means of achieving supernatural perfection through the practice of the evangelical councils.
You see what's happened to the scripture here,
you see what's happened to the New Testament,
when it turns into that kind of statement.
Now that's legitimate, you see, because we need to understand these things.
And there's a time when we have to boil things down into that kind of language.
But at the same time, something happens that takes the life out of the...
that takes the impulse of life out of the gospel words of the Lord.
When perfection and the councils, as they are,
begin to be abstracted from their context,
and abstracted from that direct, I am now relationship with the Lord,
when he calls the person, as it is in gospel.
And abstracted, and then put into a logical statement at that time,
so that these things are means towards a perfection.
Now it's as if you were making a plan to do something else.
So you know what your goal is.
The goal is a circumscribed program.
You know what you're aiming at. That's perfection.
I know what that is.
And these are the means I'm going to take.
There's something that depersonalizes it here.
I should not comment on that too much,
but after a while you get this kind of feeling.
We need to develop also a taste for the kind of...
a taste for the tradition, in a sense,
the way that it knows things,
biblically and monastically,
and then also this other kind of language.
The notion of perfection, for instance,
we've got to be very careful with that.
Even the notion of supernatural,
those words are loaded,
and we have to be very careful about what we mean by them,
otherwise they can become kind of lethal,
and you don't know what you're talking about.
Perfectionism is very dynamic,
it produces a lot of testosterone.
Context is very important.
We get the idea of a kind of static perfection,
like a statue,
and that happens without a religion.
Okay, so now he's going to look at the religious life in general.
Let's go to page 7.
The nature of religious life.
First of all, he's been talking about these other notions.
He's been talking about the Church and perfection and so on.
Now he focuses in on the religious life.
The purpose of the religious is the same as that of every Christian,
to glorify God by union with Christ and his members,
and as perfect a charity as possible.
Now that's loaded with theology,
and that that's the goal of Christian life,
the meaning of Christian life,
is to glorify God by perfect charity and by His union.
But there's something about it,
something about the language once again,
even though these are the key words,
the way that it's expressed gets so...
it dies on, it loses its life,
when it's expressed with that kind of methodical logic.
Methodical logic.
Religious profession is nothing more than Christian profession,
a baptismal profession, made perfect.
And then the other trouble is that when perfection,
which costs your blood,
is made to sound that methodical,
when it sounds like...
I don't know...
It's made deceptively simple.
Nothing more than Christian profession.
Well, it's admirably clear and simple,
but the trouble is when you say it,
you may never have seen it.
You may not...
You can have a total ignorance of what's being spoken of,
you know, and taught that way.
Anyhow, it's a detachment of language from the reality.
That's what bothers us.
And yet the right things are being said.
It's a strange thing.
He's saying all the necessary things,
but it gets a little too remote from the reality.
A wholehearted renewal of the promises
which all Christians make at baptism.
Okay, the connection with baptism,
and without another sacrament.
What differentiates religious from other Christian...
Now, these are the official religions,
okay, who make the vows.
It's not their ultimate purpose, okay,
rather than special function and particular means.
And actually, we really need to think about this thing
when we're working out our own vocation.
This logic is...
is useful.
The Gospels reveal that besides the ordinary way of following Christ,
there is a special and more perfect way.
Now, this is a very difficult thing, actually.
there's a more perfect way,
and yet, what do you do to other people
when you talk about that more perfect way?
As soon as that's been said,
everybody who is not a religious is on an inferior level,
and somehow his whole life is under a kind of shadow of inferiority.
It's very difficult to express this,
because you've got to say two things at once
which seem to contradict one another.
And one is that there's a call to a life
which is more perfect than the ordinary life, let us say,
in which he's led in an intimacy with Jesus as a special vocation.
The second is that everybody's called,
and everybody somehow has that intimacy with Christ open to them.
Everybody has perfection somehow within their reach.
Otherwise, why would somebody exist?
It's very difficult to get those two things,
to express those two things,
especially if you're talking about two kinds of people
who are religious or not.
As soon as you set up a theology of a religious life,
it becomes ambiguous.
It's a difficulty in working this way.
When we talk about our own vocation,
then we don't have any problems,
but as soon as we try to generalize it...
...from here on out, you're on your own.
Oh, I see what you mean.
Well, yeah, that's implicit,
that there's a scale of perfection, OK?
There's absolutely perfect,
and then there's not perfect at all,
and then there are all these intermediate grades.
And what would that be?
Well, for him it would be a question of charity, simply.
But as soon as you set it up that way,
then you may find that somebody in the world
has more charity than religious A over here,
or religious B over here, and so on and so on.
So, to distinguish the way which really is more perfect,
and is the matter of an individual call,
it can't really be generalized and structured in any way,
because God's grace doesn't lend itself
to sort of being hung up that way.
As if you could hang up these hooks at various levels,
and have grace A, grace B, and so on.
Because grace is a very personal thing,
and a very difficult thing to get hold of.
So these things have to be said,
because as soon as you have religious life in the Church,
you have to try to put it into a structure.
But the structure cannot handle the reality.
That's the trouble, OK?
It's only a kind of approximation.
I'm pointing out these obvious problems.
We don't need to keep talking about it,
because it gets very annoying to talk about it.
But we should be aware of it.
I think of a partial solution,
or a mystical solution,
in emphasizing the word way,
and people in a more perfect way,
perfect in the sense that their factors are thoroughly made.
Instead of it being a way of life for more perfect people,
or a way of life that even makes more perfect people,
there's just a way of life that,
because of the way it's made up,
it actually gets rid of some of the inconveniences
that might stand in the way,
which would be more likely to save people.
It's true.
You can say it's a shortcut,
but even if it's a shortcut,
the fellow who takes the longer road may be further ahead,
may be closer to the goal than the one who's taking the shortcut.
It's like that.
The only trouble there is that you still have the problem
that someone may actually be called to go on that other path.
If we say it's a more perfect way,
that presumes that people can stand there, sort of,
and choose their way.
But is it a more perfect way for me?
If the vocation is a question of the Lord calling me
to go by a particular way, you see,
then it's not a more perfect way for me.
The only perfect way for me is my way,
the way that He's given to me.
So that problem is still there.
The problem of getting between the general point of view
and the individual and personal point of view.
And yet...
No, you can't.
But we have to be aware of it.
We've got to be aware of it.
And then we can take this language as it stands,
and not be troubled by it.
So, and he gets into that,
because when Christ summoned disciples
to live in greater intimacy with Him
by leaving all things in following and obedience,
the difficulty gets to be when that
very specific call becomes generalized
and becomes institutionalized,
and then it's treated in a kind of rational fashion.
It's hard to come away with.
It just runs right out of the language.
And I'm held still.
And then, see, this is the perfection thing.
To the man who asked what was wanting to him
in order to be perfect,
the Lord replied,
if you will be perfect,
go so that you may give to the poor and come home.
the biblical words,
the New Testament words,
are loaded with power.
And also,
you can meditate upon them for years,
you know,
in order to see what they mean.
So it's very difficult,
in a few abstract ways,
to catch up.
But that's very clearly poverty.
So you get the distinction
between the councils and the commandments.
The commandments are for everybody,
and the councils are for some.
And at a certain time in the church
there grew up this idea that
the councils are the more perfect way.
And therefore,
that somehow the state of the councils,
the state of the religious life,
is a better way,
a better state,
than the ordinary state.
And that therefore,
some people are called to a higher perfection
than other people.
See, that crept in at a certain point.
Now, that's no longer a problem.
People no longer believe that.
I don't think they do anyway.
But you see the difficulty with that.
If you generalize the nationality of councils
and create a state of them.
But notice,
vocation comes from a verb,
to call.
It's a very dynamic,
active, interpersonal,
interior thing.
Similarly with council.
A council,
vocation is a calling by Jesus,
a calling by Christ.
Council, similarly,
is a counsel of Christ,
which is given to an individual.
When you take it out of that interpersonal context,
you take it out of that intimate context,
where he's calling the rich young man,
or whatever,
or calling me, OK?
Then it's difficult to handle,
with other language.
They're both very personal,
personal things.
There are a number of stories like this.
Callas does work,
collected several and put them in an article.
There's a story where
this fellow's been laboring
for 60 years in the desert,
and he says,
who's greater than I am?
And the Lord shows him a vision and says,
go to town.
So he goes to town,
there's some doctor.
He's married.
He's living with his wife,
and his brother and sister.
They have to bring that principle up,
even though so much of the other literature
doesn't do it.
Those are a correct tip to the angel,
comes in the theology.
The immediate disciples of Christ
who accepted his call
to a more perfect life
were the first religious of the Church.
And then he speaks of the interior cause.
Religious life is imitation of Christ.
Here we go.
Down on the bottom of nine.
Religious life is consecration.
The term religious
for a person who publicly consecrates himself
to the observance of the Councils
is not entirely satisfactory.
Leaves other people in the shade,
as does the national way of perfection.
Then he distinguishes two senses
of the term religious.
Sometimes it's included
both monks and the others,
sometimes only the others.
The use of the Council,
as it's used by Christ,
is to designate all those
who publicly profess the observance
of the evangelical Councils.
A further consecration to divine service,
then we refer to him
in the Consecration of Baptism.
Then there's a quote
from Roman Gentium
up on the top of the left.
The Councils are a divine gift
which the Church received from its Lord
and which it will always observe
with the help of his grace.
Church authority, the Councils,
build on them stable forms of living.
And then this idea of the tree.
Various forms of solitary and community life,
as if they were the trunk of the tree
or the root of the trees
in the New Testament.
The trunk could be those forms
which are basically
the forms of solitary and community life
without speaking of ministry or function.
As well as various religious families
have branched out
in a marvelous and wonderful way.
And it's divine that you can see.
And you feel in all of this
the tension between
that expression
to build on the Councils
stable forms of living.
So you take the personal qualities
as a man construct
an institution based on
as difficult.
Working between the interior and exterior
is a difficult task for the Church.
Now we can go on a little bit
to Piper page 29
and pick up the same subject.
I invite you to read
the pages in between
in Piper.
The first chapter.
On 29 he picks up this there.
While it's true that monasticism
is one form of religious life
this may sound like it's
developed out of a more general form
of religious life.
The contrary is true.
Monasticism is the more general form
of religious life.
And it still is in the Eastern Church.
Where a lot of the things that religious do
that the active religious do
are done by monks.
Including the officials.
Without making that distinction.
Historically monasticism came first
and for many centuries was the only form
of religious life in the Church.
The only form of institutionalized
religious life perhaps.
There may have been a lot of people
doing a lot of things
outside of the monastic
circle of institutions.
But they didn't have names.
While in the Eastern Church
it's remained the only form
under the present day.
Many other types of religious institutions
have grown up in the West
in some regions.
It's a very interesting contrast
between the Eastern Church
that's the Orthodox Church
and the Western Church
the Catholic Church in this respect.
Which I've never seen anybody
put it exactly into words.
But what is it that
things, for instance here,
things don't differentiate
and set themselves
in the Eastern Church
the way they do in the Western Church.
They tend to remain there.
To keep their original form.
Which is both a limitation
and a freedom.
It's both a limitation and a freedom.
They tend not to go as far.
They stay closer to home base.
They stay closer to one another.
In a kind of pluralism exchange.
But they also remain confined.
The same thing.
The simplicity remains
but also the kind of timidity
to reach out as far.
Whereas the Western Church
reaches out further,
but then gets set
into these differentiations
so that it loses touch with the group.
It loses touch with the center.
See this is what happens
in the active religious life.
It grows out of monasticism.
It branches way out.
There's all kinds of
audacious things.
All kinds of adventurous things.
All kinds of service
and new initiatives
in the Western Church.
But then it gets set into those things
because each of those initiatives
becomes a juridical thing.
It becomes a new congregation.
And then suddenly
all the emphasis,
all the life is out there
in the branch
and it no longer
has any touch
with the center of it.
And then it tends to erode it.
So today this is the crisis
in a number of
active religious congregations.
Notice the different history
of the East and the West.
Because the historical experiences
of the East and the West
differentiate them.
First of all,
monasticism starts at the East
and in the East
you have much more
of an ancient culture
and of a high civilization,
a high culture,
the Hellenic culture,
the Greek culture
than you do in the West.
So the West is still largely
barbaric or uncivilized
in the eyes of the East at least,
in the eyes of the Greeks.
So monasticism
doesn't start absolutely
within that culture thing
but it sort of
it sort of blossoms there in a way.
And then it comes West.
So it brings with it somehow
a kind of interiorization
of that Eastern civilization,
that Eastern culture,
a whole bunch of things
that the West doesn't have yet.
And so as Christianity comes
from East to West,
so monasticism comes
from East to West.
So also a certain culture
comes from East to West
and monasticism tends to become
the custodian of the other two.
Because it has a more durable
a more durable shape
than some of the other
church institutions.
Even sometimes,
the church institutions outlast
the social institutions sometimes
and the monastic institutions
have a particular durability
to them sometimes.
And so they tend to
preserve the rest of it
and it becomes the teachers
also of civilization,
the civilizers of the Western world.
But the same thing
is not true in the Eastern world.
Because the Eastern world
already had its culture.
Monasticism had a different role.
It was very subtle
from my current understanding.
And then later on
you get this persecution
in the East,
this kind of suppression
under Islam,
under the Saracens.
And then in our times,
even since the Russian Revolution,
there's a whole different
thing that's happening.
Whereas the West
has always opened out
and gone further out
into the world
with a kind of freedom,
even though it reverses.
The East is subdued.
It's suppressed
under this thing.
It's almost like
the toothpaste being
squeezed out of a tooth
in the rest of the world.
It's a horrible thing.
Okay, monasticism
has always been
regarded as a distinct
form of life.
It's only in recent times
that monks have been
juridically assimilated
to other religions.
Also, this happens
take in the United States
where the monks
were some of the first
of much of our country.
If they had Benedictines
coming over,
like in the Middle West,
and being missionaries,
in the States,
then they really
get set into that pattern.
And the Dominicans
or the Franciscans
come along,
or the Jesuits
or the Oratory
or the Brethren,
and they're not that different.
You see, they're not that different
at that point,
because they're all
equally cut off
from their roots.
They're all equally
cut off, distant
from the monasticism.
The difference being,
the monks live more
in community,
but then they have
to be much more
disciplined in how
to work with them,
so they're kind of left
to their own devices.
So it's easy for that
to happen
in certain places.
Obscures the distinctive
features of the monastic order,
so you have to try
to find those.
But notice that
this distinctive thing
of monasticism
is not so much
in external features,
it's in the spirit,
it's in the heart of it,
the taste of it,
the experience of it,
and that's what we have
to try to get into.
It's not as if we're living,
we're looking at it
from outside,
we're trying to live it
and taste it as we live it,
and to get a sense
of our own identity,
our own charisma,
to get a sense
of the experience
of our own life,
and of our own roots.
So the external features
are helpful in that way,
but they're only kind of
growth markers
Survival of the patristic period.
The first thing
that strikes you
is antiquity.
Uninterrupted tradition
which goes back
to the early centuries
of the church.
At least it claims to,
although monastic tradition
can get pretty much
cut off from
that patristic time,
but certain things
will always be kept.
For instance,
things like the divine office
are the last ones to go,
and will tend to,
also in the church outside,
and will tend to preserve
that patristic heritage.
Here's a quote
from a French monk.
I can't find it.
Maybe I forgot
to bring it.
What he says is, anyway,
this is a part
of this presentation.
It is a fact,
though perhaps
a discouraging one,
that everything
concerning the essence
of monasticism
was said in the first
two or three monastic centuries,
if not in the first alone.
How do you like that?
There's nothing left
to say about monasticism.
Is that true?
That's sort of
what Pfeiffer is saying.
Pfeiffer is not saying
in such an absolute way.
Nothing left to say
about the essence
of monasticism.
I can't find it.
I think that maybe
is easier to live with.
What he said
is easier to live with
than what he said.
It's given once and it's there, but you never understand it, okay?
So you can talk about it all your life, but you can never really express what's in it.
So you can say that the earliest monks were fully monks, they fully lived the essence
of monastic life, and in doing that, the expressions of that life which they said, the things that
they said, the way that their own vocation spoke as they spoke, said everything, okay?
At the same time, that doesn't mean that monasticism is static and that there can be nothing in
it, or even that the essence of it has been perfectly defined, okay, or in some way put
out in clear language.
They spoke from the essence, but they didn't define the essence, because they didn't think
about it in that way.
And there can always be further manifestation of that essence, just as there can always
be further manifestations of the essence of Christianity in the New Testament.
Can you say, for instance, how would you like the statement to, I'll just replace the word,
it is a fact of perhaps a discouraging one, that everything concerning the essence of
Christianity was said in the New Testament times, how would you like that statement?
Because it's the same thing, right?
It's the same thing, right?
It changes.
Well, the essence, I find the essence that, part of the seed which is not available to
the disciple, the knowledge in the seed, and the punishment is the spirit going back to
the seed.
Is there a presupposition in that word, essence?
Is it?
Does essence have a static sound to it, such as you could sort of flatten out Christianity
in monasticism, take a photograph of it, and you've got it, and it's not going to, it's
not going to move on.
Does essence seem to say that?
Well, I mean, for a lot of people it would.
Essence is how we've got it.
What's one feature in the essence of monasticism that can, that has to stand alongside the
dynamism, the very dynamism which is the essence of Christianity, the essence of monasticism,
both of them are moves, both of them are movements of the spirit, are verbs almost.
You could say that Christianity is a verb and monasticism is a verb.
So, this kind of statement can suggest that it's all been flattened out there, that it's
all been sort of defined and described and so on, and even structured in a way that all
you have to do is follow along that line.
So, it could take you away from that living spirit that's within you.
Yet, it's right at the same time.
It's right on the level of the word, on the level of expression.
It's perfectly true that in the New Testament the whole essence of Christianity is expressed,
and yet that other dimension has got to be expressed.
And, of course, that's what you find when you go back to the New Testament, you read
the Acts of the Apostles, what you find leaping out at you is the dynamic quality of Christianity,
the fact that it's not a noun, it's a verb.
And, in fact, if you talk about essence, look out because the essence is moving.
The essence is alive.
The essence is life itself, okay?
So, it's an essence which is life.
So, there's a whole other dimension that emerges out of there if you kind of look hard at that
kind of statement.
And, that's the kind of thing, it's good to take something like that and think about it,
but you can't hustle with it until you're satisfied.
What you were saying, sir, is that Christianity is being depleted.
It's not just that.
It's still growing.
That's right.
It's still growing.
That's right.
And, very little of it may have been visible.
It may have been seen.
Now, we may only have a little bit of an inkling as to what it really is, as to its real essence.
And, the other thing is, I think, what you were pointing to, the essence may be very invisible.
It may be very...
See, this gives the sort of impression that it was all said, it's all laid out there,
and it's all in view.
Whereas, it may be very difficult, actually, to find the essence.
It may require a transformation in us or something like that.
And, the fact that only gradually, only gradually, does the essence become fully manifest.
Just like the essence of a plant only becomes the intelligent one,
as to two individuals, only becomes manifest as the plant reaches its fullness.
It reaches its full roundness, its full growth.
And, so it is with the church.
In monasticism, it's a little different.
Also, you can say that there is the Christian who has reached his perfection,
even if the whole church hasn't.
So, it gets complex.
And, you see, you see the problem to it.
This kind of statement, which is a wonderful statement, wonderfully helpful,
just like the statement of the fullness of revelation in the New Testament times.
And, the Bible, you point out that it was very good, and it seems good.
Just like there's an initial revelation in monasticism,
and then there's this development afterwards.
And, strangely, in the development afterwards,
monasticism very often seems to lose the initial...
Well, so does Christianity.
...very often seems to lose the power of the initial revelation.
That's a strange shape in Christianity, isn't it?
Also, in the foundation of religious orders,
the founder has this enormous grace, this enormous charisma,
and that's there at the beginning.
Usually, there's a golden age at the beginning,
and then things seem to become kind of static and go downhill.
Strange that there should be that shape, isn't it?
Rather than a kind of development,
like with other things you have,
someone starts having to develop,
because they're in that moment.
Sometimes it's because you're looking at the seed,
and all the light is concentrated in that one very visible seed at first.
The Bible of the religious life,
as it was conceived during the era of the great fathers of the Eastern and Western Church,
the word survival there makes your heart sink.
But the point is very important,
that somehow monasticism has a continuity
with the patristic age, with the age of the fathers.
In other words, at a certain point in the history of the Church,
a truth became evident,
a grace became manifest, became incarnate,
and that has remained substantially down to the present day.
And people are still called to the same life.
And that it somehow has something to do with the integrity of Christianity,
it has something to do with the fullness of Christianity,
before Christianity was fragmented and broken down.
It takes us back somehow into the root of Christianity,
which is the point.
Even though the strange thing is,
you don't see it in the first century or so,
in the first couple of centuries.
So, you say, well, it might seem like a museum piece,
but it's an inspiration,
so authentically Christian, it has an enduring value.
When you turn to the sources nowadays,
you see, that's one of the things,
at the time of Vatican III,
a very valuable thing.
The rediscovery of the fathers, the patristic movement.
Not because it's old,
because it's such an authentic expression of the essence of Christianity.
Notice the word essence conveys,
I mean, as we already know.
In such intimate contact with the sources of revelation,
and the monastic faith.
Pardon me if I spend a little time on this,
but these points are here, of course.
Enjoy a continuing validity,
because they incarnate the simplicity and authenticity
of the Christianity of the early centuries,
which had the genius of offering a synthetic view
of the pure teaching of the gospel.
And often, it was a life,
which was, as yet, unreflected about.
And then we find ourselves reflecting
on Infant Eden, in our time,
and somehow or other,
we find the simplicity to tell a little about it.
Unencumbered by the compartmentalization and tazimistry,
which grew up in later times,
the fragmentation, the separation,
and when we talk about the later religious orders,
we're talking about compartments, okay?
You've got a compartment of teaching,
a compartment of
missionary work,
a compartment of hospital work,
this and that.
And some people find their whole lives
somehow identified with that compartment.
It can be a real identity problem.
Monasticism is found in the New Testament
because it contains the very largest
religious movement of the time,
the sources of the Holy Truth.
And monasticism, of course,
has to find its own,
its own sources.
That's right, that's right.
That's what should distinguish.
See, monasticism has two radically different views on it.
Some people consider monasticism to be a relic
or a survival, but, you know,
a very surviving
of the
ancient time of the Church.
Other people consider it to be the spark
of life at the heart of the Church,
these two poles.
And actually, it goes all the way from one to the other.
You can find both.
Because of its oldness,
it can either be the survival of forms
in which, in structures,
in which the life has died out early,
but the structures endure,
like a fossil or like so many buildings
that have no life in them,
or bones or something.
Or it can be the actual, original spark of life
that life is at the end of.
You can find, this might have something to do with
people who have survived
the Christian monasticism
or waited for their life.
Could this go back into the prophetic spirit
of monasticism, where
when that prophetic spirit comes forward,
it's always those that
are going to attack
because it's too much of a reflection
of oneself.
Sometimes it's a secular Christianity
or secular Catholicism or a worldly Catholicism
which wants
for all kinds of mixed motives
to make itself one
with the world and doesn't want to do that
prophetic work.
In the sense that,
see, there's a sense about it too,
there's a tendency to,
for the Church to move out into the world,
like for the religious orders to move out into the world.
So you get this kind of thing happening.
You'll get a sister or a religious priest
come up to you and say,
well, we had a monastic novitiate,
you know, but finally we've gotten
beyond that now, we've gotten away from that
and we don't want to, we don't want to revive that again.
Fortunately, we've changed our form
formation now, so it's no longer monastic
because that's not appropriate for us.
That's a relatively past.
That was, that prayer and all that stuff.
And now what we're doing is we're
you know, we're
forming our people
exactly for the jobs they're going to be doing.
We're giving them a suitable formation
for the ministry that they'll be doing, okay?
So that we don't emphasize that separation from the world
and things like that, those monastic elements.
And with that, they push it away.
You see, they push it out of the picture.
And they do the same thing with monasticism
at the same time.
It's an interesting thing, you know,
because historically and archaeologically
it's fascinating.
But, you know,
it's not.
But, you know, why is it?
It's because sometimes those things were taught
and it didn't go away.
And so they send a shudder up their spine
when they remember that there's a novitiate
because sometimes it's taught with such
and lack of sense of
the interior of life.
So you can't blame people for that.
A lot of people, a number of religious people
would come to the monastic club
and say,
gee, I loved it for the first two years
but then they put me out
into the parish.
Didn't know who I was anymore.
Then he gets on to the
origins of monasticism
and the best reference,
the kind of most concise
solid and up-to-date reference to this now
is that R.B. 1980
in fact I've made a number
of notes here
in my old
highly annotated chapter of Pfeiffer
that chapter, so we'll pick that up later.
You'll find that every
element that Pfeiffer talks about
he talks about too
in the R.B. 1980 with more
recent information. So some things tend to
loom up more and some things
tend to disappear as they
do further research.
It's funny though
trying to understand something
that's 1600 years old
and every year they come up with new theories
about this.
I'm sure they can't make any difference
if they didn't know this up until yesterday
you know.
How important is it?
They seem to have been able to live it without knowing this.
Especially in biblical studies
you could get.
Yeah, yeah.
Remember that
preface to Malvin's Constitution
which follows the same line as this.
The origins of monasticism
are hard to find, as I've already
understood. There were these ascetics and virgins
who had not yet moved out of the
church community.
They looked back to the
primitive church of Jerusalem because certain things
just were natural, I think,
after Pentecost.
Prayer was natural.
Fasting was natural. Poverty was natural.
Chastity was natural.
Spontaneous. Not natural.
Spontaneous, you know, because you find
people just moved to that in October
the Holy Spirit. But it's still in the
community. Until something else happens
it sorts it out.
Sometimes I get the idea of drawing a tree
you know, I'm starting out as a primitive Christian
I'm starting out in the apostolic community
and I'm trying to describe all of the branches.
Now one of the
more important splits in the early ages, especially
for us, is the division
between Christianity and Christian asceticism
even, within the church
community and monastic
life, which branches off
at a certain point, okay, from the church community
that's what defines monasticism
it's a branch. We've been talking about
these other branches later on, later branches
which are the religious life, they appear
a thousand years later
but the monastic life was the first one that branches off
from the church community.
Now sometimes the branches have so much that
they turn into heresies, you know, they get split up
and monasticism remains
right close to the heart of the church
but separated from the community.
Okay, this was still
just the practice of asceticism
the essential feature which distinguished
the first monks from these ascetics was their
physical separation from the Christian community
then they became monks
Is that a posterior
In a way, I guess it is
except there was something that drove
them out into the desert, there was something that pushed
them away, and something created
a big
something created
a mountain, as it were, of monastic life
out of something which
before that would only be
an indistinct grouping
suddenly this great
big thing, because monasticism is a very
powerful, colossal phenomenon
in those centuries
so it's simply there
and it's there
at the same point that the separation
is there
and yet
we can't put our finger on just when
it's been there
The Vendee Globe
said, okay, then separation
from the world is the essential characteristic
of the Christian community
I think Aaron Jay said this
the one thing that suffices to make a monk
and that is separation from the world
and that's
another one of those statements which is very true
but which has to be thought about carefully
because, see, the danger of that kind of statement
is when you say this is what distinguishes the monk
is his separation from the world
therefore the monk is
separation from the world
or what he's about is separation
from the world, okay
that's what he's interested in, is separation from the world
you see the danger of that when you begin to translate
it into other terms
it changes from
his distinct
distinctive characteristic
to his specific characteristic
to his goal, his aim
and the essence of his life
and that's murderous
because nobody has the aim in life
of separation from the world
it's not enough
that kind of thing happens a lot in monasticism
it could be paradoxical
without losing
the value of that separation from the world
which is essential
okay, then it gets into those
hypotheses about the monastic
origin and you'll find those in the
R.B. 1980
in about six pages or even more
they've limited it
things like Qumran for instance
he gives a lot of space to Qumran
the Essenes and the possibility of there being
ancestries of the monks
but the more recent work seems to put a little more
on the shoulder
in fact I think the R.B. 1980 gives more attention to
this therapeutic
of the
Islamic monasticism
see the Protestants had a really
hard time explaining
monasticism, they tried about 150
different theories
and proved they didn't exist
but it was nothing but something else
that came to explain all of it
it was just a Greek adaptation of
something else
didn't quite do it
R.B. to the father
and to the son and to the holy spirit
and to the father