Monastic History

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Monastic History Class

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#set-monastic-history, Suppression


By the time I left off with the rather depressing scenario of the Napoleonic Depression, that wasn't the last depression, there are still more to come. Gradually, this movement toward secularization that was going on throughout the world continued to grow, and the parallel movement within that movement, within the monastic life, was that monasticism more and more became a goal of money-grabbers and political power-mongers,


so that they saw the monastery and monastery holdings, what was left of them, as loot and booty. And also they saw them, that is the monasteries, as places of degeneracy, and in many cases they were right. But what made the monasteries degenerate was the situation they had to go through because of political rulers, because of suppressions, because of repression, and because of the long-standing commendum abeth practice, you know what a commendum abeth is. Our own Fonte Avalana was under commendum for about 400 years, and it was only in the late 1700s that it finally got out of that, and it took its toll on the history of Fonte


Avalana. But that's just one of many, many communities that had to go through this business. The radical fringe of politics and culture at this time began to actively attack monasticism more and more. And so you'd see in old, what we would call newspapers and flyers, characters of the fat monk and the starving wraith next to him, the real poor, and all of this, you'd keep seeing this over and over again during these years as they worked up society against monasticism. And again, this is flowing from the Enlightenment and secularization, especially in Western and Central Europe. So as this goes on then, and after the Napoleonic suppressions, there were pockets of monks


here and there trying to live a monastic community life together. And some monsters even tried to reopen, especially in Italy and Spain, but they didn't get very far. In 1818, the suppression of all contemplative orders was decreed. This suppression business comes in and out of history in various countries, and it worked differently in different countries. In the year 1836, all the monasteries were closed again. In Bavaria, however, there was a bright spot at this time. King Ludwig, and it was King Ludwig the Mad, King Ludwig became a patron of the Benedictines because he felt that they would help him build up a great and prosperous Bavaria.


And so he wanted to found some monasteries. They had all been closed, and it didn't take long before people didn't remember what monasteries were really like when they were functioning. And he found two monks who were willing to begin monasticism in Bavaria for him, and they founded Mettenabbey, that's M-E-T-T-E-N. So that's where it begins, after the Napoleonic suppressions. They wouldn't take any novices in at that time because they were too poor to do so, they couldn't feed novices. And so Ludwig, because he wanted them to take novices in, started endowing the community, paying them money so that they could support novices. And novices were taken in, one of whom is Boniface Wimmer, whom we will see a little bit down the road. This is in Bavaria.


So in the year 1834, they opened a monastery in Augsburg called St. Stephens, and four years later they opened the Abbey of Scheyern. And then in subsequent years, every two or three years, they opened Velkenburg, some Boniface, Ottumbeuren, Ettal, this is a biggie, Ettal, and Plamstaden. These are the big names for this time in history. Some of them are still important abbeys. Ettal, Plamstaden, they date to 1900-1904. In France, there was no real reconstruction. The revolution did its number on all the orders, not just the monastic orders, but the monastic orders were severely hit. And it wasn't until the middle of the 1800s that we'll see monasticism start coming


back in France. A man named Prosper Beranger, you have his dates there, was born near the former priory called Solemne. And he became a priest, and then through his own research, liturgical research especially, he became convinced that the Roman liturgics and Roman customary would be much more appropriate than the Gallican use. So the ones that the French had, the French church as such, which usually is what he kept with Rome itself, had its own usage. And he felt that they should go back to the Roman usage, and he became very active in


promoting this and became known as the anti-Gallican. And in the year 1831, the property where Solemne had existed as a priory came up for sale, and he bought it with the help of some rich lay folk around and the bishop of the area. And he decided the next year, along with six companions, to start living the monastic lives. They started living a conventional life together in the monastery. And four years later, they took the Benedictine habit. So this is obviously a gradual thing. And the following year, they all went to Rome and they professed as Benedictine monks in Rome under the Pope. And they had some constitutions that they had written up, and these were approved, and


Solemne was raised to an abbey status by Pope Gregory XVI. Does that ring a bell? Gregory XVI. Mauro Capillari. Does that ring a bell? Kamau Louise. He's been Kamau Louise Pope. And he commissions them to head up what's going to be a new, well, it's now all French, but I mean, it's centered at the Solemne as the mother house in France. So a new French congregation, the Soubiac, or the Solemne congregation. And he started publishing, and he was a liturgist, and so he started publishing a lot of stuff on liturgy, and they started coming out with various volumes of chant and resurrected chant in the Solemne way. And that's what he became known for, and still are. Remember the old monastery of Riguge? L-I-G-U-G-E, goes way back.


They opened that up again as their first foundation, and then they opened up a house in Marseille. Well, that's where Cashin was, Cashin's house. And opened up another house near Solemne, a house of women next door, of enclosed nuns. And that's how the particular congregation gets started. In this continent, we have the monks of Saint-BenoƮt-du-Lac in Quebec, who are Solemne. We don't have any in this country. We did. Originally, Saint-Gregoire-Charny, when it was first founded, it was a Solemne house. When it was first founded, actually, in some swamp up in Iowa, and they almost all died of something, rather, and got out of Iowa, and went to Oklahoma, which isn't too much,


rather, I wouldn't think. But they prospered in Oklahoma, and, I mean, they held on, and then eventually the American Castanese congregation, which is the largest congregation, took it over, and so it was no longer Solemne. There's some Solemne women, too, in Canada, probably in Quebec also. They were real big on contemplation over action within the monastic life, and so they were very pro-silence and rigorous interpretations of how the rules to be lived. And against any kind of centralization at all, they thought every abbey should be their own under a charismatic abbot, and da-da-da-da-da, and they're not for centralization.


North America. The bishops of North America, the Catholic bishops, didn't have enough priests, and especially as the church had to move westward along with the pioneers, who were, what do you call that when you sit on a lamp for a while, homesteading in the various prairie states, and then western states, gradually, they didn't have any priests to go out there, and so they had to contact hierarchy in German-speaking countries back in Europe and beg for priests. And more than, as far as the Germans were concerned, more than any other order probably, the dictons answered that call, both from Switzerland and Bavaria. And one of these, the first real biggie to come over was this Boniface Weber, who wasn't


that original novitiate group that joined in Bavaria at Metten Abbey. And he was the one who really pushed for the benedictines doing it, from his end in Europe, and kept meeting refusals, and they thought some other, you know, secular priests should do this, or maybe some missionary society or whatever. Eventually, though, the king agreed with Boniface, and he sent Boniface himself over, along with 19 others, and they founded St. Vincent's Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. And then, over the next few years, Bavaria kept feeding more men into this foundation, and St. Vincent's is going to make a whole slew of foundations. So they came over in 46, but all during the 50s, 70s, 80s, 90s, they make foundations


all over this country, and all this is coming off of St. Vincent's in Latrobe, which becomes an archabbey because it was the first one in this continent. St. John's, Collegeville, is one of the houses. St. Benedict's in Atchison is another. That's the second one founded. Newark, Belmont in North Carolina. St. Bernard's in Georgia. Alabama. Procope's in Chicago or La La, Illinois. St. Leo's in Florida. St. Bede in Illinois. On and on and on. Also, various abbeys down the line will join this group, even though they were founded by them for various reasons. This is the group that has the money and the stability.


It's big enough so that when the crash comes and houses go under, this is the congregation that can bail them out. And so the tip for Tad is, we'll bail you out if you join our congregation. That's what happened to my former community, which was originally Swiss, and then went bankrupt in 1924. In 1928, it was reopened by St. John's, and so it became American Casernese. Also St. Gregory's, which I just mentioned, and John Lee also joined that congregation. The Swiss monks, there's a whole other slew of foundations that are going to be made by the Swiss monks, and they're sort of like half and half, and all through the 20th century they're pretty much the same size. American Casernese is a little bit bigger, by a few hundred. But they're still both very large, they're the two largest federations or congregations


for quite a while. And they originally came to work with, the idea was to work with the Native Americans. And some of the houses still do that. The one that was founded, my former community, still works in the missions. Blue Cloud Abbey, very designably so, even to the name, in South Dakota, does the same. But the biggies like Good Conception, and St. Meinrad's had Indian missionaries working with the Native American peoples. Two monks originally came from Einsteadown, and once the flow started of Swiss monks coming over, started filling these vacancies, Engelberg in Switzerland also sent a lot of monks over. So Einsteadown and Engelberg became the two great big grandmother houses. And if you go to various houses in this country, for instance, I was just at Oceanside at the


Formation Directors Conference a couple weeks ago, and that house is obviously from Einsteadown because they have a big statue of Our Lady of Einsteadown. They have their whole history in their foyer with photos of Einsteadown and whatnot. And you see that a lot when you go to these various houses, they keep their roots in focus. Some of the more important houses that come from the Swiss connection would be Meinrad, St. Meinrad's, Conception, Mount Angel, a lot of small ones, a lot of small ones. The Bavarians, they were Castanese then? They were Bavarian. Okay. Which is, and eventually in the 20th century is going to become the American Castanese congregation, that's what they are now. And then the Swiss become the Swiss-American Federation, and at Vatican II they changed their name to the Benedictine Federation of the Americas.


Those are the two biggies. But there's a number of other congregations represented in this country, the Ottilians, the Olivetans, Silvestrians, they all have houses in this country. Originally the Hungarian congregation was in, it was Woodside, now it's American Castanese, and going under right here. Bolognermo was the Belgian Annunciation congregation, or it still is rather. We have a number of houses that aren't in any congregation, they're directly under the I've been trying to think of four of those, four or five of them. Western, what's the one in New Mexico, what is it? Christ in the Desert. Christ in the Desert, right. Now Pecos is an Olivetan, and so is the Daughter House.


David, yeah. David, yeah, which isn't charismatic. They're also... What is Mount Saviour? Mount Saviour is directly under the I've been trying to think of. Who wants to end all that stuff? He's got a whole slew of these houses in the world that are just under him because they haven't joined any congregation. Are they going under too, the Mount Saviour? Well, I talked with Martin Bowler. He came to the formation directors prior, and he was saying they have like six novices right now, but they're all in their 60s and 70s. He says they're trying something else. It must be very difficult. They're hurting, yeah. He didn't say they were going under or anything, but he seemed very concerned, very concerned.


A number of the houses are going through quite a bit right now. We'll talk more about them when I get to the few remarks on the 20th century. If we look at Germany, not very specifically, but Germany as a whole, the resurrection of monasticism comes through two brothers who become Benedictine monks, and they're the Wolter brothers. One is Maurus, one is Placidus. Maur and Placid, Wolter. And they found the monastery of Beuron. They found this monastery of Beuron, and it's kind of a unique situation. They received a papal blessing for the foundation. And when they started out, they had a number of novices who wanted to join their house,


but they weren't able to start their own novitiate at that time, so they looked for other houses in Germany who would at least put these people through their novitiate and then send them back. And none of these people, none of these houses would accept their novice for whatever reason. And so they turned to Solemne in France. And Solemne said, sure. And so Beuron becomes very Solemnized. It's like the German version, a whole liturgical thing. They have certain choreographed ways you stand and you bow and turn in the refectory and stuff, and you still see these things in Borghenese houses. The houses that come from this family. And what do they have in common? Borghenese polka, I think, is what the other monks referred to.


How you bow and line up and flow out of the refectory. And they still have this. Little traditions that every group has. And the Beuronese and the Solemne are very much that way. That's a Beuronese piece of art, yeah. Very, again, like Solemne, very liturgical minded. Their houses will be big on chant, but whereas Solemne is almost all centered on chant, they get into various arts. So you actually see a lot of the, you know, we get those colored postcards from Europe that we sell in the bookstore. And a lot of those have, or a lot of the ones, we don't order them all, but a lot of the choices are Beuronese paintings photographed. And they followed the constitutions of Solemne.


They modified it a little bit. They didn't want to be totally French. But, you know, pretty much kept the Solemne flavor. And they really took off. They took off like nobody's business and got novices. All of them started making foundations. All over. And one of their first big foundations was Mare Su, which is in, I'm going to take a guess. Close. Belgium. Belgium. Mare Su is known especially for a very, very charismatic holy man who wrote any number of volumes, which we have translated in our library. Martin. Columba Martin. He was an avid, he was an Irishman who joined this Belgian house of Mare Su before the war. And a very holy man, very courageous man.


He was as round as a toe. He was real short and as round as he was tall. And he used to make jokes about himself. I forget the names he had for himself. Had to do with balls and balloons and things like that. His process is still ongoing as far as canonization goes. It costs a lot of money. It takes a lot of time to canonize something. His process has been going on for something like 40, 50 years. And then we have a house in Aurora, Illinois named after him. Martin Nathan, which runs a military academy. He'd be horrified by that himself, but they run a military academy at Martin. Mare Su was founded in 1872. In 1875, they had the Kulturkampf in Germany, which shut down Beuron.


Thank God they had made Mare Su, their first big foundation, because that held on during this time. And they ran around having temporary houses. The community was all split up again. And finally, by 1883, they were able to found a house called Seekow to get started again. And they weren't allowed to go back to Beuron and reopen that for 12 years. So in 1887, Beuron reopened and then took off again. But remember, it was mainly due to Solemn, their connection with Solemn, that made this house and its daughter houses the real focus of the German liturgical movement during the whole early part of the 20th century, which is going to, what goes on in Germany and France,


leads to the pre-conciliar documents and focus coming out of vernacular and liturgy and let's go back to the real ancient rites and whatnot. All this research that these monks and the French monks were doing, probably more than any other single factor, brought Vatican II about. It's Maria Lack, Lack from Beuron. Maria Lack is in Switzerland, though, isn't it? No, it isn't. It is in Switzerland. Yeah. In fact, most of the painters from this type of tradition seem to have come from Maria Lack. They really have. And the weavers. A lot of the horse carts began from Maria Lack, too. Right, right. Also, they had nuns who were in that line also.


The Subiaco congregation. We're over here now. This was a real strict congregation. This was the group that said, look, let's go back to the RV and we don't make any allowances for being in the 20th century or the 19th century. We live it as it's there. Rigorous, literal approach. And this, you know, every few centuries this happens. And it happened with this congregation, which is the Subiaco congregation, which began in 1871 at the monastery of Pierre Cuvier. And spread, the two biggest houses after Pierre Cuvier would be Montserrat, which is in Spain, and Samos, which is in Greece, Spain.


You know this album? Yes. Samos. I think the Seedles is Samos. If I'm not mistaken, it's either the same or it's a daughter of Samos. Samos. Samos the Seedles. The one that's on the charts right now. Making lots of money for that community, probably. Oh, the congregation. Yeah. Of Montserrat? Of Champ? No. For Julian Lennon, didn't he? Who? Oh, you mean John's son. Yeah. Oh. I didn't know. Also at this time, we get a congregation started, which is going to be the missionary congregation of the Benedictine Order, right from the beginning. Sant'Ottilien. And the Sant'Ottilien congregation is going to be named after the mother house,


which is Sant'Ottilien. And their whole purpose from the beginning was missionary. And so if you go to Alaska, if you go to Africa, you're going to find that of the Benedictine houses that are in Africa, some of which are thriving right now, a large number of them are going to be Ottilien foundations originally, or still. I really have two houses in this country that are Ottilien. One in Newton, New Jersey, St. Paul's, and the newer one in Nebraska, Schuyler, Nebraska. I don't remember the name of it. I know some people there, but I don't remember the name of the community. It's a small community, maybe six people. And this emphasis is still there for their primary things,


to make foundations, especially in third world countries. There was also the congregation of Brazil, or the Brazilian congregation at this time, which had originally started in the 1500s as sort of a subdivision of the Portuguese congregation. The Portuguese congregation no longer exists. But the Brazilian daughter congregation is still going, and it's going through all these turbulent years. The Portuguese, they separated from the Portuguese in the early 1800s, and started their own, in 1827, their own congregation called the Brazilian congregation. Unfortunately, in the year 1889, the government forbade them to take any more novices in. But Boiron helped them out by training their novices for them.


There are other houses in Brazil now. A number of them, particularly, well, we have one, but there's also some other Benedictine houses there that other houses in this country make, other foundations. There was a house of studies in Rome for one of the congregations since the year 1687. That house was San Salmo. The congregation was the Cassanese congregation. Remember, Cassanese congregation got its, really started in Padua, St. Justine of Padua. It got closed down in 1837 because of a cholera epidemic. And Pope Pius IX then reopened it later on


for the entire order, as a house for the Benedictine order. But it really didn't get off the ground because the Italian wars kicked in, the Piedmont wars started. Is that when the Italian suppressions come? I believe so. We're tied to that somehow. And poor Italy goes through a whole bunch of, another chain of events, and the monasteries are all closed down. However, in the year 1888, the then Pope, Leo XIII, formally opened this house as a house for the Benedictine order as such. In Rome. He wanted some kind of representation in Rome. Leo XIII wanted to centralize things a little more. Remember, the Benedictines don't like to be centralized, for the most part. And even now, they butt heads with Pope Leo


and compromise with him. Yes, we'll have this house for the whole order. We'll come into what we'll call the Benedictine Confederation, which was in 1893, among others. But that won't mean a lot, because each one of us is separate, and our congregations are very different from one another. And so what we're is just sort of a loose, loosely connected amalgamation of the various monastic congregations. And that's what all it's going to be. And we will have a representative for you. We will have an abbot primate who will reside in that house in Rome and can be a mediator between the order and you. But we want to preserve our independence, and we don't want to go along with this centralization plan. And they got away with it. And the first abbot primate is Hildebrand de Hampton.


And present abbot primate is Jerome. Abbot primate Jerome Tyson, originally he was born in Wisconsin, from St. John's, Collegeville. And we've had any number of them between. He's the second American, the first American who was searched, who really did a lot for the order during his time as primate. Mainly because he was so close to Paul VI. When we get to the 20th century, generally, what happens monastically during the 20th century? Just as some highlights, the Trappists are going to have an incredible surge in vocations, especially in the post-war years, in the year 1948 was probably the classic year, when Gethsemane itself had 90-some novices,


just that year. Most of whom, if not all of whom, were coming out of the service, their experience in the war, and turning to monastic life, for whatever reasons. There was a large surge in Trappist vocations for a few years there, and they made all kinds of foundations so they'd have places to put these monks. And that was really when the Trappist spread occurred, especially in the 50s, all these various foundations. Our Hundred Acres, our epiphany, was originally a foundation off of, a later foundation off of Spencer, Massachusetts. They sent five or six monks up there, which is an example of one that didn't take off. The Benedictines also grow incredibly during the 50s, especially, and 60s.


When I joined, when Ronald and I joined St. John's as novices, there were 14 in our class, and it was the last strict class, strict novitiate, strict closed novitiate. We weren't supposed to talk to the other monks during the novitiate year. We walked bald-headed two-by-two in the whole business, and I was number 342 in Statsio. And you felt like that. You felt like number 342. It was just so huge. St. Vincent's was huge. St. Benedict's in Atchison was huge. St. John's and St. Vincent's are still big, relatively at 250, but they're real top-heavy. They have all these old priests up in parishes. St. Benedict's was originally 225 or something like that. They're down to like 70 in Atchison. There's a lot of houses that are really hurting these days,


and we really don't know what's going to happen to them or where monasticism is going in all of this or how it's going to develop. Some new approaches to monastic life are occurring throughout these decades. Some of them take off, some don't. We, in our own history right now, are probably in a period where we're going to take off a bit for any number of reasons, but that isn't happening everywhere. It's not happening very much anywhere in this country monastically, and so it is the exception. What has happened is that monasticism is growing in Latin America, which was always a very difficult field monastically. The houses in this country, many of them have made foundations in Latin America, but it took decades and decades to get it started,


and they'd go through, it was like a revolving door policy. People would come, fine, but two or three years and then they'd go, and the main thing was celibacy, the main issue. I don't know how many houses there are in Latin America. There are ways to find out, of course, but you can no longer go even by the Benedictine atlas that we have. It's already 14, 15 years old, and so many foundations have been made. One of the novice masters who came to this workshop this year was the novice master Anselmo from Guatemala, and he mentioned the mother house of St. Joseph's in Louisiana, and I said, oh, well, I thought Marvian Abbey was the founder of Guatemala, and he says, no, we have three now, just in Guatemala,


and there are three Benedictine foundations, and he said they're all over South America, Latin America, and not all of them are large or anything, but it's just a sign that it really is growing down there, whereas it's subsiding here, it's growing there, and it seems to be on hold in Africa. During the 70s, it was very exciting in Africa because the African houses were growing very, very quickly, and many of them are still doing very well, nuns especially, very well in Africa. Again, the men have a lot of problems with the soldiers, just culturally living that commitment. But for the most part, I haven't developed a lecture on the 20th century. It's almost too soon to do it, other than pointing at general things that have happened and making some projections.


We have statistics readily available if you want to look, the various houses, how big they are, what they're doing, where they're going. That's all part of history, and I suspect that during your lifetimes, a lot of the houses that now exist are going to die out again, or just die out for the first time. And new forms will spring up. One thing about monastic history is it's never dull. There's always something incredible happening somewhere in the monastic world. And that's really what it's all about, I would think, that there just are, throughout history, various ways to incarnate the commitment to Christ within a monastic framework. That can be done in a number of ways, and we'll find new ways that will speak to the hearts of people,


or we'll die out. It's always the challenge. Not to say that the old ways aren't the ways that speak. Perhaps that will be. Perhaps it will always, when something really takes over, it's going to be, again, we turn to the more primitive, uncluttered, no-baggage approach to monastic vision and start over again. But who knows? We'll see. Okay. Any questions at all? St. Vincent's is an archabbey. Now, what's the difference between that and that? St. Vincent's is an archabbey, and St. Meinrad's is an archabbey. And that's because those are the two first foundations in this continent from the Bavarian Strain and the Swiss Strain. So that signals them and all the other daughter houses. Yeah. It really doesn't make much difference. It's just got a title, Arch, and the Archabbot.


But there really isn't any difference between an abbot and an archabbey. You mentioned that it seems like monasticism in this country is at a low ebb. Do you think contemplative prayer, there's an interest there? Or do we get a slant on that here that doesn't fit for the rest of the country? Well, I think, just from my own personal opinion, is that the thirst for contemplative prayer is growing. It has been for 20 years, 30 years, from the 60s onwards. But that doesn't necessarily translate into monasticism as it exists. A lot of people are turned off by monasteries and convents that are still trying to keep schools open, or hospitals, and all this stuff, stuff, stuff on their back. And they're not attracted to just filling up positions in these institutions.


And unfortunately, except for the small houses in this country, that's the general way they find them. In the Benedictine world, not in the Trappist world. I don't think the Trappists would be taken off. I don't understand why the Trappists are in a crisis right now. But I don't know that tradition all that well. I think it's mostly because of the change from an agrarian economy to a computer-based one. They've had a lot of problems with it. So financial... All the financials are in a disastrous condition. Why are they having a vocational problem? Because they can't find people who want to come in. They themselves, the older men, have not settled on the switch. And there's a lot of arguing between, can we still make it by baking bread and fruitcakes? Or do we have to open some sort of a computer business? The young vocations that they're getting are guys who operate computers. But there's such a division and arguing between, do we still want to be farmers or computer things?


The young guys gave up on that. Yeah, I don't... I know a few Trappists, but I don't know their recent history of what's going on and why they're having problems that way. I mean, I understand they've had addicting problems. They regret, to some extent, all the foundations that they made during the late 40s, early 50s. Well, they're probably going to have to close the movement in the next decade. I think they've already targeted four, three or four. In fact, the one Martin went to is one of those that's targeted in Utah. Okay. Hey, guys. Hey.