Rule of St. Benedict

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.




Rule of St. Benedict lecture series




I was saying, when looking at the prologue to Benedict's Rule, we saw how its picture of a return journey to God, for which Benedict's School will provide a working setting, begins almost a necessity, and I think really a theological necessity, with the labour of obedience, making choices that go against the grain of nature, whether it's wounded by original sin or by sinful habits. Yet it may be expected to finish in an atmosphere of joyful and spontaneous love, in union with the obedience of Christ himself. Remember, that's the kind of arch of the image, of the prologue image. Now in our previous talk, we've seen how Benedict accepts the widespread conviction of the monastic tradition, that the normal setting in which this spontaneity is acquired, is the common life of a community, without which the solitary search for God is often doomed to failure and delusion, especially the sort of delusion that is involved in deciding for oneself what one will take to be holy. Although I didn't say it at the time, I suppose we might say that the caricature of monastic


communities and communities, which Benedict gives us in the Sarabites and the Gyrovagues of Chapter 1, is really a sketch of people who are seriously caught up in what we might nowadays call, in psychological language, inflation and projection. Such people are, of course, found in every walk of life, but they can be a great plague for themselves and others in monasteries. It was for this reason that I was at some pains last time to make a preliminary sketch of interrelationship in the community, as Benedict envisages it. It's for a similar reason that I think it wise that we should look first a little at chapter 5 on obedience, before we look at the portraits of the abbot, settler and other officials of the monastery. My reason for thinking this is something that I suppose needs no argument, except from those who would only illustrate my point, I venture to say, by just starting when going. I would say here, of course, that obedience is, obviously, for the moment, a very thorny


subject. If I say this, it's not, of course, my intention to deny that there may be serious problems, both personal and theoretical, connected with the notion of religious obedience. But I do not think that many of these problems, as we happen to have inherited them, arise out of the text of the rule we are studying, or of Benedict's notion of the sort of man an abbot should be. I'd rather remind you that the rule takes it as normal that the office of the house should be chosen for the community, so that at least some of their defects are likely to reflect the weaknesses of the community itself. Dr. Johnson, if indeed it was he, was not quite foolish to say, over the wider context, that a country gets the government it deserves. As we turn just first, then, to Chapter 5, it's enough to say that Benedict has very carefully revised and, as usual, abbreviated by about half his source for this chapter


in the Rule of the Master, which is Chapter 7. One of the most significant changes he has made is in completely dispensing with what I might call second-class citizens in the community. For the Master, the beautiful phrase I quoted in our talk last week, that obedience without delay is appropriate to those who hold nothing dear to Christ, for the Master this is a fitting motive only for the perfect, few in number, as he says. Now while Benedict's chapter retains the lesser motives, like the fear of hell and so on, he doesn't hesitate to set the ideal before everyone, in which our Lord's words to his disciples that, whoever listens to you, listen to me, are constantly remembered. So Benedict thinks we can and should say to everybody that obedience without delay is appropriate to those who hold nothing dear than Christ, whether they're beginners or not. Then sentence 10 in this chapter, I think the division into sentences and phrases is


useful here, will quite naturally tell us that it's love that impels them to pursue everlasting life. Rather well translated, I think, in R.B. 1980. I'm often critical of it, as you know, but that seems rather good. Therefore they are eager to take the narrow road of which our Lord speaks. And what does this mean in practice? Sentence 12 tells us that the motive for the existence of the school is in this form at all. Therefore they no longer live by their own judgment, giving in to their whims and appetites. Rather they choose to walk according to someone else's decisions and directions, living in monasteries, and designed to have an abbot over them. I don't think we should ever weaken the sense, which R.B. 1980 translation slightly does, that it's we, the subjects, who actually want a superior.


We choose this freely, in a spirit of faith, as we shall in a few moments see. It is, of course, wrong to see this as a renunciation of personal responsibility, and Benedict does his very best, all through his rule, as in his revision of the opening phrase of this chapter, to keep this responsibility before us, if we listen to him. What happens is that in this school we learn not so much to do what we like as to like what we do, by pouring as much love into what we might not necessarily have chosen as we would have something we should perhaps have preferred. As we shall presently see, Benedict never suggests that the office of the house should become tyrants, and especially not the abbot, or experts in ways of finding increasingly frustrating us. The whole purpose of formation by obedience is conceived of very humanly, and so Benedict


adopts with approval only the last short paragraph of the Master's long text, which speaks of that obedience which is acceptable to God and agreeable to human beings, namely, that which is not given in a clinging or sluggish or half-hearted way, but free from any grumbling or the raising of objections. For the obedience which is given to superiors is given to God. And St. Paul is quoted where he says that God loves a cheerful giver. That God, as we explicitly reminded, who sees what our heart is like. Well perhaps with these things in mind, as an expansion of the nature of expedience which we've gathered from the prologue, we can nowadays look a little more safely at the chapters which concern the abbot, and begin by turning to chapter 2, which is the first one on the abbot. Here Benedict has retained rather more from his source, but typically arranged things so


that both at the beginning and at the end, the abbot is left in the face of his responsibility before God for the government of the house. This, I suppose, is the moment to say that as far as the commodities are concerned, for abbot we should read conventional prayer, to adopt the norm Benedict in turn for this officer. Since all references to the rule in relation to the prayer in our constitutions are references to the chapter on the abbot, you'll notice that if you see our constitution, which I hope you're looking at all the time. I'm drawing your attention to where it seems valuable to do it here, but you'll see with all things about the prayer, all references to the chapters on the abbot in the rule. Benedict's priors, not the same as ours, as we shall mention later, are unfortunate necessities for the situations where the abbot really must have a delegate. The practice in modern times, relatively modern times I think anyway, of inscripting priors


even as permanency priors over daughter houses and houses marked by a spirit of reform, is something that would need a good deal more historical knowledge than I possess on the doubtless complex subject to be able to say very much about at the moment. Perhaps Father Thomas might help about that. I don't know whether you have to know any more about the history of this to you, but it certainly goes back to Cluny, and it's obviously in modern times it tended to be associated with places which consider themselves to be reformed houses of one kind or another, but I'm not quite sure just how far back that goes. Doubtless it all has a little to do with the elaboration of the image of the abbot which is the product of centuries much after Benedict's simpler days. Benedict's abbot is not only warned of the gravity of his responsibility before God, first and last, but also first and foremost, that he is believed to be the representative of Christ in the monastery. Just as we should not try to evade the fact that his subjects freely choose to have a


superior at all, even if it's not necessarily one they actually get, so even more should we not allow ourselves to forget that this choice is only spiritually meaningful if it's made in the context of faith. It's in the same spirit that the abbot has to accept his responsibility. I suppose we might say that even more than in the case of the commitment to matrimony, which is actually protected by a sacrament, is it important that the life of the monastery should be lived in a spirit of faith. The abbot is not the only one to whom Benedict will point as representing Christ for the members of the community, but I imagine we can say that he represents Christ in more widespread and diverse ways than most other people. Benedict is aware of an early church tradition for calling Christ Father, even though the text from St. Paul in Quotes is not in fact doing that, as you'll see if you look it up. For the whole subject, for those who are interested in it, there's, I think, a useful section


in the appendix 2 of RB 1980, the big volume, of course. Though it should perhaps be added in connection with that appendix, which is largely devoted to the abbot, that the portrait of the monk I'm attempting to sketch here is not quite the same as those would give us who are influenced by the work of Fr. de Roggewey. It's enough for me to say for the moment, here I think for the moment, that from the very beginning of his work in connection with the rule, Fr. de Roggewey has been concerned to stress the notion of the monastery as a little church, and the abbot is somewhat like a teaching bishop in that setting. Now whatever the case for such a view, and it's obviously too complex to argue about it here, it seems to me that Benedict's expectations are of a more modest character, so that he begins by giving what is almost a negative norm for the rule of the abbot as a teacher. The abbot, he says at the beginning, is to represent the spiritual fatherhood of Christ


in that he must never teach or decree or command anything that would deviate from the Lord's instructions. On the contrary, everything he teaches and commands should, like the leavener of divine justice, permeate the minds of his disciples. It is of course, I suppose the background is obviously something like the Gospel of John, our Lord saying, he who sees me sees the Father. It's the, and this of course is what gives us a link, I think, with what happens in the second paragraph of chapter two, where Benedict expands on what he's been saying at the beginning by saying, in a way which becomes characteristic of the whole rule, that the abbot ought to rule his disciples by a two-fold teaching. He must point out to them all that is good and holy, more by example than by words.


And yes, it's particularly by living example that he's likely to speak more clearly to the stubborn, who won't always listen to what he says. This is of course an aspect of the notion of the listening in the rule, which the abbot and all his subjects have good reason always to remember. The monastery is a place for living a life. I keep on saying this all the way through, I'm sure one doesn't get the rule unless one sees it as being a life. Not necessarily, of course, working out impeccable theories about what we're doing. We've already noticed in our previous talk how Benedict's view of the way to treat everyone in the community equally is to treat them all as being different in their personality and needs as they really are. Consistent with the conviction that this view of things is based on the teaching of scripture is the fact that in chapters 60, 62 and 63, the clerics of the community are not to be


given any privilege of rank or order, or even to exercise their offices contrary to the abbot's discretion. Perhaps I ought just to shoot in there something which is perhaps not hardly necessary. I don't think there's any anti-clericalism in the rule, though it can sometimes be made to sound like that nowadays. Benedict is concerned that everybody in the community should be first and foremost a monk. Faced then, as it were, with the raw human material, the abbot can then realize, in verse 31 of chapter 2, what a difficult and demanding burden he's undertaken. He must so accommodate and adapt himself to each one's character and intelligence that he will not only keep the flock entrusted to his care from dwindling, but rejoice in the increase of a good flock. Before we turn to chapter 64, which suggests how a man of the requisite personal and spiritual


maturity is to be chosen for this office, we should just notice two final points, I think, at the end of chapter 2. Benedict says that the abbot must not show too great a concern for the temporal things of the world, undervaluing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. It's of course partly for this reason that he will have a cellar room, and when we come to see what kind of man he should be, we shall notice he's not without some kind of spiritual function for the souls of his brothers, which require some of the characteristics of the abbot, on whose behalf he ought always to be acting, as that chapter insists. Meanwhile, Benedict's final word to the abbot, in a rather demanding chapter, is that while helping others to amend by his warnings, he achieves the amendment of his own thoughts. I think if you weigh that up, you'll see we've got a very balanced picture of a man who's given a very considerable responsibility. I think perhaps only those who've had some kind of possible responsibility for other


people, to some extent of course, many of us fall into that, I suppose most of us do sometimes too. The responsibility for telling somebody else what to do and how to do it can be quite considerable, and especially because it's very rare that a really alive superior of any kind is not aware that there may be other alternatives to what he or she is saying. What then is the responsibility of the community in choosing its abbot? Chapter 64 tells us that goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made abbot, even if he's the last in the community in rank, which, as we noted in the previous chapter 63, is normally, of course, by date of entry. In other words, it's not, if you come as a cleric, you have the same date of entry as anybody else would have had. We should, I suppose, expect something like this.


Less to be expected, I think, is the way Benedict seems to have been influenced by St. Augustine, and perhaps his own experience. In modifying the portrait of the abbot, we would have had, if we'd only had chapter 2 before us. In both chapters, Benedict has completely abandoned the extraordinary idea of the rule of the master, that the abbot should actually encourage a kind of competition to succeed him, and appoint his favourite before his death. Benedict's new abbot must know that it's his duty rather to profit his brethren than to preside over them. It's a little phrase which is used by Augustine and other writers. In filling out what this means, Benedict tells us not only that he must be learned in the divine law, so that he has a treasury of knowledge from which he may bring out things new and old, but he must be chaste, sober and merciful. In connection with the last word, merciful, I think we must look rather closely at the


words which follow, if we are to understand in what sense, in Benedict's final view, the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery. Even the careful abbot, Justin McCann, does not specifically note the reference to the Latin of Isaiah 42, verse 3, which occurs in verse 13 of chapter 64, though Abbot Hunter Blair, Basil Seidler and R.B. 1980 does notice this. And very few, except Father Terence Cardon, in Little Thing He Wrote on the Rule, seem to have noticed that the word turbulentus in verse 16 is another reference to Isaiah 42, 4. In other words, it's morally certain that in writing this second paragraph, in chapter 64, Benedict had specifically in mind the portrait of the suffering servant in Isaiah, in his Latin translation. And no one should need reminding the identification of this portrait with the third person of


Christ from the very earliest times. He's the one who doesn't put out the smouldering wind. I'd remind you of the two relevant verses in the Diary of the Old Catholic Translation, which follows, of course, the Vulgate text, at least has it in mind. The bruised breed he shall not break, and smoking flanks he shall not quench. He shall not be sad, nor troublesome, which is a very mild word for the Latin turbulentus, which even those who don't know Latin should recognize the English word turbulent or violent. He's not to be that. At least these are the qualifications for the Abbot in Benedict's view. Not only has he adopted Augustine's conviction that the superior should be concerned to be loved rather than feared, he specifically thought of the biblical portrait of Christ as the suffering poor servant, and even refers to the Abbot as a fellow servant with the other monks in the monastery in the next to last sentence in that chapter 64, verse 21.


Thus, as verse 16 has it, not only must the Abbot not be violent, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or over-suspicious, for otherwise he will never have rest, he must also, as verse 20 insists, keep this rule in every particular. It is so like Benedict to wish his Abbot to incarnate in person the living ideals of which he is speaking. Let no one who ponders these things ever dare to say that Benedict's Abbot is some kind of ordered cat. I've quoted in our previous talk Benedict's instruction in chapter 77 that the Abbot should sometimes delegate others to support and help him to communicate it, since he's undertaken the care of the sick, not tyranny over the healthy. I might perhaps add here the provision in chapter 68 for a brother explaining the reasons why he feels he cannot perform what he's been told to do. For although it tells us that the subject should accept the obedience if, in spite of this,


the Aspire insists on it, this chapter implicitly provides for one of the important aspects of the life of obedience, namely that permissions and commands should involve acts of conscience on both sides. True religious speech is not meant to be a merely material thing. I suppose this is something that does very much need to be pointed out in the working of the Library of Religious House, that it reminds me of a very charming thing I was once told of an old lay brother in one monastery I knew, who made a practice, as he said, of telling his Abbot both his reason and his pretext for everything else, for everything he was asking, so that the situation would be quite clear before he was given leave to do whatever he was asking. Finally, on the vital subject that an Abbot should never be over-suspicious, for otherwise the whole community would penetrate with a destructive lack of trust, I should like to


mention another story in connection with the great Abbot Laurentian whom I mentioned in our first talk. One day she passed two nuns talking in a place where silence was supposed to be observed, both on her way to the parlour and on the way back from it, and said absolute nothing. About this, one of them afterwards challenged her, and she replied, I take it absolutely for granted that what she was saying was necessary. I didn't give it another thought. If I couldn't trust my nuns, I should end in ruined exile. You are responsible to God, not to me, for your actions. I believe this is the attitude we should expect in a superior respond to what the rule says about their function. I also take it that it is precisely in this context of thought that Benedict once refers to the rule as holy, only once holy, and that comes in the chapter on the prior, since the norm of the life of those who, whether as subjects or superiors, are there to serve God. The word occurs, of course, in verse 18 of chapter 65, which reluctantly deals with the


possibility that it may be necessary to do a point of prior to deal with the internal affairs of the house, with which for some reason the abbot is not able to cope. The chapter seems to suggest some unfortunate experience in this matter, and seems to mirror Benedict's concern that the government of the house might be lacking in directness and clarity. Although the rule provides for consultation, it is the abbot's by no means light responsibility to make decisions. Otherwise, as Benedict says in verses 8 to 10 of chapter 65, the souls of the members of the community are endangered by dissension. No one who has ever had to live with difficulties of this kind would like to think these fears are exaggerated. Besides the abbot's unifying discretionary influence in the life of the master, for while chapter 2 at verse 11 speaks of his twofold teaching by word and example, giving the edge


of preference to example, chapter 64 verse 2 wishes to find in him goodness of life and wisdom and teaching, and in the spirit of Augustine at verse 15 wishes him to strive to be loved rather than feared, he is also, verse 17, to be discerning and moderate. For discretion, as verse 19 says, is the mother of virtues. Besides these positive qualities, that's rather a heathen, he sometimes exercises this kind of influence through others, even by his silences. I mentioned in our previous talk, chapters 27 on the treatment of the excommunicated, where the abbot sometimes sends to others to talk the man around, rather than be the riot act. And Sir Marnie reminded, as I just reminded you again, he's not to be atoned. But it's perhaps most notably in the person of the cellarer that much of the abbot's concern for the whole community is habitually delegated. For when we look at the attractive chapter 31 on this officer, we're left to believe


that the cellarer's function, we're not left to believe that the cellarer's function is only to relieve the abbot of these material cares against too great a concern for which we've seen him just warned at the end of chapter 2. For certain spiritual qualities are required and expected of the cellarer, which are very like those of the abbot himself. Thus, verse 1 tells us, as chapter 64 also tells us of the abbot, that the cellarer is not to be a violent man, non-turbulentus, or rough-spoken, as Justin McCann I think rather well translates, non-enduriosus. R.B. 1980 has inoffensive. And then verse 2 goes so far as to say that he's to be like a father to the whole community. One of the ways he fulfills this function is by consistently regarding himself as the delegate of the abbot, or in our case of course, of the prior.


So it's not to break the unity of the community at a kind of material level, in conduct even as a spiritual one. But his work doesn't stop at the passive fulfillment of duty. While he must be firm about what he cannot do, he must be so reasonably and humbly, as verse 7 says. Above all, he must be humble, verse 13. And if he cannot in fact give something asked for, at least offer a kind word in reply. This is no small denial, for as verse 9 has told us, he is to have every care for the sick, the guests, and the poor. And in that connection, he is like the abbot, told that what he's done will be required of him on the day of judgment. This is not so much a ferocious threat as a reminder of the way in Benedict's view in which even the material side of the things of the life of the monastery is penetrated


with spiritual significance. For as the next verse says, in one of the most frequently repeated phrases of the entire rule, he will regard all the utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar. Although this idea is also found in Byzantine Latin rule, and the rule of the forefathers, by adopting it, Benedict makes it clear that for him there's no sharp and even dangerous separation between the sacred and the secular. As far as the sederer's concerns for the needs of the guests goes, it's evidently meant to be connected with supplies for their kitchen, and other things that may be necessary for them, since chapter 53, to which we must later return in another connection, not this time, at verse 71 says that the guest quarters are to be entrusted to a God-fearing brother. And adds, verse 23, he let no one without special instructions associate or converse with the guests. In any case, the sederer is clearly busy enough in several directions.


And verse 17 of his own chapter tells that he is, if necessary, to be given helpers, that with their assistance he may calmly perform the duties of his office. And the final sentence, 18, says something which is memorable in several connections, not only in its concern for him and those he serves, but in the whole atmosphere of running a house. It says, necessary items are to be requested and given at the proper times, so that no one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God. Without ordinary human courtesy, at all times, any community can become very ungrateful to live with. And evidently in a monastery, something springing from even deeper sources can and should be expected. In concluding these reflections on the abbot and his official collaborators, it's reasonable, I think, to pass over Benedict's deans, who have never really played a significant role, I think, in the life of the rule, but not, I think, to pass over the infirmarian, the


porters or doorkeepers of the monastery, and the senior brother who is given charge of the novices. As we've seen in our previous talk, chapter 36 opens with the words, care of the sick was ranked above and before all else, so that we were truly served in Christ. Their attendant is, we are told, to be a God-fearing man, attentive and concerned. And the final sentence makes it clear the delegation of the abbot's concern to both the cellar and infirmarian. The abbot must take the greatest care that cellarers and those who serve the sick do not neglect them, for the shortcomings of his disciples are his responsibility. And so, with chapter 6 on the doorkeepers, we read, at the door of the monastery, place a sensible old man who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose age keeps him from roaming about.


He's always to be on the spot, and with all gentleness that comes from the fear of God, he provides a prompt answer with a warmth of love. Like the cellarer, he is to be provided with young brothers if he needs help. But notice that this is the way that the abbot and community are to be represented by any who knock, or a poor man who calls out. Although this is not explicitly said, it's clearly implied that the doorkeeper has that discretion which is the mother of virtues, of which the other was reminded at the end of chapter 64. His love is evidently not sentimental, but wise. Finally, in chapter 58, on the procedure for receiving brothers, which begins by saying that newcomers are not to be given an easy entry, because it's necessary to discern what spirit really moves them, the single mark of the senior monk whom the abbot appoints to look after novices once they are inside, sounds like almost the opposite poem of the first sentence, for he is to be chosen for his skill in winning souls.


Benedict seems to prefer that this man, like the abbot himself, should be rather loved than feared, a notion which Benedict took from Augustine, who, in the wisdom of a pastor, knew that everyone grows, I think, rather easily in that way. These then, with the abbot, are the people who make the atmosphere of the monastery, where love rather than fear is the aim of the entire community. At the end of his chapter on the choice of the abbot, 64, it's said that he particularly should keep a rule in everything, he particularly. I believe this is because, as Pierre Marie-Dominique Philippe says in a wise essay on the theology of the rule, which I'd never met before, I found it in my library, have you ever met it, Thomas? It's a very short essay, but very interesting indeed, and I think he's quite right to say in a rather good, short, concentrated section on the abbot. Pierre Philippe says, the abbot must show in his person that the rule has to be surpassed,


for he has to see to it that the monks, the faithful servants, become more and more the friends of Christ. The presence of the abbot, a living man, notice, allows Benedict not to be afraid of affirming that the rule is holy, as the law is holy when Christ is present. This presence allows him to insist on both the importance of the rule and its relativity. It's not the purpose of the life. It's a means which should develop and expand in us the love of a living person, Christ himself, the Christ present in the abbot and the sick brothers, the gays. As long as the monk contends himself to live his monastic life scrupulously carrying out the different points of the rule, he's only living it materially, for the rule is made to live in the presence of Christ, live from his love. All its different duties should be surpassed by the loving presence of Christ who brings about unity. Well, next time we're going to try to look at the framework within which this kind of


life is being fostered, because so far we've only been looking at the aims and persons in the rule. We don't yet know what they're doing very much. I'm sorry I seem to be losing my voice. I've taken more vitamin C, a couple of thousand just before starting in case something else was happening. I'm afraid it's just, mainly I think it's fatigue, I'm so sorry. Does anybody want to say something? Please do. I'm afraid as usual it's rather concentrated, I've had to put together a great deal too. Here's the effect. What of course I had rather specially in mind is the rather strange idea of the people's informed of what sort of man the abbot should be, largely because they only read the chapter two. And it's obvious that Benedict's abbot is a very benign influence throughout the house


because he has to keep his eye on the very primary things, yes. There's one thing that I wanted to ask in regards to. I get the impression, and I wonder if you agree with this impression, when Benedict is speaking of Isaiah's relation to the man of the cross, in the portrait of a subject servant. Is there an implication underneath that, that no one is meant to choose that position out of the desire, you know, out of ambition or a desire for power, but rather one that had to do with service rather than... Well, that's obviously the case and that's all the indication for the choice of the abbot. And remember this comes in specifically in the chapter about choosing the kind of man you're going to have. Yes. And I suppose I don't think it was unjust of me to say that in some ways the community gets the sort of spirit it really produces.


I suppose one of the problems of... I think it's not unfair to say that one of the problems of more recent centuries has been that, especially a community that has been responsible for a great deal of administration, particularly the administration of schools and things like this, do tend to produce administrators and they tend to be very much the kind of men who in fact have often been elected, I think. But obviously nobody's meant to tout for being the abbot and nobody's meant to canvass themselves for being the abbot. I suppose some people are allowed to do it, but they're not supposed to. Well, you know, the responsibility and the way in which you ask for the abbot is very difficult. It's very, very difficult. It's quite obvious if you add up the things we saw in our previous lecture, the abbot is meant to be a very good representative monk of the community. Anybody should be capable of this. Not everybody would be, necessarily, because it requires certain special personal qualities, but as far as the kind of spiritual quality is concerned, obviously this is the sort


of man he should be. You mentioned the very good conduct of the priest. Exactly, and for the last in rank, yes, exactly. Compared to the Benedictine rule where the abbot is normally elected for life, with the Carmelites, the Carmelites, St. Teresa of Bethlehem, one of all the sisters who would come to the convent, each and every one would be capable of stepping into the position of the abbot. And they were elected, at least they are now, for say only three years at a time, and they can be re-elected once, but not more than that at that time. Yes, I think I should also point out what you were saying, Gabriel, that Teresa, of course, is extremely ferocious about the visitation of convents, largely because she is very well aware that sometimes women in superiors do make a lot of special difficulties. One of the things I remember she says very sharply, Priests always think they are telling the truth. A visitation, bear that in mind.


It's a very amusing document. But I suppose I could say that, I think it's right to say that if you like, the rule seems to assume that the abbot is going to be promptly appointed for life. In practice, most communities, I suppose, do, I don't know quite, do you have any idea of the number of congregations to in fact, I suppose pretty much all congregations now, to have, in practice, periods of office. Do you have any idea, Thomas, do you have any idea? I think most of them would ensure that a problem could not exist. Yes. They can either force it or not, or a visitation is irrelevant. Exactly, yes, yes. I suppose the practice which all religious houses have, all orders have in fact, the practice of visitations, does in fact enable for these kind of problems to be dealt with. So in one way they hardly need canonical, canonical expression. Many does of course provide for the intervention of outside authority, in place of the bishop


if outside things happen, like elections. That is provided for in the rule. Partly because I'm not giving a historical thing on the rule, I haven't really dealt with this aspect of it. Cassius, did you want to say something? No, I was just wondering, historically, like, you know, priests became the ones that could be coming out and... Yes, well, as you know, there's no real place for thinking as many as himself was a priest. And it's no real case, although Cardinal Schuster wrote a long, long time ago, this was the case, it doesn't work. It simply doesn't work. I think that the letters of Gregory the Great do show that Gregory sometimes was rather concerned about the government of monasteries and so on, and would intervene in those cases where


he was worried. But I suppose the development of the feeling that the abbot should be a cleric rather than layman comes about with the increasing complexity of ecclesiastical studies, quite apart from the fact that the abbot is also required to make some arrangement of the sacraments in the community. And so there have to be some clerics, as you know, this is something that has always been done in the rule from the very beginning, that at least enough clerics have been present to enable the sacraments to be given from within the house. Otherwise they had to come from outside. There are, I suppose, a number of small priors that have to manage like that now. But even the congregation of Solem, which is rather, tends to be rather conservative, has in fact got a layman as a prior in an African house at the moment, a lay brother.


And I presume this will become more normal. I'm presuming it will be, because I take it that those monasteries that look like surviving for any length of time will increasingly tend to recruit people who are not necessarily going to take clerical studies. It was one of the things that the abbot of Prinege raised, I think, the last time the Benedict Abbots met in Rome. I don't think he was the only one to speak about it, but he was one of them. They made him their spokesman somehow or other, saying that he felt that the time had come to rethink the whole situation about lay brothers in the community. Because certainly, as Prinege, as I remember it as an old community, it's very different now, but I remember it very vividly, because part of the character balance was made, and I think also in several of the old trapeze houses that I've known, is very much made by the quality of the brothers. It's very much determined by the sort of people they are. And the abbot was saying he felt this whole business should be rethought rather carefully. Pringe was rather, I may say, was one of the monasteries that was rather a pioneer, and


in fact, one of the reasons why I would wish to become a member of that community was indeed accepted at one point. While in fact, under the abbot I first knew, they were keeping quite clear distinction between those who were ordained for priesthood and the middle people who were also capable of saying choir office, but not necessarily going to be ordained. So those people at least knew enough Latin to be able to say the office, which was probably within their time, of course. And nevertheless, men and brothers, they were all being treated as separate categories, living together a much more common monastic life. So I think this is something which in de facto is likely to change. I'm not quite sure how widespread this change is likely to be, but I think that there seem to be lots of signs about the kind of people who want to come to monastic lifestyles. First of all, some people tend to want to come later than they used to. I think it's happening everywhere, in every form of religious life, but also in the monastic life. I take it that many of these people are coming who really do want to be monks first and foremost


anyway, whatever their capabilities of study. And many of those probably won't want to become priests. And Father Boris, do you want to say anything about it? One can see the brothers always take a second break, you know. And when a person comes, wants to be just a monk, not a priest, and has charisma, is prepared, he can learn more. He sees that there's no chance for him to develop. Yes, in other words, I think what you're really saying is this is a situation that I think many abbots are already facing as bravely as they can. Very often their communities are rather a burden on them in this way. Sometimes abbots are more forward-going than their communities are. But I think a number of abbots are already facing the fact that people ought not be placed in a situation where they feel like second-class citizens, because the rule is very clear,


they're not concerned with having anybody. Nothing counts in the rule. If a letter of the rule is followed, nothing except the time you've entered has anything to do with where you stand in the community. Obviously the other things, inevitably, personal qualities will come out, whoever people are, wherever they come from. But the character of the community will be very much more determined, I think, in the future by decline of people who've come with the idea of becoming priests, or the need to have them at all. If I'm not mistaken, the whole history of monasticism until the recent days and times, and particularly in our country, is of very strong influence from the fact that shortly after the time of Benedict, at least, the monks, the real monks, came from the upper classes, who had the education to convert to the Vatican and became the monks. And those who came from the lower classes, including the crafts and the trade, Benedict


said, well, let them have whatever they need for the practice of their crafts. So they just became servants of second-class citizens. Well, I think this is not very accurate history. First of all, I would say it's not. I happen to know a very great deal about the early history of monastic life, and I'm afraid it's simply a dozen square. But Butler was one of the many people who insisted, and he was really rather good on this kind of thing, that it was simply a false perspective. It really wasn't true. There was no case for thinking that Benedict's first monasteries necessarily came from the upper classes alone. Well, I can think, too, but at a later time. Yes, I suppose it probably did come so later. And sometimes it was consciously done as a conscious program of recruitment. But there's certainly no reason of thinking it was a rule, and the rule itself does not provide for any such distinction. Yes, I think one should be very clear about it. This is one of the many reasons why I think the rule of semantics, the only religious


rule I can think of, is flexible enough to be able to see its way out of the sanctuary if we survive it. I know, for example, in the book of Canon of the Saints, there's a good description of Yes, yes. And also one of the great penances that the monks would perform on Friday was to take off their shoes and keep sitting there on the floor. Well, that was the common thing that the poor people did. Exactly. But it was a great humiliation for someone from the upper class to do that. And yet to present this to some of our American monks, what it's like on Friday, you have Yes. Oh, yes. Yes, of course. I suppose particularly, I've had the good fortune, of course, remember having a European upbringing, so the extreme clericalization of life in America is very, very clerical. There's no doubt. The church is very overwhelmingly clerical in America, including the monasteries. This is rather an alien thing.


I've seen and known other monasteries where brothers were extremely important in the life of the community, even when there were a great number of priests. Some of them were extremely influential, and they did make very much of the atmosphere, and it's very possible too that that should be returned. But I expect it to do so. I think it's almost inevitable. When you say brothers, are you referring to late brothers, or are you referring to monks who were not priests? Yes, I'm referring to those who were not priests, yes. In the case of the Trappists, of course, some of the lay brothers, the Trappists I know rather well, have been very impressive figures. And at the monastery I'm referring to, where they did in fact have three groups of people, you got the feeling that everybody in the house was a brother, first and foremost. My own attitude towards my, if I hadn't actually been pushed into being a Dominican, I should never have become a priest, because I joined this monastery, I wanted to join this monastery with the idea that the other would decide whether I was going to be or not. I think I ought to try to say something about that at a slightly later stage, because, and


I'm just about to embark on the path of your life, and then the little things we can divide from the world itself. Again, the world is very flexible, lots of things we just don't know the answer to, we simply don't know. You see, one of the reasons by this sort of break in the continuity with whatever was the practice rule at Montecino is that very shortly Montecino was completely destroyed and perhaps the real banks of men had went to France, as I think is probably the case, some people do. So, but anyway, so in fact it's not really until about a couple of centuries after the writing of the rule that we begin to be able to see people actually living in conditions which we can verify very easily. Some things are obviously implied by the text of the rule, but they don't tell us very much. The obvious one, in connection immediately with your question, is the one about the monks not being upset if they have to help with the harvest, which obviously implies that other people besides the monks are actually working on it.


But, anything else? Does that sufficiently deal with it? Does that sufficiently say something to you? As I say, I think this is one of the ways in which we are living through a rather numerative period in monastic life. There's every sign that it is changing in places which have tried to face this possibility. Of course, some of the things that are very binding for most American houses, I imagine, is their commitment to doing the kind of things that actually literally require clerics to do them. Sometimes they must have people with university degrees, sometimes they must have people who are going to have theological qualifications that can be approved by the church and so on, so they must have always recruitment of some people of that kind. So they're always going to be a bit clerical, a bit more clerical than most monasteries must have been. I suppose, if you cast an eye around the world at the time of Benedict, or a little bit before, a little bit after it, too, in the north of the country where I come from, you must remember on the rocks of Ireland and on the south coast of England, where I live, Trappistown,


there were, all along the coast of Wales, there were groups of monks who generally perhaps had one person, very often that was himself, who was a priest. And otherwise were just monks who had come there, desiring to live this life together. Very often they could read, of course, this is generally speaking assumed, the rule assumes that almost everybody's going to be able to do that anyway, though they may not necessarily always be able to do very much, because Benedict provides the fact that they should be given something else to do if they really can't do very much of that kind of thing. But there's no suggestion that it's an inferiority not to be able to do that. So even though there were categories, that didn't mean there were second classes? No, exactly not. No. And obviously the kind of thing Brother Boniface is talking about, it still remains to some extent a dilemma in many monasteries, doesn't it?


Because it's quite, in fact I somewhat feel astonished at some places that they do prefer the slave brothers at all, because sometimes they don't believe they have a place in the monastery. You know what happens with all that? When the brothers had the motor in the chapters on the pit, then it's hard to manage like a pit, then they try to discourage you when you come to be a brother, there's no problem When I entered, there were about 27, 28 kids, and I think there were about 5 kids, because for some reason, the prisoner wanted the brothers to help him to save the monastery. To me it should be something like the sisters, you know, they can have a monastery or a


funeral, and get priests to come and say, it's a massacre. But it should be something, just monks, that they can have a funeral and get sanctity, and not get prisoned, or they catch up on it. That would be one possible thing, but of course there's no doubt about it, it's enormous help if the few priests that are in the monastery, because there are pastoral functions for them to do, are also monks, because then they should have the common spirit of the house, which you can't quite expect of somebody who comes in to give the sacraments, and to preach. Certainly one of the things I found, which is a problem for enclosed sisters, I had a lot to do with those, even as a layman, and had more sins. Very often, Carmelite sisters would say to me, as a layman later, but also as a priest, the trouble is we can't get many, many people to come to us, who can preach to us, who understand our life at all. So I think there's a real problem about that, in other words, I don't think one should


go so far as to think that it's necessarily the ideal to have no priests at all in the house. Not at all. But you need to have some, because a bit more is concerned than simply being able to celebrate mass validly. It does require some kind of pastoral formation, and above all, a formation which is in harmony with the life of the whole community. See, the monastery is a school of the Lord. Yes. To learn things to become holy, to become saints. Not things for the world. You have value to learn in the United States. So in life that comes, you have the opportunity to learn as much as the monastery can give you. But you know very well that for the brotherly you can choose so much, and that's it.


It won't work. And that happened before. They got a lot of workers, and then they started making them like brothers, because they need the religious to be around the house. It was very difficult to understand that. And also, you can't just have everything going on. So they started getting servants with a little kind of category, like they are religious, but something like that, just like you throw some bread. Yes, obviously the history of the thing is a very difficult one, indeed. And we must remember also that it's been constantly changing. I mean, obviously there was a time when many brothers who entered the monastery would not have been able to read and had no kind of humane information at all, whereas nowadays we can more or less assume that anybody who comes at least has had an ordinary general education. That's why I tell you, because the ones with education, they feel, I don't want to be there because they are not taking inspiration, you know, just like a servant.


So those who come, they want to prepare. They had to study. I saw them on Angelo. They were trying to know who this was and go to seminary. Yes, I know. That's quite... As I say, I think this is something which everybody recognises as a real difficulty. Obviously, in one way you could go into it a whole time to it, but it's something which is not relevant. What I really try to look at is the rule itself, because the rule has obviated that none of these preoccupations, they simply don't arise, because it assumes that everybody in the house is a monk, primarily. And when that happens, and it's already happening in some places very consciously, and I've no doubt will happen very much more, I think this problem will be solved, because partly because, as I say, society itself is no longer stratified in quite the same way. It's becoming very critical.


Yes, yes, yes. It's not... No, quite. It's not too evil. No, it isn't. It's too bad. It's true, but you see, I have at least at least one house, one which I've lived in myself, which is so anecdotal, it's really rather silly. I mean, really rather silly, because it's perfectly absurd. In fact, it goes so far as it's rather doubtfully orthodox, in any sense at all. Do you see any hope for a canon on that? Because one of the great disappointments in the past few years is that there isn't a I entirely agree. I suppose it's the greatest thing. I probably wouldn't even... I can say this here. I mustn't keep you all too long, because this wasn't my intention. I've got something I must do before lunch, because I'm on duty in the guest house, anyway, in the afternoon. But what you raise, of course, is something which means that I say I wouldn't even be sitting in this chair, certainly, if I could be canonically among... under my bishop, which would have been possible in the Middle Ages,


and should be possible again. But because, in fact, there is still today the job I was doing for a bishop in a very remote place, which could very well be done by a monk, and manifestly proved it can't be done by anybody else. I've had no success since I left in 1918. That's six years ago. Now the bishops in that clock, two or three people are here, who are going to take years and years, even to learn enough language to spit function there, and then probably won't understand people at all. A very unsuitable arrangement. So this is a very sad thing. So unfortunately, it's one of the great defects of Canterbury, it didn't provide for special things for monks, and special things for the possibility to enter a mythical life, too, which is certainly going to be a very common vocation, and ought to have canonical status. If you're already a priest... My problem is actually, most of my problems have arisen out of being a priest in recent years, because it's very difficult once you're a priest


to be canonically living a monastic life, if you're not going to do it under very special conditions. It's quite difficult. But then, as Father Thomas rightly says, it's only because of the stiffness of Canterbury Law, that it's... I suppose it's largely, again, because the kind of thing Bonhoeffer's talking about within individual houses, and that's here, it's the church, where some clerics are very frightened of losing control of the whole situation. It seems, I mean, with the way some of the houses that were built in the 1970s, they did a complete clearing of the incredible top clerics. Yes. So they didn't ordain for 20 years, they just whittled down, so they had a brother's house, with some priests. And the priests had gradually died off, because the houses were open. So... This is what I'm anticipating when I say this. That is when you have the choice between a certain segment of the whole community to choose from for a plan of action,


that you may have a better choice over others. Yes. If it were possible. Yes, exactly. So that was... Yes, as I say, I'm thinking rather especially... I'll talk to them next week, I'm giving their retreat in the beginning of March. And I know already from brothers I met there last time that many of these are, in fact, very distinguished men. I mean, Patrick Hart could quite well be an amateur. Except by law. Except by law. Yes. But I'm assuming that one of those things we're going to have to live through. The Lord in his own time will work it out. Because... Like all these things, I suppose, that we're living in at all. It wouldn't have been love if it hadn't been possible to stop it. There's nothing you can do. So you can see really how fascinating the rule becomes when you think of it in these terms, doesn't it? Because to make it alive you've got to see it just as it really is.


Providing for everybody to live a quite real life together in common. All right. Well, next time we're going to have a look at a bit of the shape of the day and so on. And get a bit near to, I hope so. Anyway. Thank you so much.