Links of interest & resources…

ON BECOMING A CATHOLIC HERMIT.

Originally this was supposed to be a reply to Barry who works in active ministry in a catholic diocese in the USA, who thanked me for my blog (I am actually benumbed anyone reads them even more so for having received a message which is extremely rare, but then, as a hermit not much mail filters past my administrator Bro. Paolo)… So Barry asks “Do you have any recommendations for developing a program of life? What is most essential, to make a beginning?”  This is my reply to him which nevertheless I perceived (and Barry agrees) should be shared with all enquirers.  I’ve also had to put in some background, for those who are interest but not yet ready to make a formal request to their Bishop, it is therefore a somewhat loaded response, written and compiled very quickly, but wanting to ensure that you had the full facts available, there is also the possibility that I may repeat myself in the rush (I’m not at my best when rushing – as I like to think things through but I’m also afflicted by RA and “winter is coming”, so it tends to slow me down somewhat).  In the Diocese we use the term ‘Evergreen Document’, being that it is continually edited and updated online.  I am honour-bound to recognise Barry as being instrumental for this article and thank him for asking the question.  I take this opportunity to offer my prayers and blessings to Barry as he begins his walk into the Desert.  Benedicite.

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St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury Kent.

Originally this was supposed to be a reply to Barry who works in active ministry in a catholic diocese in the USA, who thanked me for my blog (I am actually benumbed anyone reads them even more so for having received a message which is extremely rare, but then, as a hermit not much mail filters past my administrator Bro. Paolo)… So Barry asks “Do you have any recommendations for developing a program of life? What is most essential, to make a beginning?”  This is my reply to him which nevertheless I perceived (and Barry agrees) should be shared with all enquirers.  I’ve also had to put in some background, for those who are interest but not yet ready to make a formal request to their Bishop, it is therefore a somewhat loaded response, written and compiled very quickly, but wanting to ensure that you had the full facts available, there is also the possibility that I may repeat myself in the rush (I’m not at my best when rushing – as I like to think things through but I’m also afflicted by RA and “winter is coming”, so it tends to slow me down somewhat).  In the Diocese we use the term ‘Evergreen Document’, being that it is continually edited and updated online.  I am honour-bound to recognise Barry as being instrumental for this article and thank him for asking the question.  I take this opportunity to offer my prayers and blessings to Barry as he begins his walk into the Desert.  Benedicite.

Fr. Ugo-Maria 
St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury 
On the Feast of  Saint Didacus de Alcalá o.f.m.

Continue reading “ON BECOMING A CATHOLIC HERMIT.”

Theophan, recluse, hermit, bishop and saint.

Throughout Christian history many monks have had to abandon the tranquility of their monasteries and serve the Church as missionaries, bishops and popes. There were also itinerants in withdrawal, when so many ecclesiastics of action took refuge in a cloisters to seek God in prayer, penance and solitude. In many cases, these retreatant’s exercised important apostolate’s as directors of souls or writers of texts on spirituality. Still fresh is the memory of Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger pss, whom Pope Paul VI allowed to leave his episcopal See and enter into seclusion in a distant African mission as chaplain for a leper colony in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  The author of this paper recalls Monsignor Tomás Aspe o.f.m., (Oct. 9, 1885 – † Jan. 22, 1962) bishop of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who as a thanksgiving for being cured of leprosy, dedicated the rest of his life to his ex-companion’s  with this terrible infirmity. The topic of interest now is of Theophan the Recluse (†1894), Russian Orthodox dimissory bishop of Tambov and  a hermit for 24 years.

To read the paper with full references please go to my Academia.edu site…

Theophan il Recluso
St. Theophan the Recluse

Throughout Christian history many monks have had to abandon the tranquility of their monasteries and serve the Church as missionaries, bishops and popes. There were also itinerants in withdrawal, when so many ecclesiastics of action took refuge in a cloisters to seek God in prayer, penance and solitude. In many cases, these retreatant’s exercised important apostolate’s as directors of souls or writers of texts on spirituality. Still fresh is the memory of Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger pss, whom Pope Paul VI allowed to leave his episcopal See and enter into seclusion in a distant African mission as chaplain for a leper colony in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  The author of this paper recalls Monsignor Tomás Aspe o.f.m., (Oct. 9, 1885 – † Jan. 22, 1962) bishop of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who as a thanksgiving for being cured of leprosy, dedicated the rest of his life to his ex-companion’s  with this terrible infirmity. The topic of interest now is of Theophan the Recluse (†1894), Russian Orthodox dimissory bishop of Tambov and  a hermit for 24 years.

Theophan is better known in the West through the various translations of his works on spirituality. His writings on prayer are particularly appreciated, probably because they are the fruit of what he himself experienced. His life has never been dramatic, nor full of great pastoral enterprises: from his childhood to his death it was calm and pious, we see that this life developed in a quiet channel of withdrawal – first as a student, then as a priest, teacher, bishop and monk. In his search for Christian perfection in solitude, he has developed a broad and fruitful apostolate as a father and spiritual master.

Georgy Vasilievich Govorov (Георгий Васильевич Говоров), was born in Chernavsk, province and diocese of Oryol, in the former Russian Empire. He was one of the 7 sons of a Russian Orthodox priest and, therefore was reasonably predestined towards an ecclesiastical career, as was common in Russia at the time of Tsar Peter the Great. At the age of 8, he began his studies at the parochial institute. He attended secondary school at the diocesan seminary in Oryol. As a child he showed great intelligence, and a strong tendency towards piousness and seclusion.  Due to his excellent gradings in his studies, he was granted a scholarship to the Ecclesiastical Academy (Faculty of Theology) of Kiev, where, among other things, he studied oriental languages ​​ascribable to his particular interest in Sacred Scriptures. At the age of 26 he made his monastic profession taking the name of Theophan. On 29 June, 1841, he was ordained a Hieromonk. For all these competences he was assigned as a teacher in seminaries for the clergy, and, as a “learned monk,” he was considered a safe candidate for the episcopate. He always retained his reserved character and his love for solitude. He had the opportunity to travel through biblical locations, where he also met various communities of Orthodox Christians, either subjects of the Ottoman or Greek Empire. He was quite unimpressed to say in the least “by the disorder and carelessness of those Christians”. He also traveled through Italy, which also did not leave an indelible impression. One should note that his views on the Roman Catholic Church were no more than ordinary or even vulgar; in fact, he never formed an original distinctive opinion on the topic.

As a teacher, he served in the diocesan seminary of Novgorod and at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy (Санкт-Петербургская духовная академия). He taught various biblical disciplines, patristics and moral theology. He fulfilled his obligations with true dedication and with the highest professionalism. In all likelihood, his notable morality served as the basis for the formation of his religious and theological persona; but this discipline did not conform to the classic code of scholastic moralists, but understood it as loyal adherence to the Gospel. Medieval scholasticism passed from the West to Russian theological schools by the Metropolitan of Kiev and Halych and All Rus’ Exarch of Ukraine, Pyotr Simeonovich Mogila, in the XV century for the Russian theologians.  In the XIX century they began to develop their own theology based on the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. The divisions of dialectics and Western rationalistic exaggerations were antithetical and totally unbearable to the Russian religious spirit.

As expected, Theophan was consecrated bishop on the 11 June 1859 and appointed to the See of Tambov in the Tambov Oblast of Russia. Here he encountered a wide sphere of labours, but also an immense load to cope with. Russian dioceses were not only geographically extensive – requiring long and exhaustive journeys – but also extremely complex due to the many parishes and varied kinds of institutions. He also had to face arbitrary bureaucracy and frequent clashes with the civil authorities; In addition to the endless pontifical liturgical functions to which a bishop is obligated. For a genuine man of religion, with a reflective spirit who is eager for knowledge, this life must have been extremely mortifying and frustrating.

One fact greatly impacted Theophan and was a catalyst for his final resolve. In 1861 participating in the exhumation of the mortal remains of the holy bishop Tikhon of Zadonsk, former Bishop of Voronezh from 1763 to 1767 and Wonderworker of All Russia. He was a person of great religious, moral and intellectual qualities, an erudite and zealous pastor. But despite his youth – he was in his forties, – he resigned from the Episcopal See due to his nerves which unbalanced his whole body, and secluded himself in the monastery of Zadonsk, his former diocese, where he had spent sixteen years in prayer, study and the apostolate for the direction of souls; he died in fame of sanctity on Sunday, August 13, 1783 aged 59. His uncorrupted remains were exhumed in 1861, with enormous competition from the faithful and devout people. This holy bishop is the protagonist of the chapter “At Tikhon’s” in Dostoevsky’s Demons.  Theophan knew the life and works of the dimissory bishop very well, who had reached sanctity in his retirement in a distant, humble and   disregarded monastery of Zadonsk. Having contemplated a great deal on the matter, Theophan finally decided to imitate Saint Tikhon, although not as an intervention for health reasons in this case. He obtained the desired retreat, and on 28 June, 1866 relinquished his Episcopal See to settle in the hermitage Vyshenskaia Poustinia, in neighbouring Tambov province. Until 1872 the Holy Synod had forced him to serve as Prior of the monastery, but finally obtained permission to remain in his valued seclusion. The hermitage consisted of two rooms and a small garden. He left there only on Easter night, to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Rotating only with his assistant, a monk, he lived like this until 6 January, 1894, when his assistant found him lifeless in his bed.

What was the life of the reclusive bishop? It was not like that of the ancient hermits, though it resembled it to some extent. He was, in fact, an intellectual ecclesiastic in solitude. In his private chapel, the canonical Hours were celebrated, which in the Byzantine rite had the form of liturgical celebration, and frequently added the Divine Liturgy, that is the Mass. He had free time and ambience for his personal prayers and study. He read and studied a lot (the library of “Tikhon”, by Dostoyevsky corresponding with the library of Theophan); he wrote and translated several works: he left us the complete version in contemporary Russian of the famous Philocalia. His library consisted of 3400 volumes, with several works on theology, texts of the Fathers, many works of Eastern and Western spirituality (he was well versed in St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales), works of ancient and modern philosophy, various magazines and newspapers. He was interested in various sciences, for example astronomy; painted icons and performed various manual jobs. As director of consciences he received a lot of correspondence that he always answered promptly. His time was encumber with many pursuits.

The works written by Theophan compose a single set of publications: eight volumes of Biblical exegesis (except the letter to the Hebrews); collections of Sermons and Conferences; the complete Philocalia in contemporary Russian; twenty volumes of correspondence; Put’ko Spaseniyu (The Path to Salvation): Nachertanie kristianskogo nravoucheniya (Programming of Christian moral doctrine). This last work exposes the systematic theological, moral and spiritual thought of Theophan. Several authors have characterised it as moralist, which can be admitted if by morality we meant an order of life. However, the work is more than this, since we can take it as a treatise on Christian anthropology and systematic spirituality.

In this work, as in general, Theophan does not formulate any natural theodicy as a starting point: segments like the Three Cappadocians on the dogma of one and triune God, who has created man in his image and likeness. Man has been created with sanctifying grace, which is part of his nature; and the corruption of sin consisting in the loss of grace: so sin is an action against nature. The created man, being an image of God, was divine, and would have naturally sought to unite with God at his end. This would have been realised with the faculties that characterise it, which are consciousness and freedom. But as our nature is now corrupted and redeemed by Christ, morality must contemplate the subject on the real state of his existence, that is, within the economy of Salvation.

With original sin man lost his communion with God, so that the human spirit became a prisoner of his own soul and body. It should be noted that the author understands the human entity as a Platonic trichotomy: the body with life, the soul with feelings and freedom, and the spirit with reasoning. However, this trichotomy is not very clear in Theophan’s works, perhaps because of his past studies in scholastic theology of Aristotelian-Thomism, used in the Russian ecclesiastical schools until the last century. He regards the human spirit as the noblest part of ones being: there the faculties of reasoning, the conscience, the desire and the fear of God, and, and finally, sanctifying grace.

To recompose the character destroyed by sin, a Redeemer God and man was necessary: with God only Redemption would have been something purely imposed, with man alone it would not have been possible to restore grace. Consequently, we achieve salvation by grace, but with our own collaboration. Complete life is only possessed by the integral nature, which includes grace. Therefore, a morally good pagan does not live life completely. On the other hand, the salvation of Christ signifies for man the fulfilment of sins and the possibility of performing true human works according to the will of God.

The Theo-anthropos Christ has freely given himself as the fulfilment for sin. We need his grace to rebuild our destroyed nature. Christ announced to us the will of God: He is the head of humanity. To communicate his grace, he established his Church during Pentecost. We receive grace for Baptism. The laws of the Church are given by God and the bishops administer them. Christ is the only head of the Church: the bishops are his ministers. Theophan interprets the famous and controversial text of Matthew 16 as follows: the “rock” is the unquestioned faith of Peter in Christ incarnate, but the final interpretation of the text refers to the opinions of the Church. The supreme authority of the visible Church is the Council of Bishops, who care for the faith and administer grace; denying both the ecclesial democracy of the Protestants, and the principles of sobornost, -catholicity or communion-  as formulated by the Russians. In the Church there must be unity of thought, of will, of sentiments and of action. Everything prescribed by the Church must be observed, without distinguishing the necessary from the accessory.

Following this dogmatic exposition of redemption and of the Church, we see that Theophan here represents the traditional viewpoint of Russian orthodoxy which maintains its conservatism without distinguishing the value of the various ecclesiastical traditions. It is also remarkable that in his political vision he has not overcome the conservative concepts, so dear to the Russian monarchy, of православие, самодержавие, национальность, (orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality), concepts analogous to the many catholic fundamentalist environments.

According to Theophan, Christian life possesses certain conditions, which enable the necessary good works. These are conscience and conscious action: it is necessary to have the consciousness of being a servant of Christ. The object, purpose and circumstances of good works must be legitimate. God has manifested his precepts in nature: they are the natural laws, or revealed them: they are the positive laws. These positive laws may be divine – revealed directly or indirectly – or human – whether ecclesiastical or civil. The Gospel is the supreme law and therefore must be preferred above all other laws. Virtue consists in a state of mind that works in a Christian way. Sin, in turn, consists of a voluntary transgression and free from a precept.

In the categorisation and classification of sins, Theophan has followed the Catechism of Peter Mogila, who in turn composed it according to the Roman model that he became acquainted with during his studies with the Jesuits. The Christian must live by observing the Gospel, moved by the grace he obtains for the sacraments.

Finally, Theophan propounds the natural desire of man to unite with God and this he does through prayer. Starting from the oriental concept of the heart as the most intimate background of the human being, and of the mind as the cognitive element, formulates its definition of prayer: it is elevation of the heart and mind to God.

Distinguishing four degrees or types of prayer: oral, with formulas composed ex-professed, accompanied by fasting and prostrations; the prayer of the mind, in which feelings accompany every word; the prayer of heart, in which the formulas disappear and the human faculties remain silent, fatigue is not felt and feelings of piety and gratitude toward God emerge; finally, pure prayer of the spirit or contemplative, in which all human sentiments are silent.

Theophan warns with great acuity against various pseudo-charisms, especially against visions and miracles. We could say that he is extremely severe in the caution against spirits.

The illustrious and great Russian spiritual master, appreciated and read by generations of Christians and scholars interested in a systematic and logical spirituality, canonised by his Church years ago along with another great master, the staretz (стáрец)  Ven. Ambrose of Optina (1812-†1891).

BOOKS TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH:

  • The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned To It
  • Theofan, The Recluse (Saint), 2017. A Manual of Spiritual Transformation. Excerpts from the “The Path to Salvation”. Available at: http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/salvation_theofan.htm [Accessed October 29, 2018].
  • Turning the Heart to God (Partial translation of The Path to Salvation)
  • Kindling the Divine Spark: Teachings on How to Preserve Spiritual Zeal
  • Theophan the Recluse. Four Homilies on Prayer. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  • Theophan the Recluse. Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse. ISBN 978-1-928920-87-8.}
  • Theophan the Recluse (1992). Amis, Robin; Williams, Esther, eds. The Heart of Salvation: The Life and Teachings of Russia’s Saint Theophan the Recluse. Praxis Institute. ISBN 978-1872292021.

Memorable Words of Life For Everyone Trying to Lead the Good Life By Fr. Francis Acharya OCSO.

Modelling their life on the early Church of Jerusalem, they lived the
common life to the hilt, sharing living quarters, basic amenities and
goods. Prayer services were initially in Syriac. Fr. Francis, driven by the
typical Cistercian search for authenticity, traveled all the way to Iraq
and managed to procure original Syriac prayers of the Antiochean rite
(the Penqito). By a Herculean effort spanning nearly two decades, he
translated selected portions into four volumes totalling 2300 pages,
named Prayer with the Harp of the Spirit. “…He has freely used his
sources with striking effect, reflecting the Christian freedom and
creative genius of the great masters of liturgical prayer in the past”
wrote Orientalia Christiana Periodica of the Pontifical Oriental
Institute. Rome, praising the first of this quartet, adorned as it is
with ‘seeds of the word’ gleaned from the spiritual heritage of
India. A book of daily readings on the Lives and Saying of Saints

St. Mary’s Hermitage Press – the publishing branch of St. Mary’s Hermitage are extremely delighted to make available to the Friends of St. Mary’s Hermitage their latest publication free of charge.

Memorable Words of Life For Everyone Trying to Lead the Good Life By Fr. Francis Acharya OCSO.

This book came into existence quite by accident after Bishop Alistair said that he would like to one day visit the Monastery of Our Lady of Kurisumala in Vagamon India. Dom Ugo-Maria ESB had a look at their website and saw an opportunity and contacted Father Abbot Savanand OCSO.

Several emails and 13 days later we present to our readers on behalf of Kurisumala Abbey a book that we hope will enlighten you.

Click on image to download

May the Holy Spirit enlighten you and Guide you always.

Dom. Ugo-Maria ESB (csr)

Radegonde – Princess of Thuringia Queen of the Franks – Saint. c. 518 a.d., – †13 august 587 a.d.

The life of Saint Radegonde, wife of King Chlothar I, first became known to us from the writings of three of her contemporaries and friends, the nun Baudonivie, Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours.

To view this paper with reference footnotes please go to my Academia Site

Introduction

Sainte Radegonde de Poitiers - Carton pour les Vitraux de la chapelle Saint Louis à Dreux par Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresThe life of Saint Radegonde, wife of King Chlothar I, first became known to us from the writings of three of her contemporaries and friends, the nun Baudonivie, Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours. Research scholars, historians and those of the second half of the twentieth century have greatly  clarified the characteristics of this period – the sixth century – and the personality of the Queen-Nun-Saint.  Saint Radegonde has been the subject of important marks of devotion in Loir-et-Cher and Dunois. This paper gathered  from various sources and [not all of which concur] scattered information considered the collected traditions and testimonies and the large collection of texts in the diocesan archives of Poitiers.  I also used Joe Anne McNamara’s Sainted women of the Dark Ages, Fortunatus and Baudonivia’s lives in Latin and the 1301 medieval French manuscript [Ancienne cote: Anc. 7840(7); Colbert 4501] of “La Vie de tres glorieuse Royne Madame Saincte Radegonde” as a starting point for this collation.

Princess of the Thuringii

Princess Radegonde, born circa 518 a.d., was the daughter of pagan king Berthachar, one of the three kings of the Southern German land of Thuringia. When Radegonde was about 11 or 12 years old, her country was invaded by the Franks and her uncle, Hermanfrid, killed her father in battle, and took Radegund into his household.  Allying himself with the Frankish King Theuderic, Hermanfrid defeated his other brother Baderic.  In 531, Theuderic returned to Thuringia with his brother Chlothar I. Together they defeated Hermanfrid and conquered his kingdom. Chlothar I then took Radegonde and her brother as a political prisoner of war, taking them back to Merovingian Gaul, deciding that she should be instructed for the role of a royal Christian wife, her brother was also educated at Court. Radegonde acquiesced and took her studies seriously. When she was about 18 Radegonde was compelled to marry Chlothar and become his queen. As Queen, Radegonde was considered to be an extremely virtuous Lady, much devoted to prayer and alms-deeds, often fasting and chastening herself with hair-cloth, which she wore under her royal apparel.  Chlothar was known to be rough, brutal, unfaithful, and often drunk. To his irritation, Radegonde’s suffering and meek behaviour led people to say that he had “yoked himself to a nun rather than a queen”. 

Education and marriage and Queen of the Franks

When she grew up, not only was Radegonde extremely accomplished but also very beautiful and Chlothar, being a notorious womaniser, in c. 540 when she turned 18, Chlothar decided to make her his fifth wife and married her.  The Merovingians, did not consider that the Christian doctrine of monogamy should be expected of royalty and therefore decided that it did not apply to them: he had five wives, for political expediency. Radegonde, it seems, accepted her position meekly but increasingly devoted herself to great charitable works. Chlothar married her, and twelve years later arranged for her brother to be unjustly killed at the hands of his men.  The young prince had asked for permission to join his cousin Amalafried and his family who lived in Constantinople; Clotaire feared that the young Thuringian prince was conspiring revenge against the Frankish crown as he was the last surviving male of the Thuringian dynasty and thus posed a threat to Chlothar crown.  One day whilst walking in her garden in the palace, Radegonde heard the voices of prisoners on the other side of the wall, weeping in their fetters, and imploring pity; and remembering her early sorrows, she also wept.  And, not knowing how to aid them otherwise, she betook herself to prayer, whereupon their fetters burst asunder and they loosed from captivity…  “She is therefore represented with the royal crown, under which flows a long veil; she has a captive kneeling at her feet, and holding his broken fetters in his hands.” (Jameson, Anna, 1880. Legends of the Monastic Orders, as represented in the fine arts: forming the second series of Sacred and Legendary Art, p. 220; 1st ed., London: Longmans, Green & Co.)

Labours as Queen, Nun and Saint

Radegonde distraught, unobtrusively fled Chlothar’s court without giving  notice and sought sanctuary within the Church.  The bishop in fear for his life after being forewarned and threatened by the King’s men made every effort to evade her Radegonde-soignant-maladesconsecration; Radegonde in turn threatened the Bishop with divine vengeance if he allowed her soul to escape the church.  She persuaded Medardus bishop of Noyon to appoint her as a deaconess, an old position which did not require virginity or widowhood, she then became a nun until she removed to her own foundation at Saix.  

Radegonde hears rumours that Chlothar wants her back was about to try force to get his wife back. Whilst Clotaire was on pilgrimage to Tours at the tomb of St. Martin – she wonders if he was being truly penitential or was her husband the king simply being cunning? She immediately wrote to the bishop Germain of Paris, who was accompanying the king, to prevent him from coming to Poitiers to take her back against her will if that was his intention, which she believed God would not allow! Bishop Germain read the letter to Clotaire; The latter compelled the king to accept the situation and the fact that she would not return to the world; overcome by remorse, he implores the Queens pardon through the intercession of bishop Germain, who had come expressly to Poitiers to mediate this private royal perturbation. Radegonde readily granted her husband Clotaire forgiveness, as he had finally accepted this definitive separation.  Clotaire who would not survive much longer ( he died within a year) decided to underwrite the first large-scale female monastery among the Franks enabling Radegonde to established Sainte-Croix of Poitiers in 557. 

Founder of a religious community

In the early 550s Radegonde founded a monastery on her own royal estate at Poitiers. She gathered many converts, men as well as women, and within 40 years the community had grown to 200 members.  Radegonde assembled a large collection of relics, including a fragment of the True Cross, which led to the monastery being known as the Abbey of the Holy Cross. Around 570 she also introduced the monastic rule of Caesarius of Arles, which required nuns as well as monks to be able to read and write, and to spend several hours each day reading the scriptures and copying manuscripts.  After installing her childhood friend Agnes as abbess, Radegonde strove to live as a simple nun. She maintained good relationships with her stepsons and befriended the poet and hymn writer Venantius Fortunatus who was to become her biographer. Popular canonisation followed soon after her death in 587, and pilgrims still travel to her tomb in Poitiers today. 

1-3Radegdengr

The community, in its infancy, would have auspicious help in the person of Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c. 530 – c. 609 a.d.). This Italian Christian, poet and hymnodist in the Merovingian Court, Bishop of Poitiers (599-610) a great connoisseur of classical poets and of Christian antiquity, who came to Gaul to venerate St. Martin, for whilst at Ravenna he had been miraculously cured of a disease of the eyes through the intercession of St. Martin. He worshipped at the tomb of the saint and gave thanks to the bishop, Euphronius (III, 3), whom he afterwards came to know better. From Tours Fortunatus went to Poitiers, attracted, no doubt, by the renown of St.  Radegonde and her monastery.  Arriving in Poitiers where at the request of Radegonde he was asked to reside; he willingly accepts to be her messenger and the bursar of the monastery. A deep friendship will be born and will be established betweVenantiusFortunatus-Lawrence-Alma-Tadema-1862en Radegonde, Richilde and him. This circumstance had a decisive influence on the remainder of his life.

 Gregory of Tours suggests that she adopt Rule for Virgins of Caesarius of Arles, she meant to tie Sainte-Croix to the diocese of Arles rather than Poitiers, as she had previous poor relations with bishop Maroveus. Radegonde lived under the Rule for Virgins her entire life. Due to her humility, she had no desire to be the Abbess of the monastery she had just founded, Radegonde appointed Richilde, one of her daughters in Christ, who although still quite young, as superior; her decision was ratified by the election of Richilde. “Radegonde fully submits herself and her possessions under Richilde’s authority.”  The monastery at the time owned lands and farms given by Clotaire as a patrimony necessary to sustain the monastic community. It was Radegonde who assured the spiritual direction and formation of the sisters, who remained “her daughters,” by teaching, exhortations, homiletics – possessing vast biblical and patristic knowledge – and by example of the life she lead, her commitment, mortification, virtue and piety had become a paragon for all the sisters.

Radegonde was a close friend of Saint Junian of Maire a 6th-century Christian hermit and abbot, founder of Mariacum Abbey at Mairé-Levescault in Poitou France. (The “L’Evescault” was added after a great religious festival in Poitiers to which Junian was invited by Queen Radagonde who raised him to the same rank as the other bishops or “Les Evêques” who were present.)  Junian and Radegonde are said to have died on the same day, August 13, 587 and was buried in the crypt at Poitiers. [Quelques saints du Poitou et d’ailleurs . 

Her abbey was named after a large fragment of the relic of the True Cross encased in a rich reliquary that Radegonde obtained at great personal expense from the Byzantine Emperor Justin II. Although the bishop of Poitiers Maroveus refused to install it in the Vexilla_Regis_(Italia_anno_MCDX)-1abbey, at Radegonde’s request king Sigebert sent Eufronius of Tours to Poitiers to perform the ceremony to install them; To celebrate the relic and its installation into Sainte-Croix, Venantius Fortunatus wrote a major hymn for the occasion, “Vexilla regis prodeunt.”  [Vexilla regis prodeunt, fulget crucis mysterium, quo carne carnis conditor suspensus est patibulo… – The Banners of the King issue forth, the mystery of the Cross does gleam, where the Creator of flesh, in the flesh, by the cross-bar is hung…] it is still considered to be one of the most significant Christian hymns ever written, and is still sung for services on Good Friday, Palm Sunday, as well as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Notably, Radegonde founded a hospital for lepers and persons ‘afflicted with the most nauseous distempers’, remaining there for over thirty years nursing them herself. She was also very pious and it was reputed that during Lent, Radegonde wore a shift of haircloth with iron chains and collars and even hot plates of iron under her robes. She also abstained from eating meat, fish, eggs and fruit, she ate nothing but legumes and green vegetables.  She turned to God, changing her garments, and built a monastery for herself in the city of Poitiers. And being remarkable for prayer, fasting and charity, she attained such fame that she was considered great by the people. 

The piety of the nuns of Poitiers is described. As the result of a vision one of them acted as follows: When the maiden had had this vision she was contrite in heart and after a few days she asked the abbess to get ready a cell in which she could be shut. The abbess got it ready quickly and said: “Here is the cell. What more do you wish?” The maiden asked to be permitted to be shut in it.  This was granted, and the nuns gathered with loud psalm-singing and the lamps were lighted and she was conducted to the place, the blessed Radegonde holding her hand. And so she said farewell to all and kissed each one and became a recluse. And the entrance by which she went in was walled up and she is there now spending her time in prayer and reading. 

Funeral and burial

Sainte-Radegonde-tombeau

Maroveus bishop of Poitiers also refused to conduct Radegunde’s funeral,  [I get the impression that Maroveus really seemed to dislike Radegunde] which  Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours attended, it was conducted three days after her death. She was buried in what was to become the Église de Sainte-Radegonde  (formerly named Sainte-Marie-hors-les-murs) in Poitiers. Her tomb can still be found in the crypt of that church, which remains the centre of devotion to her. In the 1260s a church decoration program included stained-glass windows depicting Radegund’s life but were largely destroyed by Huguenots.

Attributes 

Radegonde

Radegonde is typically depicted “with royal robes, crown, and sceptre” and sometimes with “wolves and wild beasts” which are tame in her presence, she is also depicted with “crozier and book; field of oats; white headdress, tunic with fleurs-de-lys, mantle with castles.”

Continue reading “Radegonde – Princess of Thuringia Queen of the Franks – Saint. c. 518 a.d., – †13 august 587 a.d.”

Nel grande silenzio con San Bruno il Certosino

Tuttavia, in uno di quei momenti dove la realtà supera la fantasia di cui la nostra Chiesa è piena, il Beato Papa Urbano aveva sentito parlare del grande lavoro che il suo ex maestro, il santo Bruno, stava facendo in Chartreuse e lo convocò a Roma come una sorta di consulente personale. (Il suo ruolo esatto non è stato chiaro). Il guadagno di Roma fu certamente la perdita di Chartreuse: anzi, sembrava impossibile immaginare come questo nascente monastero eremita potesse sopravvivere senza il suo fondatore.

❝Separati da tutti, siamo uniti a tutti, per stare a nome di tutti al cospetto del Dio vivente.❞ Statuti 34.2

Nel pantheon degli ordini religiosi cattolici – Carmelitani, Clarettiani, Camoldoli, Cistercense, Cappuccini e Francescani Conventuali, Cluniacensi, Canonici Regolari, Chierici Regolari (Barnabiti) – I Certosini si distinguono come uno dei più antichi e più austeri ordini millenari.

Stat Crux Dum Voltitus Orbis

I certosini sono, in effetti, così lontani dal “mondo” che non permettono visitatori, ritiranti o oblati. Lavorano e pregano, pregano e lavorano su un modello a due livelli: i monaci del coro pregano come eremiti quasi senza sosta – tutte le ore liturgiche e il Piccolo ufficio della Beata Vergine Maria, la Messa quotidiana e il Rosario – mentre i monaci laici mantengono il monastero (o “certosa”) canticchiando rendendo possibile ai loro fratelli del coro di pregare giorno e notte. Tutti i monaci, i certosini consacrano la loro vita interamente alla preghiera, per lavorare alla propria salvezza e a quella di tutta la Chiesa. Quest’Ordine contemplativo si fonda soprattutto su tre elementi:

+ la solitudine e il silenzio
+ la vita comunitaria come complemento di quella solitaria
+ una liturgia propria

Come la loro stessa letteratura recita: “Chi è chiamato a una vita come questa?” Non molte persone. C’è anche un monastero certosino negli Stati Uniti: la certosa della Trasfigurazione nel Vermont. Oggi l’ordine conta circa 450 monaci e monache e dispone di 24 monasteri in Europa e in America, in ognuno dei quali si vive la stessa vocazione contemplativa. La solitudine, vissuta per Dio solo, implica la separazione dal mondo, realizzata mediante la clausura, che si traduce, tra l’altro, in:

+ una sola uscita settimanale, per il passeggio comune “spaziamento”
+ nessune visite
+ nessun apostolato esercitato all’esterno
+ assenza di radio, televisione e giornali

Se i certosini hanno lasciato il mondo, non per questo sono diventati puro spirito. Devono pertanto sovvenire a tutti i bisogni propri della natura umana, anche se con austerità. Sono i fratelli a farsi carico di gran parte di questi impegni, ma anche i monaci del chiostro assicurano il loro aiuto; d’altronde ciò viene fatto sia per sovvenire alle necessità che per mantenere un certo equilibrio fisico.

Tuttavia, c’è l’attrazione dell’ignoto. Nel 2005 il documentario franco-tedesco “Il Grande Silenzio” è stato rilasciato con grande successo di critica. Porta lo spettatore a La Grande Chartreuse, la casa madre dell’Ordine Certosino situato nella zona più remota della Francia. E a quasi tre ore di lunghezza, dà allo spettatore un assaggio della storia del luogo.

È una lunga storia e una storia ininterrotta. I certosini sono le razze più rare – un ordine religioso pre-Riformato che non ha mai riformato o subito una revisione maggiore o addirittura minore. Come dice il proverbio, “I certosini non sono mai stati riformati perché non sono mai stati deformati”.

Tuttavia, il fatto che siano stati formati è notevole. Bruno, nato a Colonia intorno al 1030, divenne canonico e poi cancelliere diocesano prima di rendersi conto di volere solo una cosa: una vita di perfetta solitudine e contemplazione. Non ci sarebbero mezze misure, non uscire nel mondo, nemmeno per le opere corporali di misericordia. Bruno voleva la purezza non solo della vita, ma della preghiera. In breve, voleva imitare i primi Padri del Deserto.

È qui che il lettore contemporaneo può cadere nella trappola di pensare che Bruno in particolare, e monaci e religiosi di clausura in generale, stiano “scappando dalla realtà” o “in fuga dal mondo”, ma non è proprio vero. Se mai, con tutte le distrazioni rimosse, i Certosini scontrano nella realtà – ed è difficile. È la vita di un eremita, unita a una preghiera comunitaria occasionale (compresa la messa), insieme a una volta al mese “giorni di famiglia”, in cui i monaci parlano tra loro.

Ma perché Bruno ha fatto quello che ha fatto?

Due ragioni: primo, Bruno, ancora a quel tempo canonico e cancelliere diocesano, veniva perseguitato da un arcivescovo simoniaco, Manassès Ier de Gournay Arcivescovo di Reims, la cui vita era uno scandalo aperto. Secondo, e forse apocrifo, Bruno aveva avuto una visione del suo insegnante onorato e defunto, il canonico Raymond Diocrès, che, durante l’ufficio dei morti, sollevò la testa dalla sua bara e con voce tremenda parlò severamente: “Per giusto giudizio di Dio sono stato accusato!” Il cadavere eseguì lo stesso prodigio la mattina dopo, e ancora una volta una terza volta più tardi quel giorno, dicendo quelle terribili parole: “Per giusto giudizio di Dio sono stato giudicato!”

Come gli Irlandesi amano dire, “Questa non potrebbe essere la verità, ma è così che è successo”, e nel caso della formazione di San Bruno, la storia ha una sorta di senso regressivo. Il canone, il cui unico difetto noto era un certo grado di ambizione clericale, sembrava parlare direttamente a Bruno – sebbene secondo la leggenda tutti i presenti udissero la proclamazione del morto e alla fine gettarono il cadavere in una fossa.

San Bruno vide che anche la minima parte della vanità non era solo dannosa per l’anima, ma abbastanza per avere una persona giudicata meritevole almeno per un bel pò di tempo nel purgatorio, se non l’inferno stesso. Come molti santi, Bruno voleva andare direttamente in Paradiso e decise il modo migliore per diventare un monaco.

Si unì ai benedettini di Molesme, ma i compromessi si erano insinuati nella versione originale della Regola di Benedetto. Realizzando che il suo ruolo qui era insostenibile, ottenne il permesso dall’Abate nel 1084 e, insieme a sei compagni, cercò il posto più isolato e desolato che potesse trovare in Francia. Era qualcosa di affine agli originali Padri del Deserto: La Certosa, una combinazione di deserto e montagne intrattabili nella sede di Grenoble.

Il posto era poco invitante, disabitato e quasi inabitabile. L’ordinario locale, Vescovo di Grenoble (in seguito Santo) Ugo di Chateauneuf, sapeva di avere un “super-monaco” sulle sue mani e ha dato il suo pieno sostegno e benedizione all’impresa.

Per non pensare che Bruno stesse facendo tutto da solo, si dovrebbe notare che aveva fatto un convertito per tutta la vita e un amico in Landuino, uno dei sei seguaci originali che in seguito sarebbe diventato il secondo Priore. (Dopo Bruno, i certosini evitano il titolo di “Abate” e decidono invece di adottare l’uso del titolo “Priore”.) L’altra figura importante, dal tempo di Bruno come canonico e insegnante a Colonia, era un Eudes de Châtillon (detto di Lagery), uno studioso eccezionale che la storia conosce meglio come il beato Papa Urbano II.

Certo, Bruno ha rinunciato il suo titolo di Canonico, i suoi benefici, i suoi legami con il mondo di qualsiasi tipo – stava lavando non solo la macchia del peccato dalla sua pelle ma la sua vera pelle: lui e le sue coorti indossavano le camicie cilici e vivevano vite di privazioni indescrivibili. Mentre non seguivano nessuna regola scritta di per sé, i primi certosini presero la regola di Benedetto e la spogliarono fino all’essenziale. La loro vita era una Quaresima perpetua: niente carne, nulla che potesse essere considerato estraneo, per non dire stravagante. “Il pesce e il formaggio venivano assecondati durante le feste popolari”, ha scritto un contemporaneo. In effetti si dice che il loro unico inestimabile possesso era un calice d’argento per la celebrazione della Santa Messa. E così Dom. Alban Butler: “Se il loro monastero era povero, almeno la loro biblioteca era ricca.” Il silenzio veniva mantenuto in ogni momento, tranne le rare preghiere comunali – Mattutini e Vespri e la Messa settimanale.

Stranamente, questo oscuro ordine iniziò a crescere e in poco tempo si era raddoppiato il numero delle anime abbondanti originali che avevano acquistato nel sogno di San Bruno di un deserto Cristiano in Francia.

Tuttavia, in uno di quei momenti dove la realtà supera la fantasia di cui la nostra Chiesa è piena, il Beato Papa Urbano aveva sentito parlare del grande lavoro che il suo ex maestro, il santo Bruno, stava facendo in Chartreuse e lo convocò a Roma come una sorta di consulente personale. (Il suo ruolo esatto non è stato chiaro). Il guadagno di Roma fu certamente la perdita di Chartreuse: anzi, sembrava impossibile immaginare come questo nascente monastero eremita potesse sopravvivere senza il suo fondatore.

Ma è successo. Dopo un pò di difficoltà – compresa una manciata di monaci che seguirono fisicamente Bruno a Roma, e che dovette rimandare in Francia – Landuino prese il sopravvento, e Bruno, attraverso le sue lettere accorate e spezzate incoraggiava, ammoniva ed esortava i suoi amati fratelli dalla sua cella negli ex bagni di Diocleziano. (Più tardi arrivò fino alla Calabria, ma quello era quanto Papa Urbano era disposto a lasciargli andare.)

I certosini erano e si occupano di una cosa: l’imminente ritorno di Gesù Cristo e l’essere pronti ad accoglierLo quando verrà. Questo non è un evento escatologico molto distante e lontano per il monaco certosino, ma piuttosto una sorta di “Io sto qui proprio alla porta e busso”. Si aspettano completamente che Gesù arrivi ADESSO.

È anche un ordine bizzarro. Il loro silenzio si estende alla scrittura e non ci sono quasi scrittori certosini di cui parlare, il che è strano per un ordine che si faceva strada copiando manoscritti. Inoltre, la loro umiltà proibisce la canonizzazione formale dei loro membri, così mentre i monaci certosini vivono vite di santità esigente, pochissimi sono in realtà “santi”. (Lo stesso San Bruno fu incarnato dalla Chiesa circa 500 anni dopo la sua morte 6 ottobre 1101 e fu canonizzato nel 17 Febbraio 1623 da Papa Gregorio XV.) Nonostante bevano solo latte, acqua e un vino molto diluito, i certosini sono famosi per il loro liquore, “Chartreuse” (di che essi stessi non assorbono, ma ironicamente producono per sostenere il loro stile di vita ascetico). E mentre la Grande Certosa ha sopravvissuta a ogni sorta di disastro naturale (soprattutto valanghe), il governo Francese stesso ha sfrattato i monaci nel 1901, solo per riportarli appena in tempo per l’invasione Tedesca del 1940! La certosa stessa era utilizzata come ospedale delle forze alleate, diventando esattamente l’opposto di ciò che San Bruno aveva voluto che fosse: un luogo di pura contemplazione.

Infine, il capolavoro è un documentario epico di quasi tre ore: Il Grande Silenzio del 2005 è la migliore intuizione della vita quotidiana certosina (e una spinta per le vocazioni) o il massimo esaurimento (ci sono voluti i produttori 18 anni prima di ottenere il permesso di filmare all’interno di La Grande Chartreuse). Quindi, dopo quasi 1000 anni di segretezza totale, chiunque può ora vedere all’interno della Casa Madre fondata da San Bruno stesso.

Tuttavia, i Certosini sopravvivono. Che altro si può dire di un Ordine le cui caratteristiche salienti sono il silenzio e la solitudine, e che attendono la seconda venuta del Signore nella penitenza orante? San Bruno può essere orgoglioso della sua realizzazione, ma non sarebbe mai stato accusato di orgoglio.

La Vergine Maria, madre e modello dei certosini Sotto la tua protezione troviamo rifugio, santa madre di Dio: non disprezzare le suppliche di noi che siamo nella prova, e liberaci da ogni pericolo, o Vergine gloriosa e benedetta. (Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix, Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus, Sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

Per trovare di più sull’Ordine Certosino visita il loro sito ufficiale a:
Chartreux

PRAYER FOR THE SOULS IN PURGATORY

Dear Friends of St. Mary’s Hermitage,

PRAYER FOR THE SOULS IN PURGATORY

The month of November will shortly be upon us, and our thoughts turn toward Purgatory and the holy souls who dwell there for a time, expiating their faults. Holy Mother Church admonishes us to pray more especially for these souls, both known and unknown to us, during November.

A custom we keep at our Hermitage here is to place the names of deceased family members and other loved ones in our book of remembrance and place it on the altar, and our priest faithfully remember these souls at each Mass offered during the entire month of November. We wish to invite you to send us, before November 1st, the names of your loved ones who are deceased, and we will be happy to include these souls in this great benefit of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for their speedy release and eternal peace. As many as seven Masses are offered here at our chapel each week, and a remembrance of your deceased loved ones will be made at each Mass, each day of the month of November, starting on Holy Souls Day, November 2nd. Please forward your names if you wish to add a loved one to our list.

Please state the full name of person and which country and the year they passed away (the country is for demographic purposes only) and email them to St. Mary’s Hermitage placing Remembrance in your subject line.

The names will then be added to our book of remembrance in calligraphy. It is customary to normally make a Donation which you can at: Donate Here.

Giving whatever you can which will be given to the funeral grant fund for those who cannot pay to bury their loved ones, but if you can not do so do not worry we will pray for them regardless.

Throughout the month of November please remember to pray each day the following prayer:

O gentle Heart of Jesus, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, ever consumed with burning love for the poor captive souls in Purgatory, have mercy on them. Be not severe in Your judgments, but let some drops of Your Precious Blood fall upon the devouring flames. And, Merciful Saviour, send Your angels to conduct them to a place of refreshment, light and peace. Amen.

Frá Ugo-Maria

Migration from Facebook

Dear friends & supporters,

We have recently decided to begin a migration from our Social media site on Facebook to Diaspora (click here). There are several reasons for doing this but mainly because of Facebook’s practices in mass marketing, advertising policies which are inconsistent with our religious ethos and their lack in replying to our concerns.

It will in some ways be an alternative social media mirror site until we decide if necessary to fully migrate from Facebook.

We would of course like you to follow us when that happens and therefore hope you will take a look at Diaspora (click here)

AN ORIGINAL BENEDICTINE FORMULA  OF PAULINE INSPIRATION? (RB 34, 3-4)

Now the opening sentence is not only practical, but penetratingly strong as a disapproval and condemnation of an opposite attitude, that is, vice consisting of owning something of their own, conforms to, one can only conclude, from the title of the chapter.

INTRODUCTION

Full academic article with footnotes available on Academia.

The two chapters RB 33 and 34: “Monks and Private Ownership” and “Distribution of Goods According to Need,” they are part of the administrative section of the RB, in which, as soon as it is started, the second part is inserted in the so-called “penitential code” (RB 43 & RB 46). Both chapters 33 and 34 refer to the demands of renunciation and detachment from material things that is necessary for all followers of Christ; they become more radical when they are integrated into the monastic experience.

Apparently the two chapters deal with very concrete observations and have characteristics of the spirit and culture of the time. Someone might think, if they had not already done so, that those two chapters which intimidate our modern sensibilities could be excluded from it. Rule without prejudice to its content. This is a misconception and one that I would like to demonstrate.

1. A SAINT BENEDICT WHO FRIGHTENS

Chapter 33 begins quite abruptly. It does not like many other chapters, present a word of Scripture or of monastic wisdom as a principle from which practical aspects are detached.

Now the opening sentence is not only practical, but penetratingly strong as a disapproval and condemnation of an opposite attitude, that is, vice consisting of owning something of their own, conforms to, one can only conclude, from the title of the chapter.

This radical detachment, proper to the monastic life, will depend on the performance of the abbot, who is responsible for deciding what the monk may or may not retain for their own personal use. The doctrine is not new, but derives, as is well known, from the principle common to all the monastic tradition that tried to live, in a faithful way, the way of life of the primitive apostolic community of Jerusalem.

It is true that the text of the RB is not presented with the usual moderation that is characteristic of St. Benedict, but reveals an injudicious severity, which does not reappear in any other part of the Rule. Here, at the very genesis of the text an austere force of a disciplinary rule that admits no exception is already quite evident. This peremptory severity appears three more times within the same sentence, and with repetitions that reinforce it: especially as, vice must be rooted out of the monastery, no one dares to give or receive anything without the abbot’s order, nor to have anything at all of his own, nothing at all, no book, no tablets, no stylus, nothing at all.

Commenting on this chapter, observes Adalbert de Vogüé OSB., that Saint Benedict is shown here not only as severe, but altogether impulsive, with an impetuosity that is not found in his predecessors, such as Pachomius, Basil, Cassian, the Master and Augustine.  It is also wholly clear that the basic motivation of this radical renunciation seems to be based exclusively on the renunciation made by the monk at his profession (especially since monks may not have the free disposal even of their own bodies and wills. v. 4) without taking into account the expropriation in view of the fraternal union with the brothers, in imitation of the life of the apostolic community: All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes to call anything his own (33.6). This text appears in this chapter, followed by the recommendation to wait for everything necessary from the monastery’s father (33.5).

Through this detachment the primitive community of Jerusalem tried to realise and live the mystery of union and fraternal communion between the brothers and with the Lord Jesus Christ himself, that which we call, koinonia: the multitude of those who had believed had only one heart and one soul, furthermore : they were assiduous in the teaching of the apostles, in fraternal communion (κοινωνία), in the breaking of bread and in their prayers. All those who had embraced the faith met and put everything in common: they sold their properties and goods and divided them among all, according to the needs of each one.

It is thus understood why the whole monastic tradition prior to Benedict, was so demanding with regard to the necessary renunciation and detachment of things for personal use which could be an object of greed for other monks. He is, therefore, to avoid any “particular property.” Thus the vice of appropriating something without having received the express permission of the abbot was called (vitium peculiaritatis).

We will see now in the next chapter (RB 34), without denying anything already established, that the relation of the monk with material things that he needs will be placed on another level, both in the human and spiritual aspect.

2. WORDS THAT COMFORT AND PACIFY

a. OVERVIEW

Chapter 34: If everyone should likewise receive what is necessary, as de Vogüé points out, he shows total independence from the RM, where we find absolutely nothing homogeneous.

On the other hand, invariably when RB considers the relationship of the monk to his brothers, Augustine’s dependence also becomes transparently apparent here. At the beginning of his Rule, Augustine quotes the two texts of the Acts of the Apostles mentioned above: Acts 4:32 and Acts 4:35.

The second text expressly mentions the method in which the distribution should be made. Not simply according to the same amount, but according to what one needs.

In the Benedictine Rule, the same text of Acts 4:35 is placed at the beginning of the chapter (as opposed to RB 33), as a fundamental principle, from which the various definitive applications proceed and the entire chapter becomes somewhat of a commentary on the said text. On the other hand, St. Benedict proceeds similarly in many other chapters.

b. THE DEPENDENCE OF AUGUSTINE

According to de Vogüé, it becomes self-evident in several ways: 

  1. in the title: RB “si omnes aequaliter” corresponds to “non aequaliter” of Augustine, Rule 6.5-7.
  2. “Infirmitates”: RB 2,4 corresponds to Augustine, Rule 5,13
  3. “Qui minus indiget”: corresponds to Augustine, Rule 9,63 “quanto minus indigent’’ 
  4. “humilietur-extollatur” of RB 34,4 corresponds to Augustine, Rule 6,20 “si divites illic humiliantur”; 6.24 “nec extollantur” … , etc. 

It should be noted, however, that Augustine refers here to the brothers who were rich in the century and who showed humility by joining the poor brothers: “They should not, however, be proud of the goods they brought for their common life, nor be proud of their riches, for having shared them with the monastery.” 

The phrase of RB 34,4: who needs more, humble himself for his weakness and does not take pride because of mercy does not find correlation in the Rule of Augustine. Adalbert de Vogüé OSB points out that in the Augustinian Rule one does not find an exhortation that exactly corresponds to RB 34,4. Augustine does not preoccupy himself with the distribution of the necessary, but with the relationships between the rich and poor. Augustine’s argument aims to separate both the poor and the rich from feelings of pride and envy, cultivating humility, howbeit not because they were receiving anything other than to live with one another.

The RB, on the other hand, considers the nature of people, stronger or weaker, as the criterion for a greater or lesser need for goods. Thus, the one who receives less (because he is stronger) has the internal dictate not to be sad and to give thanks to God. And to the one who receives the most (because he is weaker) it is his duty not to take pride in himself for having received more, but rather to humble himself for his frailty. It is verified that, in an absolutely original way, Benedict establishes what could be called an equality of proportion:   

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 12.42.20

The initial inequality, a consequence of the unequal distribution of goods (which could be the cause of envy and murmuring) is in some way compensated by the corresponding demand that each of them assume an interior attitude that will demand the perfect understanding of impartial reasoning, that is, the true reason of receiving less or more. And, as a subsequence, will also demand a personal and convinced acceptance of said reason, manifested by the respective attitudes (both internal and external). Being the following: “avoid sadness” (envy, etc.) and “give thanks to God” (for the gifts received that have strengthened them) or, in the alternative form, from one who received the most, toward an attitudes of “Not being proud” (for having received more) and to “humble themselves” (recognising their own weaknesses before God and his brothers).

Thus in this double relation, the RB finds the equality that seemed broken before and which is now at one’s disposal again, to an extent that without constraint the brothers are also willing to participate personally in the distribution of the necessary goods with each one. And with that participation, an expression of inner commitment, which is necessary to restore equality and peace among the brothers. For this reason RB 34,5 says: In this way all the members will be at peace, and there is therefore no reason that could cause or arouse gossip. At this point, as in the previous chapter, some of Benedict’s severity is also manifested: first of all, that the evil of murmuring does not appear in any word or attitude, whatever the cause. If anyone was surprised, let him be subdued to a more severe punishment.

c. AUGUSTINIAN OR ORIGINAL FORMULA?

We cannot help but admire this formula of verses 3-4, which is so beautiful and at the same time so wise and down-to-earth, where it is proposed so as to achieve the union and communion of the brothers through an equality of proportion between “to have and to be,” as we explained above. It is natural and, being driven by curiosity, that we try to perceive what Benedict’s possible source of this “inspiration” is.

In the first place, we re-read the main and well-known commentators of the RB. Nothing is found in them, apart from the appropriate but already known observations on the chapter. In relation to the monastic sources, a much broader and more complex field, what is particularly interesting is what de Vogüé says about this, as an indisputable authority on the subject. Having clearly stated that RB 34 depends on the Rule of Augustine, Vogüé affirms that no exhortation corresponding exactly to RB 34.4 is found in the Augustinian Rule.

He then clearly states that in this, the Benedictine Rule is relatively original (sic), therefore, not content with exhorting “the one who needs less,” adds a symmetrical exhortation addressed to “the one who needs more.”

This new exhortation is in line with those general attitudes recommended by Augustine, to the rich monks and referring to the graces that are granted to them. But there is no special recommendation for humility in Augustine, addressed to those who receive more than the others. Thus, concluding on this point the Augustinian Rule, Benedict really simplified it, omitting the causes and circumstances that would justify inequality.

It should be noted that Benedict’s formulation being at least “relatively original” as de Vogüé says, for having added something that is not found in Augustine’s Rule, becomes even more original because he is not looking for reasons to justify inequality.

What Benedict really does in his original formulation of verse 4 is to justify equality. This is: by requiring the participation of all the brothers with their inner feelings and convictions, Benedict, in fact, demonstrates that he managed to reestablish the necessary equality by saying: In this way all the members will be at peace. (v. 5). In my estimation, this is a totally authentic formula of Benedict, as an effective modus vivendi to prevent the diverse distribution of goods among the brothers and thus becoming an occasion of envy and murmuring due to apparent injustices.

d. BENEDICTINE PEACE, SCANDAL AND MURMURINGS

I find it important to recognise that the “peace” mentioned as the final fruit of this community process cannot be any “pacification” of spirits, by some exhortation or merely having a “pious” record. When we talk about the peace of a Christian community, it is, in my estimation, a Peace with a majuscule “P”, that is, of a Messianic Peace, fruit of the redeeming work of Christ who, after his resurrection, insists on giving, His Peace, to all his disciples. This peace is the fruit of true charity, of that love that Christ came to bring mankind. For this reason, true justice among men can not be established only by what is quantitatively just, but by what is just according to love, which discovers other demands and values.

According to this vision, it can be said that Benedict is not only “simplifying” Augustine, but creating something entirely new, the fruit of an intuition, it seems, totally his and original.

Likewise, the rigorous prohibition of murmuring, here as in other chapters of the RB, it is not solely to avoid the consequences originating from slander, complaints and unjust recriminations of the brothers. For the Fathers, as for ancient monasticism, murmuring within a Christian community will always be a repetition of the events of the Exodus. In them, the People of God, not knowing how to recognise the testimonies of God’s love in their history, cannot accept the trials and purifications of their faith. He is scandalised by situations of suffering and difficulty, he reveals himself against God and against his designs of life and salvation and rejects them with his murmuring. In the Gospels too murmuring is the consequence of the scandal that rejects Christ and departs from him.

Although under “justifiable” appearances, this is something extremely serious that concerns the basis of the religious experience of faith, hope and charity. It is precisely the attitude that rejects and impedes Peace and communion with God and with brothers and sisters. Only in this way can the rigor of Saint Benedict and the other monastic Fathers be understood.

2. IN SEARCH OF A SOURCE

To prove the Augustinian dependence on chapter 34 and, at the same time, its quite unique nature with regard to the execution method of teaching of Acts 4:34 (and 2,45): it was distributed to each according to his need, The question remains whether Benedict would have received from some unknown source, biblical or patristic, some inspiration for his original formulation: to try to establish equality and unity among the brothers through the aforementioned equality of proportion.

We all know how often the BR uses the words of the Apostle Paul. We can list 103 citations, either direct, or by allusion. And these can be certain or possible. In many places where the relations between the monks are considered, especially in the chapters that manifest later redaction or correction, quotes from the Apostle are found as models or ideal norms of the practice of charity or of the application of zeal demanded of monks from each other.

A text that appears especially outstanding in illuminating the formula of unity of RB 34,3-4, is found in 2 Cor. 8:14, where the whole context of the chapter reveals the same intention to arouse, to intensify the zeal, the request of love, so that the generosity of charity can be exercised with the needy brothers of the Church of Jerusalem. It is, as is known, the work so valued by the Apostle Saint Paul, the collection to be carried out in several newly founded churches in Macedonia and Achaea, to help the impoverished brothers of the Church of Jerusalem.

To better understand the text it is appropriate to proceed, to an initial rapid analysis of it.  We are going to do this by following the comment of Fr. Ernest Bernard Allo OP.

At the beginning of chapter 8 the Apostle praises the great and generous charity of the communities of Macedonia and presents them as a model to the brothers of Corinth. It even emphasises the fact that the brothers have shown themselves so solicitous and generous in this good work just when they were afflicted by great hardships and difficulties, possibly as a consequence of persecutions motivated by their fidelity to the Christian faith. It is possible to imagine many types of suffering, without excluding the material lack of goods.  Fr. Allo says that both the Philippians and the Thessalonians, without having known such difficulties before becoming Christians, now felt the weight of true poverty.  Many assumptions can be made, but the fact that is certain is that “those good Christians had suffered a great impoverishment and meanwhile lived not only with great spiritual joy, but had given proof of an exalted generosity in the service of the brothers.” Nothing better than remembering the same text (2 Cor. 8: 1-6):

Brothers, we want you to know, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—  and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.

Let us first point out that in this text the Apostle deliberately emphasises expressions that express charity, generosity, solicitude, zeal and fervour.  

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Then, in verses 6-12 the Apostle communicates that he sends Titus so that he can bring this good work to a happy end in the community of Corinth, already begun, to a happy conclusion in the community at Corinth. In view of the beautiful example of the other churches, Saint Paul can now also praise the Cor. for their spiritual qualities and for the great generosity of their charity, hoping that, for that very reason, they can now make it overflow in this opus.  The commentators do not fail to point out in these phrases the finesse and tact with which the Apostle, praising and extolling the virtues of His correspondents, gently leads them to not be able to refuse to contribute (and generously) in this holy work of the collect . Thus, Fr. Allo in his commentary to the present text says:

Ces grands enfants de Corinthe ont, plus que tous les autres, besoin de quelques éloges pour se mettre à faire le bien… Il s’adresse à leur légitime amour-propre: si en peut leur reconnaître tant de qualités, qu’ils n’aillent pas les démentir en faisant voir que la générosité u est pas du nombre.

The Apostle offers another reason for this encouragement: if, in fact, as expected, they proceed with generosity, this will be a way of verifying, for the brothers of the ancient Churches, the authenticity and zeal of their charity.

And as if to finish, he still proposes a new stimulus capable, by itself, of breaking down all the barriers. In a single phrase, extremely simple and profound, it places you before the very example of the immense charity of Christ our Saviour; You know, in fact, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who, being rich, became poor for you in order to enrich you with your poverty. Finally, after much stimulation; In verses 13 and 14 the Apostle arrives at some practical determinations about the way of realising the collect.

First, an observation of prudence is not to bring aid to others at the cost of great sorrow, as it says, but that it maintains the level of equality.

The term used here, ίσότης, according to Fr. Allo, belongs to Hellenistic philosophy and is found, for example, in Philo who wrote a treatise: Περι ισότητος (On Equality or Equity). The Apostle does not clarify, but in the next verse (14), in explaining the deeper and ecclesial sense of the help they were giving to the poor of Jerusalem, he also reveals to them the true meaning of the “equality” that is then achieved.

And here we find a literary form by which the Apostle expresses the equality between two elements, through his relations with two others, that is, an equality between two relationships (v. 14). The text says: At this moment, your abundance supplies your shortage, so that the abundance of them may come one day to supply your shortage.

Schematically we have:  

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And the Apostle ends such a beautiful formulation by saying: Thus there will be equality (γένηται ίσότης), exactly as I said also at the beginning, in verse 13: “according to one (norm of) equality.”

And to conclude, he bases this strange equality, fruit of a change of values with the quotation from a well-known text of Exod. 16:18:

As it is written: “those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.”

As Fr. Allo says, this text of Exod. 16:18 recalled by the Apostle is for him a symbolic revelation of that intention of Providence that the “communion of saints” seeks to achieve in a way and according to a measure that is unknown.

But, visibly, this communion recommended by the Apostle, must be sought and established through a certain norm of “equality”, that is, by means of an “equitable” distribution of the possessed goods, as far as possible, as he says, not because of the imposition of precepts, but because of the sensitivity of love that, in perceiving the extreme need of other brothers, opens up in concrete gestures of generosity.

The text of Exod. 16:18 refers to the episode in which the people of God, in the desert, for the first time encounter manna. The Lord then orders that it be collected, in the morning, according to the number of people in each tent. And finally, the author then says that there was equality among all, for he who had gathered much had no more and he who had gathered little had no less.

As you can see, this image describes the gesture of collecting the manna in order to reveal the existence of a principle of equality and union among the Israelites. This will be remembered by Saint Paul as the prefigurement of that perfect equality and communion that should exist among all Christians. It is obviously an application in a figurative sense. The manna, gift of God to his hungry people, must be collected in such a way that it does not cause differences between some who would get a lot and others who would hardly pick up a little. Some commentators acknowledge a miraculous action of God in realising such “equality” after the unequal harvest of manna. Other authors point out that the same text, in verses 16-17, already declared in what way it would be possible to obtain such equality among all.

4. WILL RB 34,3-4 REALLY DEPEND ON THE TEXT OF 2 COR. 8:14?

We try to gather some reasons that may suggest such dependence or, at least, a great approximation both in the form and in the general content.

As we have already seen, the literary form of RB 34,4 which we have called an “equality of proportion” is not found in the Rule of Augustine, the main source of this chapter. Neither, it seems, has been found until today in another monastic text before RB.

1. The literary form used in 2 Cor. 8:14, although not identical to RB, clearly presents a very characteristic element, namely: the relation of proportionality. This is verified when two different elements are compared to each other, not by direct comparison, but in the measure in which the relationship between them is similar to the relationship of two other elements to each other:

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COMPARISON BETWEEN THE TWO TEXTS

Both in 2 Cor. 8:14 and in RB 34,3-4 we find exactly this literary form, which establishes a comparison between the four elements and, moreover, the affirmation that between the two relations compared. There is an equality.

Now, this figure is quite rare as a literary form and we find it in the two texts of RB 34 and 2 Cor. 8:14 precisely to emphasise the existence of a unit, or equity, to be realised among the various related elements, since merely quantitative equality is inadvisable.

Thus, in 2 Cor. 8:14, in view of the great disparity between the economic situation of the Church of Corinth and that of Jerusalem, it is recommended that the present generosity of the collection of the brothers of Corinth, helping the brothers of Jerusalem in situation of penury, make them, later, with their most perfect spiritual condition (or with thanksgiving and prayers, see 2 Cor. 9:11-15) can supply the deficiency of the Church recently converted to the Gospel. And as the Apostle emphasises, making an inclusion, in v. 13 and at the end of v. 14: there will be equality (by equity)(έζ ίσότητος – γένηται ίσότης).

Now, in RB 34,3-4, rejecting a purely quantitative equality, Benedict presents the necessary form of equality (equity) that must be established, proposing that the brothers, receiving more or less the goods they need, participate with his inner attitude of truth, generosity and recognition, in the diverse distribution of them.

Finally, our holy Legislator can conclude: and thus all the members of the community will be at peace (that is, within a unity of order, justice or equity), in which there is no reason for complaints, recriminations or murmuring .

It should be noted that the existence of this final statement about the unity (equity) or peace made, in both texts, suggests the low probability of a simple coincidence.

2. Another reason can still be invoked to justify the approximation of these two texts. And this reason is especially relevant to show that the principle by which equality between brothers is realised, in the two texts (RB 34 and 2 Cor. 8: 2-15) is exactly the same. This fundamental principle is formulated in RB 34 shortly after the beginning of the chapter: As it is written, it was distributed to each according to his need. We find it in 260 8: 12-15, on the contrary, at the end of the text (v.15): As it is written: He who had gathered much (manna) did not have more; the one who had collected little, did not suffer shortage.

Apparently, the second text does not seem to coincide with the first. However, if we continue reading the same verse in the Exod text. 16:18 we will find the following words that are added to the previous ones: each one had collected what he could eat, which correspond, we can say, in a general sense, to the words of Acts 4:35: as any had need.

The text of Exod. 16:18 is presented by the Apostle as an example of this unity (equity) that must always be established among Christians. Reading the full text of this divine order (v. 16-17) will allow us to better understand the final verse (v.18):

This is what the Lord commands them: each one to collect from him (that is, from manna) what he needs to eat, one gomor per person. Each one will take according to the number of people who are in your store. And the children of Israel did so; and they picked some more, others less.

For this reason we can conclude, in verse 18, that despite having collected some more and others less, finally no one, in fact, had more than another since each one only collected what he needed according to the number of people in his store. There was then an equality. For this reason the text can conclude (v. 18): But when they measured it with an gomór, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered (that is: as much as each of them needed).

It can be added that this same text of Exod. 16:18 (cited by 2 Cor. 8:15) was understood to be by early Christians as a biblical type of a future and true holy community, gathered in the faith and love of Christ , as described in Acts 2: 44-45. A rather interesting example of this approach, already in use among the Pachomian monks, is the presence of Exod. 16:18 in the Book or Testament of Orsisius, one of the successors of Pachomius. He remembers this text (Exod. 16:18) just as a biblical example of the necessary detachment from material goods, so that everyone, receiving according to their own need, can form that equality that will be the foundation of koinonia, of the communion that should be reign among the Pachomian monks, as reigned in the apostolic community of Jerusalem.

In this way, it would not be inconceivable to at least admit the possibility that someone reading Orsysius’s Book (already translated by Jerome in the fifth century) would have noticed an approximation between the text of Exod. 16:18 and of 2 Cor. 8:15 as a typological basis for the ideal of communion (koinonia) within the Apostolic Church of Jerusalem, by way of unity and Pachomian monastic communion. It would therefore be further conceivable that Benedict was that reader, and that he also had knowledge of the beautiful formula of 2 Cor. 8:14, there used to substantiate the fellowship among the churches, also applying it to the desired “equality” for his community of monks.

3. Beyond the aforementioned reasons, one can still refer to another, less demonstrative motive, true, but also quite significant in its more global vision of chapter 34. Since we mention the intimate relationship between chapters RB 33 and RB 34 in that both mutually complete each-other.  It would now be opportune to note how much these chapters also differ from each other, to the point that they seem to come from a spiritual viewpoint of the author and seem almost completely antithetical.  RB 33 reveals, as we saw, is given prominence in general by the commentators, a severity and a rigourism which is quite strange in the RB.  The same literary style of the chapter, dealing with matters that are so important to the monastic doctrine, it seems to have run away from the way of thinking so common within the RB and so proper to Saint Benedict, to draw practical consequences from a text of the Scripture, as a fundamental principle that, as an orientation and criterion of the life of the monk, should be assimilated by all.  RB 33 gives us the impression that it was written not only in light of a recently painful and difficult experience and still under very strong and vivid emotions.  The words reveal an impetuosity of language by someone who accentuates with radical expressions, repeated prohibitions and of absolute character, with adjectives and adverbs, which in no way should exist in the monastery: the vice of private property.

RB 34, on the other hand, presents a totally opposite style. From the beginning, with the text of Acts 4:35 on the expropriation and the common use of the goods within an apostolic community, expressing the principle from which the doctrine and the practical applications of the chapter derive.  The “climate” that remains constant is that which comes from the living sentiment of Christ’s charity, lived by the brothers in the community: There are no prohibitions nor categorical affirmations. The chapter is a continuous exhortation for a true and attentive charity that for that reason does not “accept people” but takes into account the weaknesses of the brothers.

The distribution of the necessary things should never be an occasion of envy, discord and murmuring. Sadness is not even admitted, as a sign of resentment. In order for there really to be peace among the brothers and all possible reasons for disagreement to be withdrawn, Saint Benedict “invents” the admirable procedure in which all the brothers participate personally in this distribution of the goods. Everyone should commit themselves in their hearts to be generous with their brothers, knowing how to accept less so that others can receive more, being humble and grateful.

Now, the whole context of 2 Cor. 8: 1-15; 9: 1-15 is a continuous exhortation to a charity that is ever more solicitous and ardent for the brothers among themselves and with special zeal and generosity towards the poorest.  It is in this context that we find not only the aforementioned similarity of the “relation of proportion” that equality (equity) can make — so similar to that of RB 34,4 — , but also other words of the Apostle transcribed in other chapters of RB.

a. Thus, v. 7: Each one gives as he has disposed in his heart, not reluctantly or by force. for God loves the one who gives with joy, he is in RB 5,16: And the disciples should willingly lend it (obedience), for God loves a cheerful giver.

b. Although not literally, the text of verse 6: know that who sows miserably. meanwhile he will also harvest; and whoever sows with largess, with largeness will also reap is found, it can be said, as a backdrop of RB 49, “On the observance of Lent.” In verses 5-8 the monk’s own attitude for this Lenten season is described: Let us add, therefore, in these days, something to the habitual task of our servitude; prayers … and so offer each one to God, spontaneously. with joy of the Holy Spirit, something beyond the measure established for himself; and with joy of spiritual yearning, wait for Holy Easter.

Note that the expressions “to add,”  “to offer” (2 times), “beyond the established measure” effectively give the idea of a generosity capable of expressing itself for these gestures: giving more than necessary, increasing, to add, proffering, [multiplying], etc.

Likewise, the mention of joy (2 times) is insisted, not only as a feeling, but as an experience that springs from faith – hope – charity and the strength of the Spirit.

c. Note that RB 49.6 also presents another condition for the authenticity of the generosity of the offering; Let it be done “spontaneously.” The same expression is used in 2 Corinthians 8: 4 when describing the generosity of the Macedonians: I testify that, according to their possibilities and above them, with all spontaneity and with lively insistence, they asked us the grace to participate.

d. Equally in 2 Cor. 8:2 one reads: for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

5. CONCLUSION

After our long reflection on RB 34 in light of all the spiritual climate present in 2 Cor. 8:1-15 it is possible that it is not yet evident to all the proof of the possibility of being the Apostle’s text the literary source of the original formulation of RB 34,3-4. Let us add something else, then.

The primary dependence of the Rule of Augustine is undeniable and this fact is a carrier of great significance for the understanding of the BR, as we know. Generally it is certain that the texts where the concern for fraternal charity appears, for the meaning of the life of the monk in the construction of the community, in the work, in the various trades, in the fraternal relationship, etc., are fruit of a knowledge of the works of Pacomio, Basilio and Agustín. Sometimes they also reveal a more mature experience of the author of the RB and, therefore, a later writing.

Significant, at this point, are the works of D. André Borias, in his many published articles. By the literary analysis of the text one can arrive at a certainty that the same chapter or a part of it expresses a writing clearly dependent on another monastic source and, therefore, more independent of RM.

In an article on RB 72.7 “No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.,” a recommendation that we found several times in the canes of San Pablo, D. Borias concludes that several previous or contemporary monastic rules to RB use the same recommendations of the Apostle, but modifying and reducing in part their thought Casiano, in his two Conferences of Abbot Joseph (Conf. 16 on friendship and Conf. 17 on fidelity to promises) it also refers, more than once, to the texts of Saint Paul … But, in this case, as D. Borias says verbatim: “this text (of Cassian) reveals to us worries and an absolutely strange spiritual vision & RB. And the same author then concludes his investigation with a statement that seems to us of exceptional importance:

It was definitely in St. Paul itself that St. Benedict certainly sought what he wanted. This rapid investigation clearly shows us the essential importance that St. Benedict confers to charity in the midst of his community and the originality of his own attitude. It also verifies Benedict’s personal knowledge of the moral doctrine of St. Paul and the fidelity with which he follows it. However, far from passively copying the text of the Apostle, he knows how to give his teacher’s teaching a new formulation and a personal expression. This example finally allows to modulate certain general and peremptory assertions. Saint Benedict is not content with collecting and filtering the previous monastic tradition. He knows, according to need, to return with security and discernment to the source of this tradition that continues to be Scripture, and to remember that the monastic life, like all Christian life, must be animated by the double commandment of charity.

In light of these words which we set in front of the results of the investigation of D. Borias, I think we can also affirm that at the end of our reflection we will be able to verify the same truth regarding the possibility of the originality of St. Benedict in the formulation of the characteristic “principle of equality.” 

Instead of simply accepting the Augustinian formulas, already known to him, he felt the need to better define the root of the problem posed by the unequal distribution of goods, advised by Acts 4:35. And knowing all the depth of the text of 2 Cor. 8: 1-15, where the generosity of charity, animated by the example of Christ, is capable of perfect union and equality between the brothers of the two Churches, he then discovered the ideal formula he needed for his own monastic rule .

How many treasures of doctrine and theological conclusions could still be discovered in reflecting on such a simple and ordinary event as is the distribution of the necessary objects to the brothers, in the light of the ecclesial formula of the Apostle of the Gentiles!

 

Recension: The Community and Abbot in the Rule of Saint Benedict

ADALBERT DE VOGÜÉ, La communauté et l’Abbé dans la Règle de saint Benoît; Desclée de Brouwer, 1961.

It would seem anachronistic to present D. de V.’s book, fifty seven years after its publication, in addition to which, we have had the subject dissected and addressed in several prestigious journals in international circulation. Valid as a justification by the fact of having been found virginally intact in some library, or with its pages only half cut and pasted in some other …

D. de V., in his dense introduction, saves us half of the work, when he realises that his purpose is none other than to meditate on the meaning of the relations that mediate between the Abbot and his monks, and of the society that is formed with them (p.11) “Theology of the abbacy and the particular station of the Abbot,” he states sometime later (p.14). The examination of the nucleus aspect, so to speak, of the Rule of Saint Benedict, converged on the axis of evangelical obedience, could not be done without the critical study of the extensive literature that preceded on the same subject. It is here ‘in the first place, where we begin to perceive by what prudent modesty and natural defect of perspective that the author could neither grasp nor manifest. The criticism of the commentators that precede it – and in particular the most modern ones – is of an exceptional objectivity, precisely because the informing criterion of which it consists by filling the hiatus introduced between the Rule and its sources, and it is this aspect, this objectivity in addition to exceptional we would say that it is really “raw”, which places us in front of a brave and faithful book, without ever falling into polemical tone. D. de V . wrote:

St. Benedict

“The spirit with which we approach the RB is by no means the same as our predecessors did … An intense filial piety is the common denominator of all these modern works, mostly the work of Benedictine monks. But the cult that is thus paid to St. Benedict is not without its drawbacks in terms of the exact interpretation of his thought. Often, in fact, veneration leads to magnify its historical role and the scope of its rule. There has been a real inflation here, extremely detrimental to the interpretation of the RB; it is exalted systematically, at the expense of everything that proceeded to it; an innovative intention is lent to its author; it is placed in opposition to all previous legislators or theorists.” (p.15).

Consistent with this severely critical attitude, D. de V. does not hesitate to analyse —  or, more accurately, to question — the notes of the “founder” and the “Roman”, traditionally attributed — and we would almost write “totemically” – to the Patriarch. But, above all, as a methodical patrologist, his review of traditional commentaries — without excepting the most illustrious, some of which inspire him the denomination of “historical novels” — tends to save the disconnection “introduced” between the RB and his sources, which, in his opinion, obeys the desire to “bring the Patriarch closer to us.”  “The Benedictine monasticism of our times,”  D. de V. states, “seeks to justify itself in this way. It is believed that Saint Benedict can be attributed the tendencies that have in fact prevailed. For our part, our preoccupation to edify (in the noblest sense of the term), which could be that of Abbot Paul Delatte OSB, Fr. Alban Butler, Abbot Ildefons Herwegen OSB, must remain alien to the comment we undertake to express. There is no intent on our part, like those great abbots, to extract from the Rule what seems to best suit the possibilities and needs of a contemporary monastery.  And even less, write a “mirror of abbots!” (P.19).

In the same way, driven by the historical rigour of D. de V., we will see other “certainties” disappear.  Thus, for example, that Saint Benedict gave his monastery a “family appearance”  which was missing from the Egyptian monastery, “faithful heir — in this sense —  of Saint Basil.” “This feature, in our opinion, does not characterise the Benedictine community more than that of Pacomio … The ideal of monasticism — continues D. de V. — has not evolved towards a more complete cenobitism, but is still dominated, as in the past, by an eremitical aspiration. It is the misery of men, and care to ensure the minimum of honesty, which have led to the development of common life.” (p. 26)

One could resist the persuasion of D. de V. — a risk, of course, to ignore his erudition, not share their conclusions on these aspects; but no one could fail to recognise, serenely, without obfuscation, that he had seldom heard a language so loyally addicted to the truth without partisanship.

At this point of the question it could be believed that we are in the presence of another iconoclast, and that, following the same method, D. de V. will turn, after the figures, the concepts. None of that. His exegesis of the holy Rule is very far from the spirit of novelty.  Boasting of erudition, it is at the same time boast of fidelity to the “per ducatum Evangelii;”  and if we discover some new approach, it is also situated in the line of fidelity to the “nova et vetera.” Commenting on the two Gospel texts (Luke 10:16 and John 6:38) in which Saint Benedict refers the monastic obedience to Jesus Christ, which sometimes makes the Abbot the  example of the Lord, D. de V. writes this comment evenly and beautiful (which we transcribe by way of example — or indication if you prefer — of that fidelity):

“The first (Luke 10:16) presents Christ as the one who is obeyed. In this perspective, it is the Abbot. His mission is to transmit the divine word, to speak in the name of Christ who sent it. We find here the abbot who was conceived as a ‘vicarious’ authority, as a ‘doctoral’ charisma, as a hierarchical authority … .” 

“The second text (John 6:38) presents Jesus Christ as one who imitates obedience.  In this perspective, Jesus Christ is no longer the one who orders, but the one who obeys: the command word no longer being asked for, but an example of obedience … .” (p. 266)

Was it the critical apparatus or was D. de V.’s stance in front of his predecessors on the subject, so daring in the first approach, which muffled the resonance that this book deserved? Or perhaps it is one of those books written before their time, and intended for future generations? Perhaps his mission consisted in destroying the prisms through which we had habitually become accustomed to “think,” in prefabricated terms, the holy Rule, paving the way for its rediscovery. Opposing the “inflation” which he denounces and highlighting the dependence upon the RB with respect to the RM and its predecessors, far from undermining the merit of the Patriarch and the value of the holy Rule, it is restored in all its authenticity. “Fructus enim lucis est in omni bonitote, et justitia, et veritate  .”

Sollemnitas Sancti Tomás de Villanueva MMXVIII September.
Eremitarum Santa Maria,
Ordo Eremitae Sancti Brunónis