Category Archives: Monasticism

The Pope on Medieval Monasticism

I could swear that Pope Benedict has been re-reading Leclercq’s Love of Learning and Desire for God.

A few weeks ago he talked about the Monastic/Scholastic distinction along similar lines as Leclercq; last week he compared and contrasted St Bernard with Abelard. Yesterday, his talk was on the glory that was Cluny.All of these are great—especially if you haven’t read Leclercq recently.

What the pope doesn’t get at in the last catechesis is one of the reasons I find Cluny so fascinating. In a very real sense, in the developed life of Cluny the liturgy overbalanced other aspects of the monastic life. Apparently, they could get too much of a good thing! I’d suggest that a central point of study in the development of monasticism and the place of liturgy in the regular Christian life consists of the conversation between what happened at Cluny and the rise of the Cistercians.

(The year I applied for a raft of academic jobs one of the seminars I dreamed up was a study of Cluny, the Carthusians, and the Cistercians as three separate ways of embodying the “pure monasticism” envisioned in John Cassian, then filtered through Benedict. I still want to do that…)

The way we consider and understand the relationship between Cluny and the Cistercians has consequences for how we (meaning here I in particular) wish to embellish the Prayer Book liturgies through catholic additions.

In light of this I felt myself quite challenged when I ran across a very similar thought in slightly different words a few months back in Thornton’s English Spirituality:

Both the Cistercian Reform and the English Reformation were movements towards primitive purity. In both cases the appeal is to an essential, workmanlike simplicity and against liturgical elaboration, against “medieval accretions” whether of Cluny or fifteenth century Catholicism. It is often said that the Prayer Book needs “enrichment”, which is a reasonable plea. But we must take care to avoid the errors of Cluny, which we failed to do, to take one example in the Offices of 1928 with their complicated list of alternatives.* The more recent liturgical movement follows the right pattern; away from Victorian Gothic, uselessly elaborate ceremonial, “fussiness”, towards Cistercian simplicity. It is Abelard not Bernard who more nearly represents the colorless puritanism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is in Abelard that we find the one-sided speculative strain without warmth and colour. Rightly or wrongly, we have sided with St Bernard, with the clear lines of English perpendicular against both Baroque and the whitewashed shed. (English Spirituality, 89)

* The alternatives in the Proposed 1928 English BCP are nothing compared to the American ’79 BCP.

Benedictine Spirituality of the Offices

Here’s a nice little excerpt at Speaking to the Soul today.

The image of water on rock is a favorite one that comes out of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Abba Poemen is one of the greater fathers who appears quite a bit in the Sayings, having a large collection of his own and appearing frequently in the sayings of others. According to Benedicta Ward, one-seventh of the sayings are his and his material may have formed the original core of the Sayings material. Here’s the full text from which the image comes as found in his saying 183:

Abba John, who had been exiled by the Emperor Marcian, said, “We went to Syria one day to see Abba Poemen and we wanted to ask him about purity of heart. But the old man did not know Greek and no interpreter could be found. So, seeing our embarrassment, the old man began to speak Greek saying, ‘The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but the man who hears the word of God often, opens his heart to the fear of God.'” (Ward, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 192-3)

All Saints Sisters Update

I saw my spiritual director today. After direction proper he filled me in on the whole All Saints Sisters situation. The major take-aways of interest to my readers are these:

  • Yes, ten of the sisters as a group are going to Rome; two are not at the current time.
  • Exactly when they will be received has not been nailed down; it may or may not be September 3rd.
  • The Archbishop of Baltimore travels to Rome where matters concerning the official canonical status of the Sisters will be discussed including whether they are to bea community constituted within the Anglican Use.
  • The current hope and belief is that they will be an Anglican Use community. Liturgically, this would mean keeping the Monastic Diurnal (the ’29 Coverdale Psalter is already approved by Rome under Anglican Use provision) and mass would be said according to the Book of Divine Worship.

That’s all the news for now…

Emergent Monasticism?

There’s an item today at the Daily Episcopalian from one of the Community of Solitude folks.

I’ve heard bits and pieces about the whole “New Monasticism” movement and this group seems to be a version of it that appears particularly in Episcopal circles.

I, of course, have drunk from the streams of the “Old Monasticism” movement and am still not sure what to make of these groups. As I’ve mentioned in some private correspondence, my minds not made up partly because of one line that I’ve seen in the Community of Solitude’s material:

If an aspirant is married, we require a letter from the spouse
demonstrating their enthusiastic endorsement of the call and their understanding of the demands this will place on the family, especially in terms of time management and responsibilities. Only one spouse can be a Solitary.

I’ve added the emphasis.

What I like in this community’s documents (and I’ve fussed around the degree to which a dispersed group with a common bond can be considered a community here…) is that they share with classic monasticism the sense that the monastic way is not something above and beyond basic Christianity, rather, it is basic Christianity. However, according to their rule, only one member of a household can be an “authentic” Christian. I find that very problematic.

With the Mass-and-Office harmony of the BCP, I believe that our Anglican forebearers gave us a way to embrace the heart of the monastic vision in a way that made it possible for every memeber of the Church of England and her daughter institutions to be “authentic Christians” even according to the old monastic liturgical model.

I also think that it is interesting and instructive to see this in the same week that the All Saints Sisters of the Poor announced that they will leave the Episcopal Church to go to Rome. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I feel the loss of “Old Monasticism” communities more keenly than I feel joy at the springing up of “New Monasticism.”

I’m not sure where I’m going with this except to say there’s something about these new movements that both attracts me, and makes me wonder if they’re missing something important. As I type this, I hear the voice of my mentor in my head commenting on stability:

Stability is one thing in the abstract. But when you become a Benedictine, stability is the sudden realization that the guy in the stall next to you who sings everything just a half step flat will be there and doing that for the next fifty years…

I wonder if my hesitation has to do with a lack of that kind of in-the-bones stability with these movements.

More on the Spring Bank Liturgies

In response to the interest generated in their new psalter and antiphoner, Br. Stephen has given us a couple of PDF peeks at it. Additionally, he does indeed verify that the English version of the psalter is the translation done for the ’79 BCP also shared by the Vatican-authorized Anglican Use book.

I was amused in the context of the current discussion to read these lines:

Anglicans today may not be quite sure who’s in communion with whom or whether they have binding positions on a number of issues, but, with 450 years of practice, they still know how to write good English liturgical prose.

Let’s not forget how to write it either…

Early Medieval Monastic Libraries

In filling out a footnote in the diss, I ran across a new and fascinating study by one of the current Great Masters of Anglo-Saxon Studies, Michael Lapidge’s The Anglo-Saxon Library. Here’s his conclusion on page 127 of the content of monastic libraries:

Evidence of various kinds indicates that Anglo-Saxon libraries were not large, at least in comparison with ninth-century Continental libraries, as we know these from surviving inventories, or with later medieval cathedral and monastic libraries in England, as we know these from the catalogues printed in CBMLC. . . . The typical Anglo-Saxon monastic library probably owned fewer than fifty volumes, all of which could be housed in a simple book-chest.

To judge from the combined evidence of inventories, surviving manuscripts, and citations, as set out in the Catalogue below, the typical Anglo-Saxon library housed a small core of staple patristic texts, scarcely exceeding twenty titles:

  • Gregory, Dialogi [Dialogues—book 2 being the life of Benedict], Hom. .xl. in Euangelia [The 40 Gospel Homilies], Moralia in Iob, and Regula pastoralis [Pastoral Care];
  • Isidore, De ecclesiasticis officiis, De natura rerum, Entymologiae [His 20 volume encyclopedia], and Synonyma;
  • Jerome, Epistulae [Letters] and possibly the Comm. in Euangelium Matthaei; and
  • Augustine, De civitate Dei [City of God], De trinitate, Enarrationes in Psalmos, Enchiridion, and the Epistulae and Sermones in selections.

To these works of the four major patristic authors (at least as suggested by the Anglo-Saxon evidence), one may add several individual works: Cassian, Conlationes [Conferences] and Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, as translated by Rufinuis . . .

[Needless to say, the patristic material would also be filled out by the homiliaries which are essentially patristic anthologies.]

His discussion continues from here, but this is the section that particularly caught my eye. I find this list fascinating because, when I ponder what books and what ecclesiastical learning is most needful, this list isn’t too different from what I’d pick—certainly as the core of a patristics section. The one major change would be the Isidore block. Isidore was the major encyclopedist of the early medieval world and the items included here would be more properly replaced by modern rather than medieval reference works: Hatchett, the Anchor Bible Dictionary, etc.

Islands through the Net

I’ve been pondering recently the technological aspects of culture change and how they relate to Christian community and life.

I’m, frankly, confused by the notion of “emergent” or “emerging.” I get that it’s a new way of doing things and ordering of common life, a way of presenting the riches of our spiritual tradition without the “baggage” of our institutions. I do wonder, however, how much of this “baggage” is connected into truths of incarnation that may in fact be necessary evils that warn us against an idea, any plan, any approach to spirituality that attempts an end-around that avoids the messiness and sin that accompanies embodied reality.

Is there really more to the “emergent” thing than creating a more informal environment and being more loosely tied to denominational structures?

Furthermore—on a related but different note—to what degree are internet connections capable of being “communities of formation”?

As I consider the pull that keeps moving me toward a more monastic way of living I wonder and weigh the benefits of various options. I was impressed by the offering at the Daily Episcopalian today and note that they are by the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a group I’ve never heard of before. On one hand, they seem like something I’m looking for as I have an interest and a love for the spirituality and practices that guide them. And yet…

I’ve never quite been able to wrap my mind around St. Oswald, sometime bishop of Worcester and the third of the reforming bishops of the Benedictine Revival. If I recall correctly he did spend some time in a monastic community on the Continent but when he was in England at points I recall reading that he was a monk by himself.

How can that be?

I know what a hermit is, what an anchorite is, but this notion of being a monk by yourself seems different somehow…

Can a scattered community be, through harnessing of the internet, cohesive enough to provide a community of formation? I’m not sure.  Part of it may require an unpacking of this phrase I’ve created… for in my mind the heart of a community of formation is observing the examples of the practices of others. Cassian—and St Antony as presented by Cassian—put quite a bit of emphasis on the observation and imitation of others. Can this part of the formation process occur without incarnate, communal, intentional living? I don’t know…

Or is the oblate path the stronger method—associates in the world tied to a smaller group of professed religious who provide incarnate examples by whom the oblates can be refershed on a regular basis? Certainly this is the more classical model, and the one embraced by many Benedictines, the Julians, and the Order of the Holy Cross.

What do you think—what are the requirements for communities of formation in our brave new digital world?

Ascesis and Beyond

Joe has a nice post up on Ascesis and Theosis. These are very important topics that we need to be fussing around.

The liturgy is bound up here as well, especially as liturgy is—at its heart—not finally about formation or theology but about arranging an actual encounter with the Living God which we then appropriate and emulate. It is an encounter that both enables and actualizes (however temporarily) theosis.

A Monk on Climate Change, Sustainability, and Moral Theology

Go read it now!

The key to addressing sustainability, he suggests is a return to the roots of of our moral theology.

Virtue: Justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence exercised in harmony. Cultivating these and collaborating with others who seek them is the goal. The church’s distinctive touch are the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love.

Furthermore, he points to the Transition Towns initiative as a way forward, with which I heartily agree. The Transition Towns concept is not about legislation or top-down change but local networks doing what they can to spread awareness and changes. The governments, the systems, are not going to save us.