"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 11 January 2013


Benedictine spirituality? Perhaps this term is more ambiguous than it 
seems. Does it mean Saint Benedict's spirituality? Or the spirituality of 
the black monks as distinct from the spirituality of the monks of Citeaux, 
Calmoldoli and all the other branches which stem from Benedictine roots? 
Does it mean the different forms that Benedictine spirituality has taken 
throughout the centuries? Or does it mean Benedictine spirituality as it is 
practiced today? Some historical facts will best reveal the differences and 
at the same time will highlight the constant factors of a religious thought 
that is eminently and basically one because it has its origin in traditions 
that are truly authentic and because it seeks always to renew itself by 
returning to its sources.[1]


Information about his life is scant. The only document that contains a few 
facts is the second book of the "Dialogues" of Pope Saint Gregory (590-
604). This brief biography, despite the many marvels recorded in its pages, 
gives us a fairly clear outline of the saint's spiritual life and enables 
us to see his place in monastic tradition. But the strictly historical 
content of the book is slight.

While still very young he began the study of literature. Realizing that his 
virtue was in danger, he fled from Rome "wisely ignorant, prudently 
untaught" and hid in a lonely cave not far from the present city of 
Subiaco. At the end of three years his retreat was well-known and disciples 
came to him from far and near. The pettiness of a priest neighbor who was 
jealous of his reputation for sanctity forced him to move to Monte Cassino. 
There he founded a monastery where he remained for the rest of his life.[2]

It is almost impossible to free ourselves from a romantic picture of Saint 
Benedict, standing before us like some great medieval abbot, crozier in 
hand; we see him as a dignified ecclesiastic teaching his doctrine with the 
majesty of a pontiff. He made his community into a family, looking always 
to the splendor of divine worship, professing a broad and all-embracing 
humanism, opening a new era in the history of western monasticism: an era 
which would place monasticism at the service of the Church and enable it to 
play a prominent part in the development of European art and thought.

A recent authority, Dom Cuthbert Butler, the Abbot of Downside, who died in 
1934, has told us that Benedict was a respectful but firm opponent of the 
ascetic traditions which came from the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Against 
a too-individualistic spirituality which tended to excessive corporal 
mortification and which insisted on the primacy of the eremitical life, 
Saint Benedict rose to vindicate the rights of an asceticism which was more 
humane and, to speak frankly, more Christian.[3]

No texts support these opinions. First of all, there is nothing in Saint 
Gregory's account that allows us to conclude that Saint Benedict 
deliberately rejected solitary life because he had discovered the higher 
value of common life. It was the invasion of disciples eager to be molded 
by him which forced him to leave his solitude and organize the community 
which was forming around him. Moreover his Rule formally repeats the 
traditional teaching that the eremitical way of life is the path of the 

Like Saint Anthony and all the great doctors of eastern monasticism, Saint 
Benedict is primarily an ascetic and charismatic. He lacks none of the 
gifts that mark the man of God: power of intercession which rarely failed, 
authority over demons, ability to read hearts, discernment of spirits, 
knowledge of the future, bilocation. His prayer was uninterrupted and was 
usually accompanied by the gift of tears. His contemplation seemed to 
culminate in an extraordinary vision in which the whole world was 
concentrated, as it were, in a single ray of the sun.

These gifts were given to Benedict at the close of a rigorous "ascesis" 
which carried him to perfect "apatheia" in which all his carnal passions 
were totally and forever at peace. Then men, in search of the perfect life, 
chose him to be their father and doctor, he never deviated in the smallest 
way from an insistent solicitude for the soul's moral development. The 
anecdote about the jar of oil is typical:

"At such time as there was a great dearth in Campania, the man of God had 
given away all the wealth of the Abbey to poor people, so that in the 
cellar there was nothing left but a little oil in a glass. A certain sub-
deacon called Agapitus came unto him, instantly craving that he would 
bestow a little oil upon him. Our Lord's servant, who was resolved to give 
away all upon earth, that he might find all in heaven, commanded that oil 
to be given him: but the monk that kept the cellar heard what the father 
commanded, yet did he not perform it: who inquiring not long after whether 
he had given that which he willed, the monk told him that he hat not, 
adding that if he had given it away, that there was not any left for the 
Convent. Then in anger he commanded others to take that glass with the oil, 
and to throw it out of the window, to the end that nothing might remain in 
the Abbey contrary to obedience. The monks did so, and threw it out of a 
window, under which there was an huge downfall, full of rough and craggy 
stones upon which the glass did light, but yet continued for all that so 
sound as though it had never been thrown out at all, for neither the glass 
was broken nor any of the oil shed. Then the man of God did command it to 
be taken up again, and, whole as it was, to be given unto him that desired 
it, and in the presence of the other brethren he reprehended the 
disobedient monk, both for his infidelity, and also for his proud mind."[4]

This is the spirit that characterizes the Rule. It is a manual of 
asceticism; it is also a code that regulates the daily life of the 
monastery according to the spiritual progress of those who live within its 
walls. Monasticism continues to be what it has always been: an attempt to 
live the whole Gospel, far from the world, awaiting the City of which God 
is the architect and builder.

It is true that Saint Benedict tempers the ascetic rules of the East with 
gentleness and moderation.

We have, therefore, to establish a school of the Lord's service, in the 
institution of which we hope to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous 
(Prologue of the Rule).

To the sick he allows meat, and those who think they need wine may have it 
(chapters 36, 39, 40). The Abbot, he tells us, ought to order and arrange 
all things so that souls will find salvation and brethren will do what they 
have to do without any just ground for complaint (chapter 41), or as he 
says in another place, the Abbot must act so that the valiant will have 
something to strive for and the weak will not be tempted to be discouraged 
(chapter 64). Rightly, it would seem, does Saint Gregory praise the 
"discretion" of the Rule, the care that is taken to avoid any excess, to 
make adjustments for different conditions and to impose no burdens too 
heavy for the imperfect to bear. It is this moderation that shows us that 
Saint Benedict truly understood the concrete possibilities of human nature 
and desired to win souls by gentleness rather than to act on them by 

Does he, in this way, depart from the old monastic spirit? Only the most 
superficial could think so. Cassian devoted the second of his Conferences 
to "discretion", or "discernment"[5]. Saint Anthony--the first Egyptian 
hermit of whose history we are certain (d. 355)--preached that this was the 
most necessary of virtues. It is true that the documents on occasion relate 
some forms of abstinence that are slightly out of the ordinary: for example 
Macarius of Alexandria filled a narrow-necked jar with little pieces of 
bread and then allowed himself only as much food as his hand could grasp 
once each day.

To feats like this the eastern monks never attached any absolute value and 
they frequently pointed out the root error of judgment or of vanity which 
destroyed their spiritual utility. One day Abbot John, the superior of a 
large monastery, paid a visit to the hermit Pesius and asked him how he had 
spent the forty years of his solitude.

"Never", replied Pesius, "has the sun seen me eat."

With a smile his guest added: "And it has never seen me angry."[6]

Alluding to, but not insisting on, corporal mortification, Saint Benedict 
seems to find the whole of asceticism in obedience, which is to him the 
highest form of renouncement, since it has for object man's self will. But 
for this, too, he is indebted to Pacomius and Cassian.[7] Pacomius subjected 
his monks to a rigorous discipline: to read his Rule is to receive the 
impression that no one in his monastery could so much as lift a little 
finger without his superior's permission. Cassian considered the 
renunciation of one's own will to be the chief reason for common life and 
he said that without it there could be no control of one's passions, or of 
monastic stability, or of brotherly peace.[8]

Far from opposing any personal formula of his own to the traditions of the 
east, Saint Benedict allows us to see that he felt a certain nostalgia for 

"For those monks show themselves too slothful in the divine service who say 
in the course of a week less than the entire Psalter, with the usual 
canticles; since we read that our holy fathers resolutely performed this 
task in the space of a single day (chapter 18).

Although we read that wine is by no means a drink for monks, yet, since in 
our days they cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree not to 
drink to satiety (chapter 40).

If however, the needs of the place or poverty require them to labor 
themselves in gathering in the harvest, let them not grieve at that; for 
then are they truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands, as 
our fathers and the apostles did (chapter 48).

But for those who hasten to the perfection of the monastic life, there are 
the teachings of the holy fathers, the observance of which brings a man to 
the height of perfection... Moreover, the "Conferences of the Fathers," 
their "Institutes" and their "Lives" and the Rule of our holy Father Basil-
-what else are they but examples for well-living and obedient monks and 
instruments of virtue? But to us who are slothful and ill-living and 
negligent, they bring the blush of shame (chapter 73)."

From the great traditions of eastern monasticism Saint Benedict borrows 
most of his observances: community of goods (chapter 33), poverty of 
clothing (chapter 55), exact obedience (chapter 5), silence in the Abbot's 
presence (chapters 6 and 7), the division of the community into deaneries 
(decanii) or groups of ten monks presided over by a dean (decanus; chapter 
21), the number of the psalms in the night office (chapter 9), the three 
occupations at stated times in the day: prayer, sacred reading and manual 
labor (chapter 48), the brevity of silent prayer in choir (chapter 20), 
perpetual abstinence from meat (chapters 36 and 39), broad and generous 
hospitality (chapter 53), a retreat far from the world and all its noise 
(chapters 4, 66, 67).

Like the fathers of monasticism he shows a certain mistrust for the 
priesthood, considering it to be a trap for humility (chapter 6z), and far 
from seeking to attract recruits, he rebuffs candidates who volunteer of 
their own accord (chapter 58).

But the most fundamental of all the characteristics that link him with the 
east is the idea he forms of monastic life and its special purpose. To him 
it has no other goal than to enable its adepts to live with gospel logic, 
to follow Christ to the end. No secondary goal is to be proposed lest the 
disciple, concentrating on it, run the risk of deviating from what is 

Saint Gregory has written that Saint Benedict, in entering his solitude, 
had no other desire than "to please God alone", "soli Deo placere 
desiderans." These simple words, better than any others, explain the 
monastic vocation. This springs from a desire to please God, or to seek 
God, as the Rule puts it (chapter 58). This desire is so strong, so 
penetrating, that it exercises an exclusive empire over the soul and 
permits no other deep or dividing preoccupation. Cassian's abbot asked only 
one question of his candidate: "Does he truly seek God? Is he zealous for 
the 'opus Dei,' for obedience, for humiliations?" (chapter 58).

No other criterion is considered because this one alone is valid in 
discerning vocations. To become a monk means that life's sole purpose is to 
go to God by the path of detachment, to overcome self-will, to embrace 
freely-accepted humiliations, to devote one's self to the "opus Dei" which 
is easily the most disinterested of religious actions and the one most 
centered in God. It means to have no apparent care for human learning, no 
ambition to play a role in society, no immediate apostolic aims.

Work has meaning only because of its ascetic value and temporal necessity. 
Guests are welcomed with respectful charity but no effort is made to 
attract them to the monastery. Young boys and adolescents are educated, but 
only to train them for religious life.

The life of Saint Benedict and of his monks, such as it is described in the 
"Dialogues," gives us no other picture of monasticism. In the eremitical 
period, when the saint lived unknown by men, the isolation of the cenobites 
of Subiaco and Cassino was neither absolute, nor systematic. Contacts with 
the people of the neighborhood seem to have been relatively frequent. 
Shortly after his arrival at Cassino, Benedict tried by continual preaching 
to win for Christ the people of the region who were still pagan and he 
looked after the virgins who were consecrated to God. But all this was 
merely the result of circumstances: it never went beyond the ordinary 
obligations of charity. The definition of a monastery is "a school for the 
service of the Lord": its only purpose is to form perfect Christians.

Dom Herwegen wrote of Saint Benedict that "his great work was to teach, to 
live and to express in his rule as a Roman and a westerner the monastic 
tradition of the east."[9] Care must indeed be taken not to make the founder 
of Cassino an eastern monk who has wandered to the west. Saint Benedict is 
in every sense Latin. But--and this is what I have been at pains to prove--
he respects the traditions of the east which are to monasticism what 
apostolic tradition is to faith in the Church. And to eastern tradition 
Benedict intends to be faithful. To forget this dependence is to 
misunderstand him.


The Benedictine Rule does not seem to have been written only for the 
monastery of Cassino. A number of points may be noted that indicate a 
desire to adapt it to different places and circumstances. Whatever be the 
explanation of this still unexplained fact, there can be no doubt that 
Saint Benedict's work did not win instant and universal acceptance. When it 
began to be widely known--and this was not until a century after the 
author's death--it was still only one ascetical text among many others. In 
fact, everywhere it met an old and well-established monasticism which seems 
to have taken forms far different from the original inspiration.

From the middle of the fourth century, if not much earlier, the east had 
known an urban monasticism in which the monk's flight from the world was 
necessarily relative.[10] Nevertheless so many of its customs were like those 
of the east that its members can be considered true monks. The same cannot 
be said of communities who were connected with city or country churches. 
Their members took care of divine worship or devoted themselves to 
different works of mercy in the Roman deaneries. Dom Pierre Salmon has 
pointed out that these groups were monastic only in appearance: "Without 
vows or true rule of life or preconceived plan these devout laymen and 
clerics came together to live a more intense Christian life. Contemporary 
documents show us, in the vicinity of the basilicas, buildings which were 
called "monasterium," "basilicae monasterium," "domus basilicae." They 
housed "clerici canonici" who lived according to the "priorum canonum 
regulam," as well as the "monachi," "custodes," "servientes," "fratres," 
"matricularii," "pauperes." Over these people was an "abbas," a secular 
superior and head of the basilica. Together they took care of the services 
in the basilica of which the celebration of office was an important 

These clerics and devout layfolk led a community life which made them 
resemble monks. Yet they lacked the monks' absolute detachment, 
renunciation of personal independence, separation from the world and 
austere life.

In time these communities of canons began to influence the true monasteries 
and an exchange of vocabulary became inevitable. Dom Olivier Rousseau 

The somewhat vague and undefined monastic vocabulary is fundamentally in 
keeping with the Latin character which willingly takes pleasure in 
hierarchic groupings, in worship, in offices centered about a sanctuary and 
in an altogether liturgical form of pious life. Benedictine monasticism 
could not have escaped their influence.

This vocabulary took shape in a clear and definite way beginning in the 
eleventh century with canons regular: this was to be the point of departure 
for the different branches of the Order. But during the six preceding 
centuries this formula tended unconsciously to blend with the rule of Saint 
Benedict, and by that very fact was one of the important elements of 
Benedictine life. Just as the rule of Saint Columbanus more or less will be 
combined in many places with the Benedictine rule, in the measure that the 
latter will spread; so the "canonical" germ, if we may use the term, will 
be combined with the rule in the development of most monasteries, taking 
root, whether men are willing or not, through a secret connaturality of the 
Latin spirit in the old monastic pattern brought from the east and making 
considerable modifications in it... The more or less extensive introduction 
of the priesthood into monasticism, the well-regulated recitation and chant 
of office in common, the daily attendance at chapter and conventual mass, 
the liturgical and later the pontifical pomp of the abbeys are all products 
of this double tradition.[12]

Through these modifications of the Rule, the chief elements of the old 
monastic life were soon combined with some of the customs adopted by the 
canons in their communal religious life. The wonder is that these elements 
have come down to our day, and have infused their spirit into a body where 
external form would have seemed to the fathers of the desert, as they still 
seem today to easterners, far from compatible with the primitive ideal. The 
man most responsible for this fusion is Saint Benedict of Anianus who died 
in 821. He persuaded Charlemagne and Louis the Pious to require all the 
monasteries in the empire to follow the Benedictine Rule. In this way he 
gave monasticism in all its forms the leaven which was to renew its early 
spirit and forestall a swift decadence which seemed inevitable.


The reforms of Saint Benedict of Anianus were continued, expanded and 
brilliantly transformed by a little abbey founded in 910 by Duke William of 
Aquitaine on his lands in Burgundy. Next to Saint Benedict and his Rule, 
Cluny is the greatest event in the history of western monasticism. The 
honor given it by popes and emperors, the part played by its abbots in the 
politics of their day, the limitless riches of its charity, the grandiose 
proportions of its churches, the splendor of its services, above all the 
intensity of its reform, all these tend to hide from us the simple reality: 
Cluny introduced a marvelously disciplined monastic life which was 
scrupulously faithful to what it considered the spirit of the Rule, if not 
to the Rule's very letter.

It must be admitted that for our present purpose the strictly Cluniac 
documents are usually rather disappointing. The abbots of the great years--
Odo, Mayeul, Odilo and Hugh-- wrote rarely on subjects that were 
specifically monastic. Their biographies are models of conventional style 
and give us only the most commonplace facts. To grasp the Cluniac spirit we 
must question Peter the Venerable, the ninth abbot who died in 1156. Dom 
Jean Leclerc has given us a well documented life of this Benedictine.[13] He 
describes his hero's idea of religious life in these words:

Because it means the renunciation of legitimate dignities and of all that 
is great on earth and even in the Church, because it is "a hidden life", 
the monastic state is the most lowly in Christian society, the least 
exalted in the hierarchy, so that Peter the Venerable can often find no 
other word to describe it except humility. Before this word denotes the 
monk's private virtue, it indicates the place the monk occupies in the 
Church where he never seeks to shine. Just as we speak of "the pontiff's 
majesty", so ought we to speak of "the monk's humility".

If Alger and two other canons of Liege began to be true monks when they 
entered Cluny, it is because they ceased to be masters and became humble 
disciples. Monks must have no other ambition than to be "humble and calm"; 
the greater the service they can render to monasticism, the more they ought 
to preach humility by word and example. Cluny is built at the lower end of 
a valley. This site is a symbol of the life led there. Men humble 
themselves in the monastery for the sake of Christ, they humble themselves 
here on earth so as to be raised with the blessed in heaven to God. Peter 
the Venerable's insistence on this point shows that he was convinced that 
the monastic state had no hierarchical rank. It was in this, he believed, 
that it differed from the clerical state, the state of prelates, canons, 
priests, masters, whatever be the name given to ecclesiastics who officiate 
in the Church. The monk agrees not to play any visible role and this 
humility is an authentic form of spiritual poverty. The monk gives up the 
possibility of prominence in the world for the same reason that he refuses 
to possess anything, because man can glory in the goods he owns as well as 
in the good he does, he can be complacent about what he has and about what 
he is. To be willing to have nothing, to do nothing great, to be detached 
from all things is the surest way of dying to self (pp. 92-93).

Monastic life at Cluny was therefore essentially contemplative. It was 
directed towards what Peter the Venerable in his fidelity to the vocabulary 
of Cassian and the whole mystical tradition used to call "heavenly theory" 
and had no other goal than to prepare all, and to lead some, with more or 
less frequency and more or less intensity, to the actual practice of this 

Never could Peter the Venerable have said of all of his monks, what he 
could say of some among them as, for example, of Brother Benedict:

"Striving night and day, with all his strength, towards divine theory, his 
spirit transcended things mortal and with the blessed angels he was 
absorbed in an uninterrupted inner vision of his Creator."

But, it was true, that all Benedictine life was lived in an atmosphere 
which Peter describes in words which are synonymous with leisure, rest, 
silence. He has not left us a systematic treatise of the reality hidden in 
these words. Instead he uses them so frequently and so simply that we can 
discover the meaning he ascribed to them. Rest is a state that becomes a 
religious. To reform a monastery is to restore its rest. The leisure of the 
blessed in heaven is "leisure without labor", while religious life is 
"leisure with labor": the first is "exoccupatorum otium," the second is 
"negotiosum otium." Now the Gospel explains how we are to understand 
monastic leisure. It is the labor of Mary sitting at the Master's feet, 
listening to His words, never leaving His presence. Mary's leisure is the 
opposite of Martha's work. This leisure, which in no way resembles lazy 
idleness, consists in the performance of purely spiritual acts: the monk 
prays, reads, sings psalms and fulfills his other religious duties. Life 
lived according to this program, is divided between reading and meditating 
seated in the cloister, or reciting the divine office in choir with the 
brethren, or praying alone prostrate before the altars of the church (pp. 

Peter the Venerable sums up in a few words what he considers the role of 
monasticism in Christianity to be:

"The monks, to a large extent, watch over the salvation of the faithful, 
although they administer none of the holy sacraments. They confide all the 
Christian people living on their lands to priests and clerics."

Peter the Venerable compares the work done by secular priests baptisms, 
confessions, sermons, with the work done in the cloister: prayers, psalms, 
tears, alms,--in these good works the monks are specialists. It was with 
these means that Cluny remade Christianity (p. 114).

Similar ideas are found in a little work of John, a man of God who died 
about 1049. His book has been called "Liber de vitae ordine et morum 
institutione."[14] This first Abbot of Fruttuaria was a disciple of Saint 
William of Dijon; he may with good reason be considered typical of the 
Cluniac school. According to him, a monk had to flee from Egypt to reach 
the desert and climb Sinai (chapter IX, 27). He embraced a state of 
mourning and of tranquillity, of modesty and meekness (chapter II 11) 
Silence is a virtue peculiarly his own (chapter IV, 12). His goal is purity 
of heart and plenitude of virtue (chapter XI, 34).

In Jean de Fecamp (d. 1078)[15] and Pierre de Celle (d. 1183)[16] the mystical 
"elan" is more marked. The former pours out the ardor that consumes him in 
"confessions" which are very personal in character: they are lyrical 
meditations on the great dogmas, and flowing aspirations to intimate union 
with God. The latter selects themes from sacred Scripture which are not 
much more than pretexts for his thoughts about contemplation and the 
contemplative life. Life in the cloister is for him a preview of heaven. He 
sees it only from this angle. The monk's characteristic occupations are 
those that most closely resemble the essential activity of life in heaven: 
the vision of God.

Was the day of a Cluniac monk so filled with psalmody that little time 
remained for reading and study? Those who say yes, base their answer on a 
text of Saint Peter Damian which is not free from hyperbole.[17] The 
quotations we have just cited indicate the contrary. It is remarkable that 
the Cistercians never reproached Cluny with these prayers of 
supererogation. No allusion to this is found here, nor in the works of 
Saint Bernard, nor in the other Cistercian documents listed by Dom 
Wilmart.[18] Moreover, Cardinal Matthew of Albano, legate of the Holy See and 
former prior of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, held it against the Abbots of 
Cluny of the Rheims province that they were influenced by Citeaux and 
suppressed these additions to the office which, according to him, were 
meant to fill the spaces made in the day by abandoning manual labor.[19] Men 
who lived then did not seem to see that all this vocal prayer was an 
obstacle to contemplation. The considerable place given in Cluniac 
monasticism to liturgy and its extension is not an isolated phenomenon. It 
reflects the spirit of the time and with justice it could not be condemned 
"a priori."


Paralleling the movement that started in Cluny, less daring reforms sprang 
up and flourished in other parts or France and Europe. It is difficult to 
discover the mutual influence that links them together. As far as 
essentials are concerned, the spirit everywhere is the same: it was a 
question of the re-establishment of discipline by a more exact observance, 
if not of the rule itself, at least of the secular traditions of 

An eremitical tendency has been discovered in some of these movements. Of 
this there had been no signs in the preceding period. A well-informed 
historian, Dom Germain Morin, has gone so far as to speak of "a cenobitical 
crisis in the eleventh and twelfth centuries."[20]

Through the influence of Cassian and also perhaps because Byzantine 
monasticism then flourished in southern Italy, the lives and teaching of 
the desert fathers began to be at this time a force independent of Saint 
Benedict and traditions peculiar to the west. Thus Chartreuse came into 
being in 1084 and has always denied any connection with Benedictine 
monasticism. In the same way, about 975, the Benedictine monk Saint Romuald 
felt drawn toward solitude and became without any willed effort on his part 
a reformer of monasteries. He was, as one of his disciples said, "the 
father of reasonable hermits". To these men he gave a rule and new fervor.

We look in vain to Saint Romuald or to Saint Peter Damian (d. 1072), his 
disciple and his biographer, for the spirit of discretion which was 
characteristic of Saint Benedict. We find instead in them the superhuman 
ardor of men inspired. Romuald's many journeys, which carried him wherever 
the Spirit moved him, do not remind us of the peace and stability preached 
by the father of the monks of the west. Romuald's rigorous asceticism won 
for him the veneration of the people, but it was beyond the strength of the 
average man. As for the writings of Peter Damian, they have none of the 
gentleness of the Rule: they contain violent diatribes, pitiless 
excoriations of the vice of these days. In them are to be found 
exaggeration of language and much seeking after effect.

This somewhat frenetic exaltation does not lead to peace, which is the 
fruit of solitude, or to "spiritual leisure", "spirituale otium."[21] Saint 
Romuald condemns monks and abbots for their neglect of rule, their love of 
luxury, their spirit of independence, their failures against silence; he 
makes no effort to take them from their life of recollection and prayer. On 
the contrary, he preaches silence. He would like to oblige abbots to adopt 
it because he sees that it is the normal state of the spiritual man who has 
reached perfection and is called by that very fact to strengthen others 
with the abundance of his contemplation. He does not soften the monastic 
ideal, he merely traces a profile with straight lines, made taut as it were 
because of effort: a symbol of an age when passions were violent and minds 
tended to go to extremes.


Until recently, the foundation of Citeaux (1098) was represented by 
historians as one attempted reform among many others, as an effort to 
restore observance which had been undermined by relaxation, weakened by 
tepidity. Father Othon Ducourneau[22] has corrected this legend. In the 
beginning Citeaux was not opposed to Cluny as a house of strict observance 
to a relaxed monastery. The founders were inspired to do more than merely 
strengthen discipline: beyond the legitimate customs made sacred by the 
practice of seculars, they wished to return to an observance of the whole 
Rule and the Rule alone, without addition or subtraction. This explains the 
suppression of food and clothing not authorized by Saint Benedict, the 
return to perpetual abstinence from meat, the renunciation of every kind of 
revenue which was not the direct result of work, as well as the decision to 
eliminate from the office all superfluous prayers and ceremonies. The 
objective was not austerity for its own sake but the re-establishment of 
the purity and simplicity of the Rule.

To this careful search for the truth and this return to the sources, 
corresponds a precise doctrine of the spirituality of love. Contrary to 
what its literal interpretations might lead us to expect, from the very 
beginning Citeaux is a school of charity.

"Twelfth-century France was filled with schools of profane science and 
ancient letters. There was not only Saint-Vorles, where the young Bernard 
pursued his studies, with a program that might well astonish, not to say 
disquiet, a soul so eager for Christ --there were Paris, Reims, Laon, 
Chartres, so many other famous names but always the same masters: Cicero, 
Vergil, Ovid, Horace, eloquent spokesmen of a world that had never read the 
Gospel. Why not invoke another master, the only master who has the words of 
eternal life?.. Citeaux, Clairvaux, and Signy were then to stand over 
against Reims, Laon, Paris and Chartres, schools against schools, and to 
vindicate in a Christian land the rights of a teaching more Christian than 
a guileless youth were wont to be poisoned."[23]

While the Cistercian order was expanding rapidly, there was at the same 
time an admirable flowering of doctrine based on the soul's knowledge of 
self, and on charity, or the knowledge of God. The spiritual development of 
the first Cistercian century reached its perfection in Saint Bernard, who 
died in 1153. He was the perfect example of the cloistered soul illumined 
by the practice of love, of prayer, of "lectio divina," of asceticism, In 
him, "monastic theology,"[24] the daughter of "patristic theology", found its 
most perfect representative in the very hour when it ceased to be.


The twelfth century witnessed a remarkable growth of monastic spiritual 
life as well as the dawn of scholasticism. Dialectics rather than the study 
of mysteries is about to triumph. Theology is to become more and more 
speculative, its structure more and more systematic. Wisdom gives place to 
knowledge. By way of contrast, another form of religious thought takes 
shape; later it will be called "spirituality" and find expression in what 
will be known as "devotional literature". The study and classification of 
the soul's movements, methods of prayer, the direct cultivation of 
religious sentiments and introspection win a place for themselves apart 
from the contemplation of mysteries. Theology has now become pure 
intellectual activity, and at the same time "spirituality" stresses what is 
affective, individualistic, and moral, and it concentrates on what concerns 
man rather than God.[25] Just as theology loses its living contact with the 
Bible, so spirituality turns back, as it were, upon itself: the word of God 
no longer yields substantial nourishment.

Monks were not to escape this evolution. The division of Christian thought 
carried them along strange paths which were no longer a part of their own 
traditions. There is nothing specifically monastic in the writings of a 
John of Kastl (died after 1410), or a Louis Barbo (died in 1443), or a 
Garcia of Cisneros (died in 1510), or a Louis of Blois (died in 1566). They 
belonged to one or another of the schools of spirituality then in favor. 
Judged in this light, they have real value, but they cannot be considered 
to be the faithful depositaries of old traditions.

On one point, however, they do not deviate from this tradition: all, 
without a single exception, consider monastic religion to be purely 
contemplative, and when they are concerned about their brother's spiritual 
needs their efforts are directed towards intensifying his taste for 
interior life. When they make use of a strictly methodical spirituality, it 
is not because they are speaking to, or believe they are speaking to, 
apostles in the midst of active life, it is because methods of this kind 
are just as necessary for men whose hearts no longer seek strength from the 
living sources of Scripture and the Fathers. Although they did not know how 
to rediscover the unity of theology and life, of knowledge and experience, 
they did have this merit-- among many others-- of championing the primacy 
of love and the attraction for Gospel values against the claims of a dry 
and fruitless scholasticism.


Beginning in the twelfth century there was a marked decline in monasticism. 
Here we need not tell the story of the many and varied causes of this 
decline.[26] In fact, if not by right, monasteries became more and more 
secular. "The abbey became a fief, and the abbacy a benefice." The abbot is 
now a lord and a prelate. He rules but he no longer guides his monks by 
word and example. Very often, he is placed in office by those outside the 
monastery, and he is chosen for reason of politics or family. Often he is 
not even a religious but a secular and he is called a commendatory abbot. 
Now we know that, "As are superiors, so are their subjects". In their turn 
monastic offices become benefices which are the object of covetousness 
within the monastery, and competition without. Places in a monastery are 
strictly limited and they become a kind of prebend, the object of men's 
ambition like membership in a secular chapter. Vocations do not flower 
under the inspiration of grace. Recruitment is vitiated at its source. 
Noble families reserve vacant places in a monastery so that their sons will 
find there a career.

Many abbeys now accept only candidates from the nobility. As a result the 
community's inner life gravitates about the interests of one family or 
another. Under such conditions, can regular discipline be maintained?

Monasticism's high position in the feudal world was in itself a danger. 
When monasticism became a very active factor in that system, it became 
materialistic, it lost something of the supernatural character of its 
origins and destiny, it was in part laicized. Withdrawn in the beginning 
from the world, this path brought it back to the world. Its duties became 
secular and, once weakened, they were eventually absorbed. From the middle 
of the twelfth century this great body began to experience a dangerous 

Other causes combined to threaten a regular religious life. Abbeys were 
impoverished by a depression and a currency depreciation. So great was the 
consequent poverty that in many places, the question of finance took 
precedence over all others. So complicated had become the administration of 
the goods of the monastery that, as a result of the fluctuation of money 
and changes in the cultivation of the soil, the monks had to spend all 
their day working their land. Divine office was neglected, studies 

"General Chapters" were held to remedy these evils. They were first called 
through the private initiative of individual abbots who were impressed by 
the success of the system in the Order of Citeaux. Later they were the 
object of general laws of the Latin Church. Connected with these attempted 
reforms are the names of Innocent III (1198-1216), Honorius III (1216-
1227), Gregory IX (1227-1241) and Benedict XII (1332-1342).

"Congregations"were formed as a result of the General Chapters. These 
congregations were stable unions of monasteries wishing to return to a more 
regular observance and to defend themselves against the interference of 
laymen. So we see that prior to the Council of Trent the congregation of 
Saint Justin of Padua was formed in Italy, that of Bursfeld in Germany, 
that of Valladolid in Spain, that of Chezal-Benoit in France.

The Council made membership in these groups obligatory and congregations 
began to multiply. The most famous were the congregation of Saint-Vanne 
which was established in 1604, and that of Saint-Maur which was established 
in 1621. The will to reform was especially evident at Saint-Maur where a 
centralized government was adopted which resembled in some ways the pattern 
followed by orders founded after the twelfth century.

The influence of these newer orders was also evident in the work of the 
external ministry. The ordination of monks to the priesthood became the 
general rule. Often parishes near abbeys which had once been confided to 
secular priests now were served by members of the community, at least in 
Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Nevertheless the monks never seem to have 
been as active in the apostolate as were the new orders; yet it is hard to 
see how they differed from canons regular: they had schools, they preached, 
they heard confessions. Some abbots were consecrated bishops and they 
administered the land of which their abbey was a part. In 1776 Louis XVI 
entrusted five military schools to the Maurists. From "this commerce and 
engagement in the world,"[28] Dom Mabillon would defend studies against the 
attacks of Rance.

From our point of view it must be noted that there was a real desire to 
return to the sources. Saint Benedict's Rule was read, meditated, 
commented. Reference was made to it constantly. Its spirituality remained 
basically unchanged. The Maurists, for example, whom we always remember for 
their learning, were also prolific ascetical writers. Their spiritual 
treatises show that they knew much about the Fathers but that they failed 
to grasp their whole spirit. Their interior life had no roots in the 
theology of the Fathers, nor in the word of God.

The difficulty about studies--to which I have just alluded-- was felt 
keenly and became involved only because there was no agreement as to the 
exact boundaries of the domain of knowledge and of "devotion". Men in those 
days seem to have failed to see that the two may be happily combined, 
provided that the former (by this I mean theology) is true to its nature.

Reflexive spirituality enjoyed new triumphs. How could it be otherwise?

"These old houses of religious women needed a reformation, and the 
Benedictine monks, who were only just beginning to reform themselves, were 
not yet numerous enough to undertake the reformation of their Sisters 
single-handed; it was therefore imperative that the reform should be 
brought about in a more modern spirit and by younger hands. In vain did 
Oratorians, Capuchins and Jesuits try to steep themselves in the Rule of S. 
Benedict, in the renovation of which they worked hard; they remained to the 
core modern men, post-Tridentine religious. Consequently our Abbeys, 
without losing the essential features of their primitive originality, 
received a new impress. The Order of S. Benedict had meditated long before 
the Council of Trent or the birth of S. Ignatius. It seems, however, that 
this reform within the reform, if the phrase be allowed, introduced into 
the Abbeys an interior life more systematic and orderly, and more 
resembling that of newer congregations, in a word, more conformed to the 
Ignatian "Exercises." The reformers were not content to return to the 
regularity of old days, enclosure, poverty, liturgical splendor; they 
endeavored, besides all this, to mold the Benedictines by methods and 
practices unknown to the first centuries of the Order."[29]

Would the results have been different had the monks reformed their sisters? 
Probably not. Benedictine spiritual writings of this period closely 
resemble similar works written by members of other religious orders. Dom 
Claude Martin took the trouble to dictate the exact sentiments his novices 
must make their own at every hour of the day.[30] Dom du Sault considered the 
divine office to be but one "exercise" among many others. To fit it in 
between meditation and confession, seemed to him as good a place as any 
other. The same author devotes many pages to the subject of meditation, and 
then gives only two pages to reading.[31]

The days of the Maurists were also the days of the Trappists.[32] Rance 
hurled his anathemas against the relaxation of his black-robed brothers and 
stigmatized their zeal for studies with the voice of a prophet. In spite of 
obvious exaggerations and prejudices his great work, "De la saintete' et 
des devoirs de la vie monastique" (1683), sounds a note that is clearly 
traditional. It does, however, reveal an attraction for an asceticism that 
is artificial and forced, and to tell the whole truth, somewhat theatrical.

Whatever be the value of these too easily formulated criticisms, it must be 
acknowledged that a deeply religious Benedictine spirituality developed 
during these centuries and we must admire and respect its dignity, fervent 
conviction and austerity. The lovable charm of a Louis of Blois, the 
moderation and humility of a Mabillon, the stout good sense of a Dom Calmet 
remind us of Saint Benedict. Contact with thoughts far different from his 
own did not make his sons lose any of their desires to conform themselves 
to his spirit.


To Dom Prosper Gueranger (1805-1875) we owe the restoration of Benedictine 
life in France after the great Revolution. The first abbot of Solesmes 
began his work with no knowledge of monastic life beyond what he had found 
in books. Despite a thousand difficulties, he chose by instinct all that 
belonged to the period of the high middle ages rather than to the days of 
Saint Vanne and Saint Maur. It must be confessed that his principles and 
his thoughts are not free from romanticism: he was a man of his times. But 
they contained a seed that has not ceased to flower and bear fruit: a love 
for Christian antiquity, a deep understanding of the liturgy, a desire for 
perfect purity in the pursuit of the monastic ideal. Dom Gueranger greatly 
influenced the black monks. This influence is still felt today. Thanks to 
him they are recognized as the champions of the modern liturgical movement. 
Because of him, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, they 
have been forced to weigh their own vocation, to recognize its inalienable 
greatness. In different ways and from different points of view the works of 
Dom Maur Wolter,[33] of Dom Delatte,[34] of Dom Marmion,[35] of Dom Butler,[36] of 
Dom Herwegen,[37] of Dom Stolz,[38] of Dom Vandenbroucke,[39] of Father Bouyer[40] 
(of the Oratory), of Dom Steidle[41] --only to name the most important 
writers-- reveal this interest in Benedictine sources and a deepening study 
of Saint Benedict's program.

Advances in historical studies, a keen desire for sincerity, simplicity and 
truth, the needs of an age that avidly seeks to escape from all the 
inhumanity of a troubled civilization-- all these bring the monks back to 
their beginnings and fill them with a longing to be exactly what they are.

Because of its simplicity it is difficult to grasp this ideal and find 
terms that will adequately convey its meaning to our minds. Yet this is 
what we must now attempt lest we merely repeat under another form the 
fruits of our historical survey.

A reader may have received the impression that I have carelessly combined 
two different points of view: monastic spirituality and monastic life. The 
answer is easy: here life and spirituality are one. According to the 
probable etymology of his name, "monos" means one and so it may be said 
that the monk is a man with one thought that unifies all his acts in the 
pursuit of one end. God alone! This is the motto of every true Christian, 
of every sincerely religious man and the monk takes it literally and 
applies it with a rigor and logic that is at times disconcerting.[42]

Basic in every monastic vocation is the desire--a desire whose object is 
sometimes obscure and uncertain--to leave, to flee, to escape from the 
world and creatures. The words the angel whispered to Saint Arsenius: 
"Flee, be silent!" are addressed to all whom God has chosen to serve Him 
alone. The monk has a sharpened perception of the caducity of all that 
belongs to this world, of the vanity of all that the eye can see. Earth is 
a place of exile: here man's stay has a beginning and an end. Moreover the 
earth itself will pass away.[43] Beauty of nature and of art, masterpieces of 
human industry all will perish in the general conflagration. Then new 
heavens and a new earth will appear--the dwelling place of justice. Why 
then accord so much thought to the purely transitory? Saint Peter Damian 
advised: "Let us leave secular things to seculars. Servants of God ought to 
be as dead to a world doomed to death."[44]

The monk does not condemn in any way those whose role it is to build up the 
earthly city, but he knows that is not his vocation. Even at the risk of 
being misunderstood he flees to the desert or hides in his cloister. To his 
own age he makes himself a stranger so that here and now he can become a 
citizen of heaven. This is his philosophy, his vision of the world: in the 
eyes of men it is foolishness, in the eyes of God it is wisdom.

This is not merely negative. Dom Gueranger was able to say that "separation 
from the world alone makes the monk". Saint Benedict chose another term to 
characterize his disciple; he said his disciple was one who seeks God. 
These two ideas are complementary and they give unity to monastic life. If 
the monk flees from the world, it is because he has seen its vanity; it is 
also because the attraction of God is, for him, greater than any other 
attraction in the world. His whole occupation becomes that of Mary of 
Bethany; he listens to the Lord, he tells Him all that he desires. Having 
left the world, he seeks to leave himself in order that he may enter into 
the joy and familiar company of his Master.

His life has only one purpose: to find God. Monasticism was not founded for 
any work of any temporal order whatsoever. We must not be deceived by what 
Benedictines have actually done--cultivation of the soil of Europe, 
preservation of the monuments of the past, preaching the Gospel to pagans, 
creation of masterpieces, scholarly works or historical studies, etc. By 
vocation the monk is not a farmer, nor a savant, nor an apostle. If it 
comes about that he does the work of these men, this work remains purely 
accidental as far as his vocation is concerned and can always be traced 
back to some contingent, if not fortuitous, circumstance. He must take care 
that this work is always subordinate to what is his true work, which we may 
call "the work of God", taking this expression in its broadest and most 
comprehensive sense. As soon as his true work is in any way endangered or 
compromised, his work in the world must be mercilessly sacrificed. 
Moreover, the domain in which he is able to do this temporal work is 
necessarily restricted because the search for God, as the monk understands 
it, requires a more or less complete isolation from the world.

A life separated from the world and its agitation is a life of leisure, 
silence, peace. Long ago Saint Anthony described the monastic vocation by 
the expression "propositum quietis;" "propositum" means a purpose, a plan, 
an ideal of a calm and tranquil life.[45] Saint Benedict wishes peace to 
reign in his monastery. No one has the right to disturb this peace, neither 
guests (chapter 53), nor visiting monks (chapter 61), nor the cellarer 
(chapter 31), nor the prior (chapter 65), nor the abbot (chapters 63 and 
64). Monastic spiritual traditions on this point are many.[46] Is it 
necessary to add that peace like this is legitimate only if it is the 
climate of an intensely active mind? True leisure in the cloister is the 
opposite of idleness. It is "purposeful leisure", "negotiosum otium."

How complete should be this separation from the world? Should it be a total 
isolation from men? Should it be an absolute solitude? Does the monk's 
vocation necessarily take him to the desert? Saint Benedict and his 
disciples did not think so. They saw that the eremitical vocation was a 
special "charisma" albeit a perfectly legitimate one and one that was quite 
in line with their spiritual drives. But the normal place for the monk's 
sanctification is in the community. They believed that the community was 
singularly helpful in the reformation of character and in the acquisition 
of virtues. When Saint Benedict speaks of "good zeal" he has in mind only 
virtues that can be exercised within the community, namely: mutual respect, 
patience, deference to the desires of others, self-forgetfulness, fraternal 
love, a humble and sincere affection for the abbot; and he concludes with 
the wish that Christ will lead us all together to life eternal (chapter 

The Benedictine community is a family because the abbot is a father and the 
monks are brothers. Usually the abbot remains in once until his death and 
it is until death that the monks promise to remain in the monastery of 
their profession. This stability gives the monastic community solidarity, 
security and peace, it is visible in the monastery as a whole and it is 
reflected on every face. Perseverance in work, respect for tradition, unity 
of minds, love of the common good, all these are the natural fruits of 
Benedictine life.

Asceticism is the foundation of a life completely given to God. In the 
choice of corporal austerities, monasticism has held by preference to these 
which have come down from the primitive tradition: fasting, abstinence, 
watching. Restriction in food and rest seemed to the first monks the means 
that were the most obvious and the best fitted to give the body an 
undemanding suppleness which is the condition of its submission to the 

To gain self-mastery, silence is observed. Silence imposes a barrier that 
puts a stop to the sallies of a particularly refractory faculty.

We have seen that Saint Benedict has given a note of moderation to this 
asceticism, a very characteristic note of "discretion" 
and of humanity. To him all these practices are secondary and his attention 
is focused on what is primary, that is, on more interior renunciations. 
Nevertheless he has no time for any subtleties. His formulae are few and 
simple: Deny self to follow Christ. Be a stranger to what the world does. 
Hate self-will (chapter 4). Give up self-will. Those to whom Christ is 
dearer than all else choose the narrow path. Because they no longer live to 
please themselves, because they submit their plans to the judgment and the 
command of another, because they live a stable, community life they wish to 
be governed by an abbot (chapter 5). They do not dispose freely either of 
their body or of their will (chapter 33). To read the seventh chapter of 
the Rule is to see that the monk's whole asceticism is summed up in an 
effort of abasement: his ascent to God is described paradoxically in terms 
of a descent, humility expressing itself in concrete forms which are at the 
same time steps leading up to love and down to the stripping of self.

Saint Benedict's insistence on "negative" virtues is also found in most 
other early monastic writers. It would seem that they are agreed that union 
with God flowers best on the ruins of self-love. They mistrust virtue or 
prayer that is not founded on the most radical abnegation.

"Spiritual exercises" are not unknown to them. But here, again, simplicity 
is supreme.

First, let us denounce the now classic formula: Pray and work. "Ora et 
labora." This formula omits one member--and not the least necessary one--of 
the traditional trilogy: prayer, reading, work.

This is not the place to discuss the final term of the trilogy. Working 
with one's hands--for it is to this kind of work that the word applies--has 
always been the subject of vehement controversy among monks, especially 
since study began to be considered an activity apart from the "spiritual 
exercises" of prayer and reading. This is incorrect. Cassian wrote that the 
Egyptian cenobites were "convinced that theirs would be a greater purity of 
heart and a contemplation all the more sublime if they gave proof of 
greater zeal and devotion for work."[47] Saint Benedict thought no 
differently. Obviously the object of work was in his eyes above all moral, 
it could not be made to serve any temporal interest whatsoever. If the monk 
cannot be dispensed from such work it is doubtlessly because of the needs 
of earthly existence, it is also and especially because work is an integral 
part of the poor and humble life he has chosen and because it helps to 
subdue the passions and keep a good psychic balance.

Monastic prayer is first of all communal. It is the work of God, the "opus 
Dei par excellence." Saint Benedict wishes that nothing be considered more 
important (chapter 43) and he devotes ten chapters of his Rule to its 
regulation. But it would seem that the capital and sometimes exclusive 
importance accorded the liturgy by the black monks is mostly due to the 
influence of communities of canons at the time of Charlemagne (cf. supra, 
p. 22).

Before the days of Dom Gueranger and Dom Delatte, the monks did not stress 
the importance of worship in their life. However that may be, in giving 
this emphasis they were conforming themselves instinctively to the spirit 
of the Church. There can be no doubt that it is through the liturgy that 
they enter into the intimate life of the Church, and make their own its 
thoughts, its sentiments, its interests. It is the liturgy that best 
orientates the whole life to God, keeping the soul eager to procure His 
glory and dependent on Him for grace.

It must always be observed that early monastic spirituality did not place 
official prayer and private prayer in two separate compartments. There was 
a real concern in those days about the continuity of prayer. Liturgical 
assemblies, while they correspond to an obligation more or less distinctly 
realized, obliged less fervent souls to introduce into their lives at least 
something of this ideal. Private prayer filled up the intervals of the day: 
it accompanied work, punctuated the time devoted to reading with swift 
flights (elans) of the soul to God, and was sometimes practiced for its own 
sake in the desert oratory or in the solitude of the cell. In the latter 
case we have "pure prayer", without words or any other activity. Saint 
Benedict allows several moments for this kind of prayer at the end of each 
Hour of the divine office (chapter 20) and he leaves each one free to 
continue this prayer in private, if grace so inspires (chapter 52).

Reading is in itself completely directed to prayer. Saint Benedict calls it 
"lectio divina." The adjective is significant. The monk's first book is the 
Bible. In it he finds the answer to his prayer. To read the Bible requires, 
assuredly, some effort of reflection and assimilation but above all it 
opens to the monk the thought of God, so it is more important to read it 
with a receptive mind rather than with a mind overly eager to grind out the 
more or less impure flour of one's own thoughts. The assiduous reading of 
the Bible little by little leads the monk to prefer divine teaching to any 
human thought, however elevated it may be. In it he discovers a security, a 
strength, a depth that he will never find in the writings of the 
philosophers. The monk's "meditation" consists in reading the Bible, with 
occasional interludes of prayer.

Should a distinction be made between "lectio divina" and intellectual work? 
Monks who have seriously examined their vocation have always felt impelled 
to deny themselves the right to become interested in the profane sciences 
or what they used to call the liberal arts. This explains their somewhat 
pronounced opposition to humanistic culture and this is quite in line with 
their eschatological spirit. Utterly different is their attitude to the 
knowledge of God and all that helps towards its acquisition. Provided that 
theology is always based on faith, concerned rather with being instructed 
with divine doctrine than in spreading out one's own deductions, full of 
loving affection for Scripture and other sources of revelation--then there 
is no reason to isolate it from what is properly called spiritual life. 
This is not a matter of feeling, it must be nourished with doctrine and 
founded on truth. The study of religious subjects, even the study of the 
Bible, in our day differs in pace and method from that of Saint Benedict's 
day. Does this matter, if the spirit of faith is protected and the final 
end remains unchanged? Reading will always be "lectio divina" if it seeks 
God's thought and tends only to Him.

We must not expect to find in monastic spirituality an exact analysis of 
the stages of prayer and the progress of the soul. When Benedictine authors 
describe mystic union they prefer to use figures which are almost always 
taken from the Bible. Their delicate allusions evoke the reality and arouse 
longings, but they do not come to grips with its essence. The idea they 
most often give of contemplation, like their vision of all things, has a. 
sharply defined eschatological character. Contemplation is, to them, a 
desire for the perfect "theory", for the divine vision in its 
manifestations and in its perfection. This desire is inspired by love. To 
this desire love gives a first satisfaction, a foretaste of heaven, an 
awareness of a union that will one day be complete. Ambrose Aupert (d. 783) 
wrote: "It is by love that you are possessed". Long before Saint Benedict 
saw in filial love, freed from all servile fear, the summit of perfection 
(chapter 7).

Tears are the sign and the result of the divine visit: Tears of regret 
because so good a God has been offended; tears of sweet tenderness because 
of the contact with His love. The prayer of the repentant sinner and the 
prayer of the saint tasting the waters of eternal love--both are marked 
with those tears which heaven alone will wipe away.

"Yes, Wisdom said, My servants have entered the paths I have traced for 
them. They have abandoned the wicked, lying world that will not bear My 
work, nor acknowledge the power of My cross. Like a sign, I have set them 
among the nations, so that their silent presence will proclaim to men the 
rights of My Father and the nothingness of this world. They keep vigil, 
awaiting My return, at times listening eagerly to My word in silence, at 
times singing the canticles of their pilgrimage.

They seem unmindful of other men, their brothers, yet in their hearts they 
enfold them in the embrace of an ardent love because their hearts are 
filled with God.

I am in their midst, an invisible fountain of life, because they are 
gathered together in My Name.

My servants, said Wisdom, are sons of the resurrection: their lives which 
are the beginning of heaven on earth flower on the cross."[48]


1. A praiseworthy account is given in "Histoire de l'Ordre de S. Benoit,"
D. SCHMITZ, Maredsous, 1942-1949, II, IV, pp. 309-393; VI, II, pp. 149-326.

2. The only date of his life that is definitely certain is the year 546,
when he had an interview with Sabinus, bishop of Canossa. It would seem
that Benedict died shortly after this.

3. "Benedictine Monasticism," p. 314.

4. Saint GREGORY, "Dialogues," III 98.

5. Cassian was a Roumanian monk who made a tour of the monastic colonies in
Egypt and who set down his findings in writing for the benefit of the
monasteries he had founded in Provence, (d. about 435).

6. CASSIAN, "Institutions," v, 27.

7. The greatest figure, if not the father of Egyptian cenobitic life. He
died in 348.

8. CASSIAN, op. cit., IV, 8.

9. "Sinn und Geist der Benediktinerretgel," Einsiedeln, 1944, p. 22.

10. CF. "Consultationes Zacchaei et Apollonii," Book III, chapter III,
Morin ed., pp. 101-102; Saint AMBROSE, "Epist." 63, section 66 (PL., 16,
1207); Saint AUGUSTINE, "De Moribus Eccl. Cath.," chapter 33 (PL., 32,

11. "Aux origines du breviaire," Maison-Dieu, 27, pp. 132-133. Cf. p. 121.

12. "Deux importantes publications monastiques", "Questions sur l'Eglise et
sur son unite" (Irenikon) Chevetogne, 1943, pp. 50-51. Cf. HENRY, "Moines
et chanoines, Vie Spirituelle," 80; pp. 53-55, 58-62.

13. "Pierre le Venerable," Saint-Waindrille, 1946.

14. This is the title suggested by D. WILMART, "Revue benedictine," 1926,
p. 314.

15. Cf. D. J. LECLERCQ and J. P. BONNES, "Un maitre de la vie spirituelle
au XI siecle, Jean de Fecamp," Paris, 1946.

16. Cf. D. J. LECLERCQ, "La spiritualite de Pierre de Celle," Paris 1946.

17. "Epist." VI, 5 (PL., 144, 380).

18. "Revue benedictine," 1934, pp. 296-305.

19. Cf. DOM BERLIERE, "Documents inedits pour servir a l'histoire
ecclesiastique de la Belgique," Maredsous, 1894, I, pp. 100-101.

20. "Revue benedictine," 1938, p.99.

21. "De decem Aegypti plagis," chapter 13, (PL., 145, 694).

22. "Les origines cisterciennes," Revue Mabillon, 1932-1933. I cite this
work merely for the excellent way in which the true meaning of the reform
is presented. On other points it is not above criticism. Cf. LENSSEN, "Le
fondateur de Citeaux, S. Robert." Collectanea Ord. Cist. Ref. IV, 1937, p.
2 ff.

23. GILSON, "The Mystical thought of St. Bernard," Paris, 1934, pp. 79-80.

24. This thought comes from J. LECLERCQ, "Medievisme et unionisme",
"Irenikon," 1946, p. 13.

25. On this phenomenon, cf. D. FR. VANDENBROUCKE, "Le divorce entre
theologie et mystique. Ses origines. Nouvelle Revue Theol.," 1950, pp. 372-
389. The basic theological thesis of the spiritual current known as
"Devotio moderna" is that contemplation is purely a matter of love and does
not need the support of a distinct thought.

26. Cf. D. SCHMITZ, "Histoire de l'Ordre de S. Benoit," III, I, chapter I.
pp. 3-11.

27. Op. cit., pp. 5-6.

28. "Traite des Etudes monastiques," Paris, 1691, p. 139.

29. BREMOND, "Histoire litteraire du sentiment religieux en France," II,
Paris, 1916, pp. 421-422.

30. "Pratique de la Regle de Saint Benoit," Paris, 1700 (5th edition).

31. "Avis et reflexions sur les devoirs de l'etat religieux," Paris, 1737.

32. Op. cit., VI, 1926, pp. 97-98.

33. "La vie monastique. Ses principes essentiels," Maredsous, N.-d.

34. "Commentaire sur al regle de Saint Benoit," Paris, 1913.

35. "Le Christ, ideal du moine," Maredsous, 1922.

36. "Le monachisme benedictin," Paris, 1924.

37. Sinn und Geist der Benediktinerregel," Einsiedeln, 1944; Saint Benoit,
Paris, N.-D.

38. "L'ascese chretienne," Chevetogne, 1948.

39. "Le moine dans l'Eglise du Christ," Louvain, 1947.

40. "Le sens de la vie monastique," Paris-Turnhout, 1951.

41. "Die Regel St. Benedikts," Beuron, 1952.

42. Need I explain that when I attribute a feeling or a thought to "a
monk," I have in mind an ideal type and not a concrete and always faulty
fulfillment of this type.

43. Cf. "I Cor.," 7, 31; "II Pet.," 3, 1-13.

44. "Apologeticum de contemptu saeculi," chapter 27, (PL., 145, 280).

45. "Verba seniorum," I, II, 1, (PL., 73, 858).

46. Cf. D. J. LECLERCQ, "La spiritualite de Pierre de Celle," VI, "Otium

47. "Institutions," II, 12.

48. "In Apocalypsin," Max. Bibl. Patrum, Lyons, 1677, XIII, p. 656.


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