Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation: A Garden of Nuts

Thomas X. Davis
In his audiences in Saint Peter’s Square on October 28 and November 4, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI1 made reference to the distinction between monastic theology and scholastic theology in the twelfth-century Latin West. The Pope cited Dom Jean Leclercq’s groundbreaking study of monastic culture, The Love of Learning and The Desire for God,2 as the source for naming this distinction. Leclercq’s partitioning of theology into monastic and scholastic on the basis of its milieu—monastic cloisters or cathedral schools—initiated a notable response from various scholars as to the validity of such partitioning. In a later article, Dom Jean addressed these responses, stating that a more nuanced, and perhaps more complex, picture was needed.3 For example, he proceeded to distinguish not two but three possibilities. Theology can be said to be contemplative, coming from the cloisters, pastoral, from the cathedral schools, and speculative, if it derives from professional scholars of the era. Leclercq likewise presented other scholars’ suggestions, such as theology from within if it comes from monastic experience. While the article did not mention it, this classification suggests that the thought emanating from the schools would be theology from with1. Benedict XVI, 28 October 2009, “Monastic Theology and Scholastic Theology”; 4 November 2009, “Two Theological Models in Comparison: Bernard and Abelard,” holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2009/index_en.htm. 2. Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, trans. Catharine Misrahi (New York: Fordham UP, 1961). 3. Jean Leclercq, Naming The Theologies of the Early Twelfth Century, Medieval Studies 53 (Toronto: PIMS, 1991) 327–36.

Cistercian Studies Quarterly 46.3 (2011)


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out, obviously! Another idea was a warm theology (based on a personal experience and devotion) from the cloisters. Would its opposite be a cool theology from the schools? In view of monastic women of the period, there would have to be a theology of nuns along with a theology of monks. Alf Hardelin, professor at the University of Uppsala, proposed that the monks’ theology could be styled a “practical theology”—a formula needing to be correctly understood, as he himself added .4 Otherwise, theology of the schools could be thought of as impractical. Leclercq proceeded to offer criteria for discerning between these different theologies that are simply ways of approaching Christian doctrine. Monastic theology had as its aim the enrichment of contemplative prayer. Twelfth-century scholastic theology, making use of dialectic, presented Christian doctrine in a systematized form addressed to theological problems and pastoral needs. It is essential to realize that these approaches to or ways of doing theology can already be found in theological writings of the Church’s earliest centuries. Among the so-called pre-scholastic writings of the Fathers there are definitely systematic presentations of Christian belief.5 Patristic writings usually focus on one or another aspect of belief. It is John of Damascus (c 676–749), considered the last of the Greek Fathers, who is reputed to be the first to gather Christian doctrine into a kind of manual or organized format, an approach that the scholastics of the High Middle Ages would continue. His De fide orthodoxa is an encyclopedic compilation of the Catholic faith for that era. These categories, created to distinguish the theologies of the Middle Ages, have a certain value in themselves, although such divisions may be simplistic.6 Do they have any usefulness and significance relative to monastic formation as presented in the teaching of chapter 73 of the Rule of Saint Benedict? Benedict clearly professes in this chapter that any book or any teaching of the Catholic fathers presents a direct way to reach our
4. See Jean Leclercq, Naming 330. 5. Adam H. Becker, Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom (Pittsburgh: U of Pennsylvania P, 2006) 5, 39. East-Syrian theological formation has two approaches: pedagogical and a more formal one styled scholasticism. The School of Nisibus was acquainted with and used a Neo-Platonist version of Aristotelian logic and epistemology, Becker 128–30. 6. Constant J. Mews, “Scholastic Theology in a Monastic Milieu in the Twelfth Century: The Case of Admont,” Manuscripts and Monastic Culture, Medieval Church Studies 13, ed. Alison I. Beach (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007) 238.

4.7 Benedict seems to be implying that it makes no difference whether theology is done in a monastic manner or scholastic manner. For Benedict.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 253 Creator for any monk or nun eagerly moving in that direction. Benedict bonds together experience and understanding in the very last sentences of the Prologue to his Rule: participation in the passion of Christ (experience) and perseverance in Christ’s teaching (understanding): It is by progressing in the monastic life and faith with a heart expanded by the sweetness of unspeakable delight that the way of God’s commandments is rapidly covered. but the idea is that in such matters unless experience knows what is going on.2. 11. The Praktikos. The reason for this approach might be that Benedict understands any manner of theology as an interpretation of faith. Bernard of Clairvaux. 10.11 7. Chapters on Prayer #60. John Eudes Bamberger.”8 Benedict wants the monk or nun to become a theologian through listening to solid patristic theologians: “If you are a theologian. 8. Processu vero conversationis et fidei. you are a theologian. CS 4 (Spencer: Cistercian. ch. Porro in huiusmodi non capit intelligentia nisi quantum experientia attingit (SC 22. 35 of his Dialogues.2). an interpretation whose goal is to deepen one’s prayer with its awe of life unfolding in the presence of Divine Light. This phrase is not easy to translate. dilatato corde inenarrabili dilectionis dulcedine cur- . 9. Here Gregory speaks of a person’s seeing the Creator with a mind enlarged or expanded by Divine Light. Theology thereby nourishes spiritual “progress in monastic life and in faith. RB 73. trans. this could be profound personal insights coming from God as a result of lectio divina and contact with teachings of Catholic fathers (a truly direct route to the Creator) resulting in significant implications for union with God. If you truly pray.”9 Good theology articulates our knowledge of God since it is a verbal expression of an understanding of divine attributes and activity that flows from spiritual experience. I would like to think that this Creator reference has a highly concentrated implication for monastic contemplation that Gregory the Great will develop in Bk 2. provided that the goal is to enrich one’s monastic life style so as to advance rapidly to one’s Creator. A footnote to par. 1970). you truly pray. RB Prol 49.10 that intimate place where God and self dwell together. 60 states that this is the key passage for Evagrian contemplation. This offers an insight into Benedict’s approach to reading the patristic authors. This is one of the few references in the Rule to God as Creator. It is by never abandoning his teaching and by persevering in his very teaching in the monastery that we participate by patience in the passion of Christ and thereby merit to be co-heirs in his kingdom. Processu vero conversationis et fidei. understanding won’t get it either. Evagrius Ponticus. he is in the tradition of Evagrius.

ut ab ipsius numquam magisterio discedentes. 14. davis Essential to any authentic spiritual progress are a personal sharing through the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s experience in his Paschal Mystery and a personal commitment to Christ’s teaching that reveals this mystery of the Divine and unfolds through Tradition.” ABR 35 (1984): 378–88. 49–50). Bell. understanding. Jn 20:24–29. his or her prayer into a more profound reconciliation at deeper levels of consciousness.’ For an integral study of this phrase see David N. The Apostle demands the experience of touch as a foundation for his faith in the Resurrection. 13.” ABR 45 (1994): 161–83. ecstatic theology. For example: Victor W. in eius doctrinam usque ad mortem in monasterio perseverantes. Anselm. and judgment as the matrix for theology. They constitute a particular way of understanding with one’s consciousness penetrated by faith in God. One travels this way to a more profound intimacy with God. A number of sources are available to understand the phrase: faith seeking insight. that place of intimacy. He gets more than he had asked for. “Continuity and Conservatism in the Cathedral Schools of the Twelfth Century: The Role of Monastic Thought in the So-Called Intellectual Revolution of the Twelfth Century. Theology developed by insights of human ingenuity enriches a monastic theologian. This is what it means to be Catholic. “The Relation of Faith and Reason in St. 12. Anselm of Canterbury. Roberts. ‘Love itself is understanding. Yet this progress can contain a kind of Scylla-Charybdis risk: spiritual experience terminating in devotional sentimentality.254 thomas x. it must always present what Sacred Scripture and Tradition. spiritual experience. make it possible to reveal. William Collinge. Deborah Vess. ut regno eius mereamur esse consortes (RB Prol. Faith and continual progress in the monastic life cannot be separated from one another. or understanding ending in a compilation of theological conclusions. “Monastic Life As a Context For Religious Understanding in St. both channels of Revelation. Regardless of how well developed a theology may be.” This burst is a profound.13 The account of the Apostle Thomas as presented in the Gospel of John14 is an example of faith. CS 78 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian. so to say. The presence of the Risen Christ touched him so intimately that his faith and inner realization (spiritual experience) coalesced into one burst of joyous understanding and judgment: “My Lord and my God. transforming.” ABR 25:4 (1947): 494–515. . One can only muse how Thomas would now proceed to develop in terms of ritur via mandatorum Dei. The Image and Likeness. These developments are not what our monastic predecessors would call amor ipse intellectus est 12 or fides querens intellectum. passionibus Christi per patientiam participemur. 1984) 217–49.

18. “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire but you have given me an open ear. the Truth and the Life. and then lists the English translations of these writings. understanding. essential to the Prologue’s message.15 Benedict sees the opus dei. scholastic if you wish. and for reading before Compline. Living the monastic way of life with its core element of listening gives birth to this integration. He shows how they speak to different elements of the monastic life style. Jn 14:6 16. Lectio divina.’” present a profound understanding of listening. listening requires both a conscious awareness that can lead one to understanding with openness to the workings of the Spirit and a capacity for thinking in a positive critical way. “To Study the Early Monks. An entirely new relationship is opened up between a person and Christ.”19 These words of Chapter 73 of The Rule of Saint Benedict appear to refer to the entire range of ecclesiastical 15. This concept of being present to the Divine Pedagogue is the heart of the Prologue of RB. The author’s translation of RB 73: Ceterum ad perfectionem conversationis qui festinat. for it is none other than listening to Christ as one’s pedagogue. lectio divina. sunt doctrinae sanctorum patrum. a person as present to the Divine Pedagogue.18 There are several challenges here. The Vitality of Worship [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. . Such listening ought to be an intimate spiritual experience. It is my desire that this present article will carry forward this orientation given by Dom Adalbert. The literal meaning for the ear reference is “an ear you have dug for me” (Robert Davidson. The well-known verses from Ps 40:6–7. . and reading before Compline16 as the principal opportunities for listening17 to patristic voices so as to nourish these different elements essential to the monastic way.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 255 this experience. Dom Adalbert develops the importance of listening to the voices of early monks through their writings. Benedict integrates the monastic or pedagogical with scholastic or formal manners of doing theology. a person is able to make appropriate decisions relative to the needs of contemporary monastic life. and intimate personal relationship. ‘Here I am. This deep well of an ear carries the Word of Christ into the very depths of what it means to be human. “For one proceeding with enthusiasm toward perfection of the monastic life. see RB 48 and 49. In this approach. understanding. quarum observatio perducat hominem ad celsitudinem perfectionis. 1998] 134). .” MnS 12 (1976): 55–83. Then I said. presentation. At the same time. there are the teachings of the holy Fathers. First. and judgment that revelation he had previously received from Christ: I am the Way. The word “realization” strives to emphasize concepts of experience. However. I enlarge the scope to be more inclusive of patristic authors in general and offer an approach founded on experience that leads to understanding. Once these two elements are in place. Their realization leads a person to perfection’s summit. . 19. and a creative implementation of this insight since the Latin observatio can mean paying close attention so as to understand and grasp something. see RB 42. See Adalbert de Vogüé. this listening to patristic voices presenting Christ’s doctrine can be seen as a more formal. 17.

. new centers of learning. when the first schools. then the repertoire of patristic writings extends to 1153 CE. Doctor Mellifluus. in God’s presence. Michaela Puzicha.21 Vogüé lists major themes of our monastic tradition and points out the principal writings that expounded them. 21. 23. 25.” presents references to English translations of early patristic writings dedicated to monastic life as a map for young monks and nuns being formed in this unique school and to hand on through this same formation to newcomers. Vogüé 56. In the East. 20. or. Benedict implies fathers who hold the authentic Catholic faith universally accepted as opposed to heretical teachings (Puzicha 22). were being introduced into the empire of Charlemagne.”23 for anyone desiring to live under the gaze of God. was issued on Whitsunday 1953. davis and patristic writings with a decisive emphasis on the purity of Catholic doctrine. including those at which Benedict might have looked askance since they are not entirely noted for their purity of Catholic doctrine. and in expectation of God. In using these words. 18. 24.20 Later in this same chapter. This makes two centuries of patristic writings unknown to Benedict. Adalbert de Vogüé.256 thomas x. the patristic era ends with John Damascene (749 CE). Benedict makes reference to collective monastic writings along with the Sacred Scriptures as the most reliable means and inspiration for this monastic pursuit.25 as the last of the Fathers. See n.24 The accepted date for Benedict’s death is 547 CE. The program is thus organized in a doctrinal framework. The encyclical of Pope Pius XII.’ in the Benedictine Rule: Appeal to the Ideal and Critical Continuity” ABR 61 (2010): 18–29. 736). Vogüé 77.4 Benedict speaks of the holy Catholic fathers (sanctorum catholicorum patrum). Today. 22. In the West. it ends with the passing of Bede the Venerable (c. as he calls it “the alpha and omega of the spiritual universe. One can almost say that there is an explosion of discoveries in the entire repertoire of patristic writings. this “spiritual universe” is constantly being expanded with translations of works previously not available. In RB 73. the Doctor Mellifluus. If we accept Saint Bernard. “The ‘Fathers. in “To Study the Early Monks.22 He has created a fine work.

unwittingly. make indepth observations on meanings of Greek words that English translations simply cannot convey. so to speak. were three gifts from this course. reading original texts. This personal universe began to expand. Fedotov. during first-year Greek classes in a minor seminary. It made a lasting impression to read that Father Yelcaninov had been spiritually nourished in his Lenten reading of Isaac the Syrian. He would explain the grammar. Reading a text in the original language is optimal. G. a Benedictine monk. its basic values and aspects. and then proceed to give insights into the Gospel itself. 1948). 27. yet I found it intriguing and appealing for a spiritual life to be nourished by such a source. outside of the box. this professor had students reading the Gospel of John in Greek. Prior to the aggiornamento of Vatican Council II. then it is necessary to have a good translation. P. Fedotov 456. but to learn to think for yourself. was in the process of writing his own textbook.26 a discovery that made my patristic universe much larger than just the short patristic readings proper to the second nocturn for Vigils did. I didn’t understand or comprehend either this feeling or where or what these teachings were. In my spiritual and Lenten readings I had been acquainted with only modern 26. This approach taught me that to listen to a text requires an open mind searching for insights. strange as it may seem. and if this isn’t possible. . During my novitiate at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky I discovered A Treasury of Russian Spirituality. was not to be content with what others say about something. From the first day.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 257 A Personal Spiritual Universe the rule of Saint Benedict was the foundation of my own “spiritual universe” because it was Benedictines who taught practically all my primary and secondary schooling. Although I sensed vaguely that the Rule was a spiritual way highly concentrated and distilled from the spiritual teachings that preceded it. Creative thinking. The lasting impression he gave me. English translations of Cistercian and patristic authors were extremely scarce. Such an education offered many occasions for contacts with the Rule.27 I had no idea who this Isaac was. or at least with reference to the original language. The professor. A Treasury of Russian Spirituality (New York: Sheed. and seeking insights.

Dom Adalbert de Vogüé wrote his article in Monastic Studies for a monastic formation in the context of lectio divina. he was creative. As this kind of formator. too. 29. I soon focused on William of Saint Thierry.2. We were original recipients of what would eventually become his orientation series. who gave a sound monastic formation by introducing us to the writings of our Cistercian heritage. . to which we were accustomed. when access to the Greek Patrology was possible. and able to instill in us a lasting enthusiasm for the Cistercians and other patristic sources. It was Thomas Merton. RB 73.28 and did my best with my Latin ability and his thought. With his interpretation of faith and profound insights into monastic maturing based on life in Christ and the Trinity. His objective was to provide a program for formation29 that would promote progress in a monk or nun’s spiritual journey towards perfection’s summit. davis devotional and popular contemporary spiritual books of the early 1950s. Merton’s approach to theology and spirituality by means of Cistercian writers constituted quite a contrast to that of manuals of scholastic theology and popular devotional book. Fondness for Isaac has endured. discov28. To me William’s thought seemed more organized and tidy than that of other Cistercians. Use of original texts either for reading or reference promotes insights. I searched out this Isaac. William was my introduction to Gregory of Nyssa and the other Cappadocians. There were passages that did help me through difficult vocational moments and in prayer.258 thomas x. I’ve gleaned some insights that might help to promote such a type of self-formation. insightful. I could handle his Latin a little better. As a monastic formator. and I learned that patristic texts do assist in addressing one’s difficulties and prayer in spiritual progress. William presented Christ as the monk’s pedagogue who fosters the monk’s inner spiritual development. 30. Gregory’s brother Basil and Basil’s friend Gregory of Nazianzus. I could read his work only in Latin translation. Vogüé 55. as director of the junior monks.30 As I look back on personal experiences. A willingness to expand one’s spiritual universe in a patristic dimension is the starting point. After simple profession. De contemptu mundi. PG 86:811–18. he left a lasting impression.

To call on God is not to console oneself—it is to discover the condition God originally wanted for us—the spark of humility. 2004) viii.33 “For humility is the garment of divinity. Here I am indebted to Terrence Kardong’s “Benedict’s Puzzling Theme of Perfection. originally written in 1922. and enthusiasm that gradually reshape our life and become our interpretation of faith. possessing all those elements needed to be integral and thereby having a certain excellence.67). trans. or consolation. without flaws. I believe that this kind of self-formation itself is able to give birth to creativity.31 At its summit. J. perfection is an ever-growing awareness of God’s love for us and our love for God. 33. this mutual love32 gradually touches every aspect of our life. If we lift this quote of Ramadan from Muslim spirituality and place it in a Catholic Trinitarian context. Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Nineveh 82. a glory that is perfection’s summit: The ordeals of life. it will articulate quite well what it means to progress via the passion of Christ to that point of humility that Benedict claims casts out fear and becomes the fullness of love: His omnibus humilitatis gradibus ascensis. Perfection is the quality of something’s having been brought to completion. Faith in patristic writings’ ability to address situations one meets in spiritual progress is essential. and enthusiastic can serve as a tremendous example and help. encountering the death of those we love. 32.7–8. From the perspective of The Rule of Saint Benedict. This progress consists in patiently embracing the sufferings of Christ. worthily following Christ the Lord. the place of intimacy. for example.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 259 ery of deeper meanings. Bernard speaks eloquently of this intimacy and mutual love in his SC 45.” ABR 47 (1996): 3–13. our true King. sadness. Tariq Ramadan. However. insightfulness. 34. Having a formator who is creative. Steady progress towards this highest summit of love is far more comprehensive than spirituality based just on personal growth in human maturity. Consciousness of limitation brings it back to the need for the Transcendent. 1969) 384. and then extends to every person (with no exceptions) and all creation. Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (New York: Oxford UP. This book’s preface. to the need for meaning. monachus mox ad caritatem Dei perveniet illam quae perfecta foris mittit timorem (RB 7. A. states that Isaac stands chronologically and ma- . into His glory. or solution to one’s difficulties. to its most essential longing. or seeking a kind of refuge. Wensinck (Wiesbaden: Sandig. insightful. take the human being back to its most natural state. and an understanding that are expressed in creative thinking.”34 This climb becomes an in31.

In the following brief survey of patristic and monastic authors. 1979) 70–74. 1.36 In 1968 New Clairvaux’s novice director asked Thomas Merton [Fr.35 Patristic lectio divina can open up dark recesses of our lives. Prayer. “Meditation 9. Louis of Gethsemani. . 27–30. throwing open to you all the dark corners of my conscience. Conscience can also be understood as ‘consciousness’. M. and Meditations. The secret is to have this mutual love’s magic touch transform our daily life so that its every event is not only an occasion of awareness of Divine Providence and God’s presence. The Works of William of St Thierry.”37 I have terially on the threshold of Muslim mysticism. in effect. I believe this concept is the underlying teaching of William of Saint Thierry’s Mirror of Faith No. CF 3 (Spencer: Cistercian. not just articles about them. I can shut myself away with you. As our inward ascent is realized. Puzicha 25. 1977) 147. I have attempted to refresh and expand Vogüé’s list. On Contemplating God. Sister Penelope. Merton’s advice was. I speak to you more intimately and in more homely fashion. There is no reason to hesitate to include some patristic writings that are not precisely monastic along with ecclesial writings that may not be “rooted in the soil of Nicene Christology. William of Saint Thierry. extend it through to the Cistercians. to study and read the Fathers. 36. alone. and include one or another significant writer outside the scope of patristic literature. CF 16 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian.260 thomas x.” Willam of St Thierry. its joyful peace pervades the way a person lives. 37. In the 1970s this program was altered to apply to texts of patristic and monastic authors ending with the Cistercians. Vina proceeded to implement a novitiate formation program based on texts from both patristic and other spiritual authors extending into our modern times with the emphasis being to read the writings of persons themselves. transforming them into moments of light wherein we see a glimpse of God working in and for us. but also an occasion able to guide and lead the self further into that freedom proper to a profound love and reconciliation with the Divine in the deepest recesses of the heart. The objective of this program was to expand the spiritual universe of those in formation by offering them solid spiritual nourishment for spiritual progress. trans. 35. O Truth. Making the secret place of your face my hiding place. davis ward progress into intimacy and into that place of solitude where there is no longer anyone but God and self. Vina’s founding house] for ideas relative to novitiate formation. Some of his essential spiritual characteristics are prominent among Muslims.

It possesses a unique character of immediacy. non-canonical writings: This category consists of the earliest 38. the Word of God falls upon all types of soil: that trodden down into a foot path. Jerusalem. 40. 39. open a vast network of further writings. The mystery of Christ. We must not hesitate to seek truth wherever it may be. and meditating on it.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 261 opted to group patristic writers in basic geographic categories rather than in a linear or thematic approach usually found in patristic textbooks. This means that there is no gobetween or intermediary between the Word of God and the listener. They rarely interpret the motivation of the actors or interpret what happens within the Scripture narratives themselves. in turn. of the École Biblique. 2010. is the very center and heart of our spiritual universe. and solid spiritual guidance in monastic communities. by Fr. This listing is by no means exhaustive. so with us. . better educational opportunities. Cistercian Publications is an immense resource of patristic and spiritual writings. As with them. translations. being theologians whose prayer life is rooted in a sound Christology. manifested through the entire corpus of Scripture. or just plain old good soil capable of yielding a harvest of different quantities. and resources for any patristic author. With this electronic information. Authors of the various books of the Bible simply present revelation while making no claims about these books in terms of content and credibility. or covered with thorns. monks and nuns are surely able to progress in the monastic life and in a solid Catholic faith. Mt 13:4–9. the reader. The contents of this paragraph come from unpublished notes of a conference given at Vina July 22. op. the revealed Word of God. The fruit of lectio divina is to find ourselves inserted into the long tradition of the patristic and monastic writers themselves. is directly presented to the person who becomes a listener of the Word by reading it. Sources sacred scripture:39 It goes without saying that Sacred Scripture.38 The Internet gives an almost effortless access to a vast library of patristic texts. It always remains the primary matrix for lectio divina. reflecting upon it.40 Our interpretation is allowing this Word to transform our lives and behavior. Olivier-Thomas Venard. or rocky without depth. The bibliographies and footnotes in these books.

and Alexandria. Athens. these Gnostic and piously devotional writings indicate how various trajectories or lines of thought coming from Scripture and Tradition have been interpreted in a manner different from the canonical and patristic interpretations. trans. Their learning rested on actually living a Christian life-style: a truly Christian philosophical way of life. These texts offer a refreshingly simple interpretation of the teachings received from the apostles and evangelists. They invoke the power of God so as to interpret them according to demands of daily living. Claremont. writings of the apologists: The challenge for these patristic writers was to defend the faith while revealing the emptiness and falseness of pagan religions. Robinson. 1977) 13. members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. These centers. along with the schools of Edessa and Nisibis. J.” pronounced by these martyrs before the executioners expose the depths of what it means to be baptized with the Baptism of Christ. They employed different schools of Greek philosophy to accomplish this goal. “I am a Christian. Cotelier and J. Those words. and intro. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. general editor (San Francisco: Harper. Clericus first used the term when publishing these texts in 1672 and 1699 respectively.41 While these writings and documents may not be classified as patristic. James M. the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered 1947–1956). Robinson suggests that these documents formed a Pachomian library. were more than simply intellectual resources. Together with the Apocrypha. These authors and texts will be mentioned further on in this article in respect to their native locale. and Nag Hammadi library (discovered 1945). they are significant discoveries. They offer praise and thanksgiving for these teachings. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi library have opened up new avenues for textual criticism. 41. early apostolic writings: This title identifies writings of persons who were believed to have known and been disciples of the apostles and evangelists. the era of martyrs. The Apostolic fathers and apologists were located in cities that would become centers of Christian learning: Antioch. davis apocryphal writings. James M. This approach inaugurated the use of philosophy in theological interpretation of the faith. roughly 155 to 320 ce: The numerous written accounts of many women and men giving their lives as witness for their belief in Christ reveal an interpretation of faith that is somewhat overpowering. Rome. Smyrna. California. .262 thomas x. B.

204–275 CE. Alexandria’s leading patristic writers were Athenagoras. It was the Episcopal see of Cyprian and the site of Perpetua and Felicity’s martyrdom. They undoubtedly set the stage for the Christian allegorical and mystical exegesis of the Sacred Scriptures that would be the foremost characteristics of this school. Origen with his strong neo-Platonism. monastic documents from egypt: Egypt is credited with being 42. Two noted Jewish religious philosophers. flourished in Alexandria. The New Testament Scriptures and the Septuagint were accepted as the Biblical canon in the 393 Synod of Hippo with the two councils of Carthage under the aegis of Augustine. in Tunisia. Dionysius the Great. Its Christian roots were never fully eradicated until well into 1300s. Carthage. and the two great doctors and defenders of the Catholic faith. Fulgentius of Ruspe lived in this area. Clement. The Septuagint and the allegorical method of scriptural interpretation. One opinion is that the Letter of Barnabas and the ancient Christian homily formerly called the Second Letter of Clement stem from in or around Alexandria. and the Islamic invasion. a major center of Jewish learning. Arian Christians. Christianity in this area began its decline with the invasion of the Vandals. this area is roughly co-extensive with Tunisia. the Greek philosophy that has had a tremendous everlasting influence on Christianity.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 263 the catechetical school of alexandria—the didascalium: This ancient school is possibly the earliest Christian center of learning dedicated to scriptural study in the context of a disciplined life style. respectively. developed a philosophical mysticism based on the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato. Alexander. Algeria claims one of the greatest doctors of the Church.) writings from northwest africa—the maghreb: Today. still influence us today. . Morocco. has the distinguished honor of being the home of Tertullian. Tradition claims that Mark the Evangelist introduced Christianity to Alexandria around 41 CE. Aristobulus and Philo. Acts 18:24. who has been denominated the Father of Latin Christianity. Plotinus (c. Neo-Platonism. Alexandria is home to the Septuagint. and Algeria. Athanasius and Cyril. Pantaenus. for it was here that Ammonius Saccas lived and educated his famous pupil. Augustine of Hippo. seeking the spiritual sense of the written Word. The well-educated Apollos42 came from this city. Didymus the Blind.

Probably they were from Egypt and Palestine. Hilarion. A famous name connected with Sinai is John Climacus. possibly even Syria. The Paradise of the Fathers. Gregory. some even with sea views and areas shared with local population. went to Egypt for education. and Hesychios. along with different monastic histories. Countless men and women strove to encounter God in the mystique of a vast desert and to live accordingly in simplicity and austerity. where they remained for a long period of time. and Cappadocia have ancient monastic traditions as old as Egypt. especially the Lausiac History. native to this area. and was converted to the Christian faith. came under the influence of Antony of Egypt. When and from where these desert dwellers came remain the secret of history. davis the birthplace of Christian monasticism. Hilarion introduced the Egyptian style of monasticism into the Gaza area. The site of the burning bush (Ex 3) with its important theophany and revelation was a natural locale for hermits to dwell in silence and solitude. monastic writings from gaza: Egypt influenced Gaza and its environs even before the Christian era. his teaching and monastic lifestyle reinforcing this Egyptian dimension.264 thomas x. The noted elders Barsanuphius and John added an especially unique fea- . Anastasius. having only what such an encounter required. Philotheos. Tradition acknowledges Anthony as the Father of Christian monasticism and Pachomius as the Founder of coenobitic monasticism. and other collections of monastic words or sayings. His work The Ladder is a significant document for spiritual growth. These monastic sites were relatively close to the Mediterranean seashore. for in 362 Julian Saba. monastic documents from sinai: The southern section of the Sinai Peninsula was populated with monastic cells much like the Egyptian deserts because of Sinai’s major role during the Exodus of the Chosen People. What distinguishes Gazan monasticism is its Egyptian spirituality as lived in a coastal setting rather than a strictly desert one. Palestine. Today many Eastern monks read it during Lent for their nourishment. Abba Isaiah of Scetis settled here. The Philokalia gives writings from Nilus. contain insights of the abbas and ammas addressing aspects of one’s spiritual progress. Theodosius. Evagrius and Cassian have bequeathed an inestimable richness of monastic desert spirituality. monks of Sinai. although Syria. apophthegmata. the father of Syriac monasticism. travelled from Syria with a small group of monks to visit Sinai. Upon his return.

the great Biblical doctor of the Church. jerusalem: Cyril. The Persian conquest of 614 effectively began the decline of these monasteries. Dositheus. Procopius. Epiphanius and Eusebius of Caesarea were natives of this country. and Galilee: 1) a focus on the life of Our Lord and the sacred places. Cyriacus. John Moschus is buried in Saint Theodosius’s monastery. Justin is usually linked with Rome although he was a native Palestinian. Dorotheus and his disciple. and the early Christian philosopher theologian. Theodosius. Theodosius of Jerusalem. John Moschus and Jerome. 3) a cenobitic formation for novices. Eleutheroplis (Beth Govrin). written by Cyril of Scythopolis. in part. Jerusalem and its environs had many monasteries in both the city and surrounding areas. Sabas. and Nicopolis (Latroun area). Turkey and is credited with establishing near Bethlehem a form of monastic life combining cenobitic and anchoritic elements: hermits clustered around a church and other communal buildings. is . While not natives of Palestine. Gaza can boast of a Church historian. give a good understanding of Palestinian monastic spirituality. The Judean desert and the desert along the Jordan River below sea level appear to have been the most populated monastic areas. Theognius. Scythopolis (Beth Shean). not far from Bethlehem. The great John of Damascus ended his days in the noted monastery of Mar Saba. a few miles from Bethlehem. There were clusters of monks living in the environs of major cities like Caesarea.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 265 ture of spiritual direction by correspondence. and 4) with respect to Egyptian monasticism. Chariton arrived in the Judean desert around 275. Sozomen. Bethlehem. He came from present day Konya. show a more coenobitic aspect of Gazan monastic life. monastic and theological writers of palestine: Monastic life spread throughout the area styled Holy Land from the 300s until 614 ce. lived in Bethlehem and its environs. a more pronounced emphasis on liturgy. The lives of Euthymius. There are John Rufus’s lives of Peter the Iberian. John the Hesychast. some explained. Chariton’s Life can be added to this list. doctor of the Church and bishop of Jerusalem. by the proximity of Jerusalem. and Abraamius. Palestinian monastic life has several rather distinguishing characteristics. who was led into the desert after his baptism. 2) entering into a deeper solitude after the liturgical feast of the baptism of Jesus after the example of Jesus. and the monk Romanus.

Edessan Martyrs. Here is a partial list of significant authors: First three centuries—Tatian’s Diatessaron. 44..266 thomas x. Fifth and sixth—John the Solitary (Apamea). Abraham of Nathpar. Sebastian Brock. Colles. CS 216 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian. Ephrem. Book of Steps. However. Dadisho. syriac writers: Syriac Christianity spread out over a large area and eventually crystallized into different churches depending on their theological stance. there are the magnificent writings of Pseudo-Macarius and Pseudo-Dionysius. etc. Iran.44 Tur Abdin and Mar Mattai are some of the oldest Christian monasteries in existence. trans. Gundeshapur. and Seleucia-Ctesiphon were centers of advanced philosophical and theological learning. Lebanon. her focus associates her intimately with Jerusalem. This area includes what is today parts of southern Turkey. 1987). Philoxenos of Maggbug. as embroiled in serious theological controversy over the human and divine natures of Christ. Odes of Solomon. Although Egeria travelled extensively. Mosul. Fourth century—Aphrahat. Later centuries – Isaac the Syrian (Nineveh). This edition offers a substantial selection of Syriac writers. and Methodius.43 Also. Ephesus. trans. Acts of Thomas. Jacob of Serugh. The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual life. and Chalcedon reveal Christendom. Martyrius. John Saba (Dalyatha). Stephen Sudhaili. CS 101 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian. especially in these areas. Macarius. Other noteworthy persons of this city who left significant spiritual writings are Sophronius. Edessa. The Councils of Nicaea. . the vast repertoire of Syriac writings from these churches presents a profound mystical spirituality along with penetrating theological insights. Babai the Great. Joseph Hazzaya. Syria. Qatar. Narsai. Barhebraeus. Hesychius. Iraq. The Wisdom of the Pearlers. davis distinguished for his catechetical and mystagogic lectures. and ed. Ancient cities like Antioch. TheWisdom of the Pearlers is an excellent anthology of Syriac spirituality. Brian E. syrian monasticism around antioch: Antioch can boast of having one of the oldest Christian churches. Abdisho. The birth of monasticism in the mountains near the city and in the famous desert of Chalis could possibly 43. 2008). Nisibis. Bardaisan. and other anonymous selections.

trans. there were interchanges at a later date. Impressive. Stationary ascetics stood on their feet. R. It is possible that personal initiative. trans. would evolve into a center for scriptural study in the milieu of an ascetical. always under the open sky in roofless enclosures. 1985). rarely coming out of them.45 The coenobitic way of life eventually came into existence. disciplined life style. The Lives of Simeon Stylites. The dementes. M. living permanently in trees. moving on all fours like animals and eating grass. The Maronites—The Origins of an Antiochene Church: An Historical and Geographical Study of the Fifth to the Seventh Centuries. for the most part. it resisted allegorical interpretation. Hypethrites lived out in the open. Vagabond ascetics wandered ceaselessly from place to place. Its origins. Holy Spirit University of Kaslik [Lebanon]. personal strength. The akmētoi strove to reduce the need for sleep so as to chant the divine praises as a laus perennis. as do stones from stylites’ columns. . the catechetical school of antioch: It was natural that the ancient church of Antioch. living atop a column never to descend. Price. massive ruins remain of these monasteries. for as long as possible. not speaking. This scriptural study was founded on a historical and literal approach to the text itself. a church established already in New Testament times. Simeon the Stylite is one such example. Some think the stylites’ column inspired the Muslim minaret. nor kneeling. on the basis of its preparation of catechumens for baptism. and some ended up like an animal living among animals. Robert Doran. 2011). A few were dendrites. the Department of Interpretation and Translation. holy fools. in an immobile position. are undocumented. A History of the Monks of Syria. upright. trans. MN: Cistercian. eyes lowered. CS 112 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian. Theodoret of Cyrrhus. 1992). and the following of one’s own conscience led adherents to take many of the Gospel counsels and precepts to the extreme. John Chrysostom and Theodoret of Cyrrhus46 speak about and elaborate on these ascetic feats. Paul Naaman. While it does seem to have come to birth wholly independent of outside influences. Old 45. CS 243 (Collegeville. Shepherd monks lived in the open fields like sheep. This type of asceticism did manage to produce two monks who became bishops.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 267 owe its inspirations to the first generation of Christ’s followers. 46. CS 88 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian. spent daylight in a demented state with its bizarre behavior and the night time in intense personal prayer. The ones we are most familiar with were stylites. These anchorites adopted a most severe interpretation of the Gospel. not reclining for sleep.

This eventually led to an epistemological debate concerning the way one comes to know God: either through monastic experience and mystical prayer or by a rational. Antioch can lay claim to Ignatius. philosophical process guided by formal training of the intellect. and Gundeshapur. Nestorius. Diodore of Tarsus seems to have re-founded the catechetical school as a semimonastic school. Rabulla. monk. for all practical purposes. Jacob had attended the Council of Nicaea. was educated here. now called the School of the Persians. Nisibis was ceded to Persia. As a result of the war between the Roman Empire and the Persian (Sassanid) Empire. as many young Persian men came to study in Edessa. probably had little involvement with this formation and its school. and it may have been in this vicinity that both the Didache and the Didascalia were written. Theodoret of Cyrrhus. John Chrysostom. along with Theodore of Mopsuestia. Because of various circumstances. This was the occasion for Ephrem. along with other Christian refugees. this school was short lived. The school was reconstituted. the armenian writer Gregory of Narek. contemporary with Mar Jacob. to move to Edessa in 363. Ephrem’s thought. The Islamic capture of Antioch in 637 spelled the school’s demise. the schools of nisibis and edessa: Mar (Bishop) Jacob of Nisibis created a catechetical formation program in Nisibis based upon the program of Diodorus of Antioch dedicated to Biblical studies. philosopher. a great doctor of the Church. Ephrem. a bishop of Edessa. Some of the school’s members returned to Nisibis. Severian of Gabala. Izla. to create. along with the philosophy of Aristotle. was replaced with neo-Platonic and exegetical approaches of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Evagrius Ponticus. davis Testament types prefigured their realities in the New Testament. which constituted the nucleus of the school’s formation. In 489 the Byzantine emperor Zeno closed the school. and Chrysostom’s bitter and controversial enemy. introduced the use of the four Gospels in a format as we know them today. Another outstanding Doctor of the Church. Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Its demise resulted in the formation of other important centers such as Mt. Debate concerning the divine and human natures of Christ was to become central to this school. a new school of Nisibis. Eustathius. and . now beyond the limits of the Byzantine Empire.268 thomas x.

Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 269 mystic. For Diadochus of Photikē see Following the Footsteps of the Beloved: The Complete Works of Diadochus of Photikē. Apollinaris of Laodicea. trans. It held an important place in the New Testament due principally to the evangelization of the Apostle Paul. writers of asia minor: The area styled Asia Minor is larger than present-day Turkey. who baptized Constantine. and Gregory Nazianzus. MN: Cistercian. This culture and civilization. and the energies of God.47 athos: The volumes of the Philokalia. with its different Greek philosophical schools. Many persons identified with this area gave their definitive and influential expressions to the message of the Gospels. intro. are fundamental in understanding the development of theological dogma. too. Polycarp of Smyrna. Most noted among them are Maximus the Confessor. The Cappadocians had a profound influence on monastic life and prayer. Gregory Palamas laid the foundations for a spiritual approach based on hesychasm. the cappadocians: Among the more widely known patristic and monastic sources are Basil the Great. and Diadochus of Photikē are likewise to be listed among the great Greek patristic writers from Constantinople. this area. 2010). prayer. made significant contributions to Trinitarian theology. constantinople: This city was so rich in theologians and writers that it is almost impossible to name all of them. Simeon the New Theologian. and Marcellus of Ancyra. and mysticism. Eusebius of Nicomedia. Chapter 73 of The Rule of Saint Benedict refers to Basil by name. Athenagoras of Athens. Gregory of Nyssa.. particularly in regard to the Holy Spirit and to the development of mystical. left a compilation of prayers and soliloquies that bear witness to deep prayer and union with God. Germanus. Papias. Theodore of Studium. and notes Cliff Ermatinger. which contain patristic writ47. and the great doctors of the Eastern Church. Practically every major Eastern theologian and monastic writer involved in the Christological issues of the early Church Councils and later dwelt for a time in Constantinople. came under Hellenistic influence. Gregory the Illuminator. A few are Athenagoras.. divine light. Even more than Syria and Egypt had. Amphilocus of Iconium. Evagrius Scholasticus. . theological prayer. Melito of Sardis. CS 239 (Collegeville. Leontius. Gregory Thaumaturgas. Photius.

For the Church. This is a fine volume of Anglo-Saxon writings. 2000). Sulpicius Severus. developed the use of hymns as a rich source of theology and spirituality. and Justin. possibly Diognetus. what is to be said of Western European patristic writings? Rome and its environs are the locus of the letter of Clement. Athos. and the Jura fathers. Hilary. Merton’s introduction to Russian Mystics48 presents a good overall view of this universe reaching down to our present times. Anglo-Saxon Spirituality. hymns of the western church: The Psalms were an essential element of the Temple and Synagogue services. the little-known Visigothic fathers. The Athonite tradition is a hesychast tradition. The popes. the Psalms provide insights into the mystery of Christ. In addition to Psalms. have had definitive theological and spiritual influence in the Church extending even to our times. Nilus of Sora. especially the greats. along with other monastic men and women. Irenaeus of Lyons. There are Ambrose. Novatian.49 Boniface. Hippolytus. Vincent and the Lerins school. NJ: Paulist. Peter Damaskos occupies a large section in the Philokalia. The eminent monastic persons are Martin of Tours. Bede in England.270 thomas x. are usually thought of in connection with the monks of Mt. and probably Ambrosiaster. writings of the western church: If the Russian spiritual universe is vast. the Optima Elders. Leo and Gregory. Rufinus. Maximus of Turin. Russian Mystics. Sergius Bolshakoff. Cassiodorus. for example Nicodemos and Staretz Silouan. Tradition claims that it was Ambrose and Hilary of Poitiers who introduced hymns into 48. Isidore in Spain. the Mechthilds. Anselm of Bec. Caesarius of Arles. Columban. Hildegard. Robert Boenig. Boethius. davis ers from diverse countries. and The Way of the Pilgrim introduce a hesychastic. Hilary of Poitiers. Seraphim of Sarov. Coptic. the early Christian liturgies. Peter Chrysologus. 1977). CS 26 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian. Some monks much later than the patristic period. Prosper of Aquitania. Gregory of Tours. Paulinus. The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah. and Gertrude the Great. 49. trans. Tikhon. constitute major lights in this universe. russian writings: Spiritual documents coming from Russia reveal how vast this spiritual universe is. Benedict. Hermas. Cassian. apophatic spiritual tradition that is based on divine energies and the experience of divine light and that is still alive today. Syriac and Byzantine. deserve mention. .

thoroughly based on Sacred Scripture. 1983). Oliver Davies. Ælred of Rievaulx. Paulinus. 51. Bernard of Clairvaux. Adam of Perseigne. MN: Cistercian.Benedict’s Monastic Theological Formation 271 our Western liturgical practice. both extremely ancient. abandonment of homeland. NJ: Paulist. to mention only a few eminent Celtic saints. are noted for their interpreting desire for God through extreme penitential asceticism. present a coherent doctrine forming an integrated spiritual patrimony. William of Saint Thierry. manual labor as making a contribution towards self-support. too. CS 236 (Collegeville. Outreach and Renewal: First Millennium Lessons for a Third Millennium Church. The writings of this period. 1999). This. . and sanctification. Brigit. Read patristic writings so as to understand and love what we read. a more authentic daily monastic routine. and a spirituality of intense presence of God manifested via the wonders of the created universe. Gilbert of Hoyland. This unique spiritual repertoire is captured in a fabulous architecture properly styled Cistercian. trans. Columba.51 the cistercians: The Cistercian monastic experience placed enormous emphasis on simplicity of life style. Sedulius. Liber Hymnarius. Isaac of Stella. and friends as a form of bloodless martyrdom. 2011). irish and writings: Irish monasticism and spirituality. redemption. The great monasteries no longer exist. Celtic Spirituality. See James McSherry. and Columbanus. but their heritage is preserved in the teachings of Patrick. Augustine. Baldwin of Forde. with Aiden and Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Kevin. not merely to be informed. is a fine volume. This is what Chapter 73 of The Rule of Saint Benedict proposes. Porfyrius. family. and Prudentius are known for their hymns. The more outstanding among Cistercian writers are Stephen Harding. and a thorough search for truth about oneself as a way to profess a more genuine observance of The Rule of Saint Benedict. The Solesmes hymnal50 is an excellent collection of these early musical pieces that present in simple poetic form the divine theological mysteries of creation. and Gregory the Great. The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah. Abbaye Saint Pierre de Solesmes (Tournai/Paris: Desclée. Then the truths they contain will be50. Conclusion We know that the nucleus of any formation process or spiritual progress is to be formed. and John of Forde. Guerric of Igny. Brendan.

and make a discernment or judgment to live according to what is correctly understood. However. our Divine Pedagogue. and in searching for Truth Itself. Abbey of New Clairvaux P. But once their shell is cracked through persevering study and reading. Box 80 Vina. there is another metaphor that I used in the title for this article.” SM 24 (1982): 43–73. one with which I would like to end: a garden of nuts. O. If such a reader perseveres with prayer and grace in the Holy Spirit and becomes a listener. one that deeply nourishes spiritual progress.52 Luther says the Psalms can be difficult to understand or comprehend. Monastic theological formation. Realization as understood in footnote 19: Realization (observatio) is to experience. This is the Martin Luther’s metaphor. he or she will discover a kernel within. See Martin Luther’s First Lecture on the Psalms. will bring to birth a realization53 of justice:54 a love or uprightness consisting of a union of wills. 53. Terrence Kardong. 54. taken from the Song of Songs 6:11. The metaphor that I’ve been using in this article is Dom Adalbert’s spiritual universe. a sweet kernel is found within. This expresses quite well the expanding of one’s consciousness into a serious spiritual progress towards our Creator as presented in Chapter 73 of Saint Benedict’s Rule. . who thereby assists that monk or nun to shape and mould his or her life in seeking God. I believe this metaphor might well express the difficulty many persons today have in reading these patristic writings. for the Psalms. wherein one is unable to will anything other than what God wills. CA 96092 52. one spirit. understand.272 thomas x. “Justice in the Rule of Benedict. that straight course to the Creator rising from patristic writers. Many texts are not easy to read. perhaps even going so far as to turn off the reader. A person who reads in this way enters into a relationship with the author and works with the author. davis long both to the writer and to the listener.

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