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Delatte on Vocation

Delatte on Vocation

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a section from ch. LVIII of Dom Paul Delatte, O.S.B.'s Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict
a section from ch. LVIII of Dom Paul Delatte, O.S.B.'s Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict

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Published by: Sancrucensis on Jan 09, 2012
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Commentary on the Rufe oj St. Benedict CHKPTER


The institution of Iay brothers reach~d its fuIl development in the eleventh century. It was established in Germany, thanks chiefly to Abbot William of Hirschau, who was much influenced, as is weIl known, by the Customs of Cluny. Haymo, his biographer,has left U8 a summary of the Rule for lay brothers at Hirschau. As at Cluny, the business of the kitchen was entrusted to them. Lay brothers played an important part at the end of the eleventh century. In the twelfth they appeared in all the abbeys of Western Europe. They are found amongthe Camaldolese, Vallombroeians, and Carthusians. But it was at Clteaux above all that they held an important position. Customs and a Rule were drawn up for them. Seme of them were to dweIl in the abbey, others in the "granges," others with high secular personages; some were assigned to the service of the abbeys of Cistercian nuns. The rnore recent Congregations of Monte Cassino, Bursfeld, St. Vanne, and St. Maur also had their lay brothers, There was, moreover, among the Maurists, another dass called " commis" (officials) who were charged especiaIly with external works and the relations of the monastery with the outside world; after probation they took a vow of stability. FinaIly, there were "perpetual servants," bound to the monastery by civil contract .. lt should be observed that our Constitutions, taken in this case from those of theMaurists,order that none should be admitted as lay brothers save those who possess aptitude for their work. Above all we should note that they are as truly religious and monks as are the choir monks .. -Therefore they should have such instruction and training aBwill enable them to live _up to their vows, They are aIl, whether novices or professed, under the spiritual direction of the lay brother master. As regards their work they are under the cellarer; apart from him and the fathers assigned to the charge of them, no one has a right to put any duty on them orto require .their services ; if lay brothers are not the domestic servants of the community, they are still less the servants of any individual monk, Perfeet courtesy and considerate charity should regulate a11our relations with them; every species of petty familiarity should be severely repressed, as well as all unjustifiable conversation ; both their interest and ours demand this. Let us also beware of scandalizing simple souls by certain ways which are scarcely monastic, and by notorious breaches of Rule ... Their'life is humble, silent, hidden, and more severe in some respects than that of the choir monks; and, as the Maurist Dedarations set it down, they should- not be advanced to Orders nor undertake higher studies, Strict observance of these two last points is indispensable for the safeguarding of their monastic vocation ; and those who seek to enter the clericalstate nearly always meet with failure. Their laborious days may easily become onelong colloquywith the Lord; and the spectade of such glad and peaceful fidelity is the moat valuable of all their services.




H portion of the Rule which begins with this chapter and extends E to the sixty-sixth inclusively is quite clearly defined, and deals. first with the recruitment of the monastery, then with its hierarchical arrangement and regular order. To exhaust the topic of recruitment our Holy Father speaks successively of novices in general, of children, of priests, and of stranger monks. The present chapter, which gives us the generalmethods bywhich. a community is recruited, comprises three main dlvisione: the reception ofcandidates, their probation or novitiate, and their final admission. This last part treata of the solemn forms of admission, and rhen of the monk's obligation . to dispese of aIl his property. Here we have.a number of questions; the importance and interest of which invite U8 to extend our commentary. DE 'DISCIl'LINA SUl!CIl'IENDOllUM To him that newly comes to conFUTI.UM.-Noviter veniens quis ad version, let not an easy entrance. be conversionem, non ei beilis tribuatur granted, but,. as the Apostle sars. ingressus: sed sicut ait Apostolus: "Try the spirits if they be of God." Probate spiritus, si IX Deo S1#ßt. Ergo H, therefore, he that comes perseVere si .veniens perseveraverit pulsans, et in knocking, and after four or five days illatas sibi injurias, et difficultatem seem patiendy to endure the wrong' ingressus, post quatuor aut quinque done to him and the diffieulty made .dies viaua fuerit patienter portare, et about bis entranee, and to persiat persistere petitioni SU2, annuatur ei in bis petition, let 'entrance be granted ingressus,.et sit in cella hospitum paueis him, and let him be in the ~estdiebus. . house for a few days. "One that newly comes to confleriion."-The conversion here spöken of is simply the religious life, so called from its being a turning towarda God. This phraseology accorded with the ecclesiastical 'language of the rime.! and is very felicitous; man turns from sin, from the worid and its frivolity, in order to direct his life towards the supreme reality and uncreated beauty. However, when he presents himself at the monastery, and so at the house of God, he doesbut respond to the call of God Himself---,-i.e., to vocation.
1 Illi. quorum converaioni cODeulere voluimul .•• Bare 5T. AUGUITlNE (Ep"t. LXXXIII., 2 et 3. P.L., XXXIII., 292), and a little farther OD: CU," quUtpU a4_'U,,i quis ail COlft1ernOIl6If1 uriulfI cOmJertüur, si 'Ilerad corde cOllflertitur, etc.-S 'IIe1Ierit (5. C..u.u., Reg. ad _11.; i.; Reg. a4 virg., Recapitulatio, vili.).-D. BUTUIl (S. Be".dicti Regula _lIII&bOrlllfl, pp. '140-141) eay. that the best atteated.reading everywhere inthe Rule i. COII'llefsatio: COllflersatio IfIDrUIfI: hctio olfllli1lO certa led baud Jacüis illtell,c/II •. COIIJerripotest CAI8lANUI, . Nest., V., i.: per bollorU'" actuu", cOllversatio",,,, •••• e C01If}ersio 11011surpabatur a S. B,,,,dicto; u cOIIfIer# oer» bit illwllitw (ü., hili.)~ Co,,fJerlattO (= vita ,"OlllUtica) et cOIIfIerno erant ambo in usu commlllli.-CJ. D. ROTJUNHiUlUIl, Zur Aufnab~ordllllllg der Regula S. Be".dicti, 11., Colft1erlatio lfIOt'um, pp. ao sq.-D. lhllWl'GItN, Geschicbte der benediktilliseben ProJmJormel, H., i. COllflersatio

UM conwTsio im RegeltexI,

pp. 47 sq.


Ofthe Discipline of receiving Brethren into Religion 368 Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict
rocation.~We must limit the use of this term and not make it signify any expression of our activity. We sEeak of the soldier's vocation, the engineer's vocation, the vocation to the married state or common vocation. These are actual states, the result of strictly personal choice, the product of circumstances; aptitudes, and tastes. Doubtless these choices do not escape the laws of Providence, yet they do not imply a very special invitation of Godz'as does vocation properly so ca11ed. "This comprises three elements: a special ca11of God=-to a high supernatural state-to which ca11the intelligent creature should respond with free co-operation. And in this sensethere are only three vocations : vocation to the Faith, for heretics and infidels, which is universal and obligatory under pain of damnation; religious vocation, which is, as we hope to show, universal and yet a matter of counsel; vocatiou tothe ecclesiastical state, whicl, is special and is addressed to a select few, chosen by name fromamongChristian folk and designated by the Church. Here we are concerned with religious voeation only. -, A general vocation tothe religiouslife may be distinguished from an individual voeation. The first is the universal invitation addressed by Our Lord to a11the faithful: "If anyone wish to come after me " (Matt. xvi. zf); "If thou wouldst be perfect " (ibid. xix, 21). This vöcation has been given onee and for ' a11,and Our Lord's words have never been retracted. Neither the State northe Church has any power here. God has ealled souls and opened the gates of perfection to them, It is not merely permission or leave, but a positive invitation addressed to the whole Church, Everyone baptized isbythat act sufficiently ca11edby GO,dto a life which is the fulfilment of baptism. But, in actual fact, Our Lord's offer does not reach a11efficaciously; it maybe that a soul is inattentive; it may be that it does not consent to follow the divine counsel; it may be that at the hour when God's call reaches its ear, it finds that ithas taken on itself obligationswhich forbid it making any response; it may be that it is without certain dispositions of soul orbody which are strictly requisite. God respects the play and course of secondary: causes, arid in practice only a picked few are capable of following His call: "Not all take this word, but those to whom it is given •... He that can take, let him take it " (Matt. xix, 11-12). The doctrinal principle of a universal vocation having been carefully safeguarded, it remains true that there is an individual and, so to speak, a privileged vocation. But our ideas should be clear with regard to this " special" vocation also. Vocation to the religious life cannot necessarily mean a positive call, a revelation, a supernatural and imperative intiination:" Thou shalt be a religious." Nor is it any more true, necessarily, that vocation is the command of a confessor. The confessor may advise, he can and should enlighten; he can weigh the chan ces of success, beeause he knows the soul's dispositions r but he cannotcommand, in any sense whatever. God himself does not command, .SouIS are . free, I t is infinite imprudence, and want of reverence for souls, to claim to choose their state oftlife for them, when the consequences are feit in


'time and in eternity. Da parents and meddling, merciless directors bear the consequences of the decision which they impose by main force -ona too docile and trustful soul? Vocation is a personal matter. But, we may ask further, what is the form under wh ich God speaks to souls, when He would draw them to Him 1 To confine the infinite variety of His methods within the compass of a formula or a catalogue is impossible. For God means are good. Vocation may be a matter of sensible attraction, an inclination of the heart towards the religious life, the love of the chant and of beautiful services: a form which it very naturally takes among the young. But this sensible attraction is not an indispensable element. Vocation is sometimes an impression that dates from infancy ; we have never contemplated our life in any other than monastic surroundings; we are influenced, perhaps, by the example of a relative. Or it may be an ideal of perfection that suddenly forces itself upon us. . Vocation may consist in an intellectual appreciation of the moral sui~Eiorhy of there~igio;; illj!_and ii'"the st~_o.Rg resolve: ,e It'..i th,; bejter way andl will follow it.': Perhapsthis is the purest type of vocation. Sometiinee a mari'Is' guided by a'sort of practical and utilitarian impulse: " I shall have no more visits to receive or make, no more confess.ions, no more sermons, no doniestic worries. I shall have leisure for prayer and study and shall live in peace." This sort of vocation is the vocation of middle age, of one who has already been wounded by contact with life. Or it may be suffering which turns souls towards God; or again discontent, moral unrest, inability to be happy elsewhere. Our Lord, when He would direct us towards His ends, sows secret bitterness over all the joys of our life, and we meet naught but sadness and bruises if we step aside from the way traced by Hirn, a way, as the prophet says, that is marked out with hewn stones: "!Jshath shut uy- m.-y~ays with square ston~!.." (Lam. Iii. 9)' Finally, there mcases\v'liere the religious fiIe, whrr~remaining in the abstract a counsel of perfeetion, yet be comes in the concrete an obligation: as when experience forces us to recognize that we need the cloister, thatthere only is our eternal salvation perfectly secure. In brief, ~cation..is never lacking ; God'scall takes so . many forms, that one of them IS always at hand and he who enters always has good reasons for entering.1 . Again, we must not fail to remark-and the very words of the Rule invite us to do so-that a11these diverse ways in which the universal call manifests itself to the individual do but constitute the material and determinable element in vocation; the formal and determinant element .is the firm resolve to seek God and perfection. "If thou wouldst be perfect ?"Do you wish it ? " Who is the man that would have life and desires tosee good days 1" said St. Benedict in the Prologue. When all is said, this is the essential element and often the only one





Abbot Paphnutiu8 explained to

Primus e» Deo 'I t, seCUH4us



homitu1ll, t".,iUi ex tuC~lit4U

thai there were threekind. of vocation: (COftlat., 111:, lli.-v.) • 24

Of the Discipline oj receiving Brethren into Religion 370 Commentary on the Rufe of St. Benedict
that marters. F or, of the two other elements,. the concrete manifestation of God's counsel and personal aptitude, we havesaid that the first.is never lacking; and of the second we may say that it is sometimes created or at least developed, when the will is generously determined. This explains why our Holy Father's ordinances for the admission of a postulant and the training of a novice have as their sole purpose the testing of his will. Should there be long deliberation and much consultation? St. Themas says not.! What, he asks, shall we deli berate about? . On the excellence of the proposed resolution f : But it cannot be disputed that it is a good thing, nay, a very good thing; and to doubt this, though it were but for an instant, would be to give the lie to Our Lord. Must we deliberate about our powers, whether we have the necessary strength to carry out our resolve ? Some of our friends will tell us that we are doing a foolish thing, a thing impossible for our nature. Others, better advised, will reply: "Y ou have the resources of ·your will, which are boundless; prayerwil.l procure you the infinite strength of God. S!;tildren ...;.and_ ~o~en have done i!; you can surely do as...!!!!lc.1::."St. Thomas adniits" that there may be deliberation Oll three points: 18 our health . sufficient? Have we debts? What form of religious life suits us best? Here we may consult and interrogate;but we should ask few people and such as are discreet, prudent, competent in supernatural matten, well ..informed on the character of the monastic life, and even predisposedt in its favour .. One may deliberate, too, with oneself, but let it be done quickly. And above all we should reflect on the most expeditious means to rid ourselves of all obstac1es. After having seen what religious vocation is in general, it will not be euperfluous to say a wordas to the qualifications prudently required for the contemplative life, and in particular'the monastic and Benedictine contemplative life. An immortal soul-the same baptized-the same from that moment endowed with the supernatural faculties of which contemplation is the proper exercise: this is enough, no more is needed. Does the condition seem simple andeasy to be realized ] Yet it is the principal one of all, and the fundamental one ;it might almest be said that it is the sole condition, given a determined will. Very ordinary health is adequate to our monastic duty. But the important thing required of a candidate for 1:he contemplative life is a. certain eq~~.Eise ?f temperamen~, a thing not always very. com~on in our age of ImpulsIve andneurotic natures. A'man who vows hirnself to the monastrc life with a rather weak head and defective intellect will there lose all that is left, or at least will become a burden to .his brethren and a.danger to the community. An exaggerated preoccupation with health, with oneself, with the honour and attention one deserves, i8 a verybad omen; hypertrophy of the ego may be the first sign of insanity. Yet we do not reject ·a candidate because we 'find in him certain slight faults or egoistic tendences; otherwise no one would be chosen. . A man need not, be a Plato or an Aristotle for the work of Christian contemplation, But it would certain1y be presU1liptuou8 to-day to

37 I

La L _


enter the contemplative life and to become a choir monk, we do not say without some previous education-for that is forbidden by the Holy See-but without a real taste for the things of the mind. . 'the conte~plitive life does not consist in dreaming and doing nothing. Beware of those who neglect study on the ground that we are vowed only to pure' contemplation, or that, according to the Apostle, "knowledge puffeth up." Taking our life .as a whole, a taste for true and wholesome doctjine is a guarantee of perseverance, of worthiness, and of progress, safer often than a certain kind of piety. . . The postulant must intend to take his faith seriously and raust be valiant. III a monastery our livelihood is assured ; we have not the external prick of necessity, nor the stimulus that action brings with it. If a contemplative be not courageous, he will quickly become a loiterer, a deserter of perfection, a useless thing. There is required of him also a love of quiet and-silence, a certain detachment from the world, from politics, from external activity, from a ministry which he has freely abandoned, even, we would fain add, from the affairs of his family. .We havenot to provide for our brothers arid sisters, nephews and nieces ; our prayers and our fidelity will be more efficacious with God than human aetivities forwhich we are no Ionger competent. The eandidate should also have a good charaeterand a certain youthfulness of soul; critieal, peevish, and unsoeiable temperaments are poorly suited to a rule which requires continual contact with brethren and filial submission to the Abbot, . Finally, an excellent sign of a vocation to the contemplative life is described in the passage of Ecclesiasticu8: Pulchritudinis studium habenteJ, pacificanteJ in domibuJ JUü: the just men of old studied beauty, they caused peace and order in their houses. Study of beauty does not necessarily mean artistic taste or artistic talent; but itirnplies . !1!~..,.habit f ~oing-EOJ.hLngbr..h~lves, of realizing perfect purity, and a o delicacy of disposition that does not suffer the petty passlOns of the world we have renounced to enter our souls again under any disguise. Courtesy and refinement also, in our relationswith God as with our brethren, flow from this love of beauty; as do Iikewise an intelligent love of the Divine Office, ef its rites and ofits chants. Tbe reception of candidates.-A man believes that God is calling hirn to the Benedictine life; he is " converted "; he comes and knocks at the door. Strange to say, it does not open at onee, and his reception is very reserved, not to say disagreeable: Non ei facilis tribuatur ingressus .. lt was the same among the Fathers of the East.1 St. Benedict's first
1 Si f/Uis accesserit ad ostium.monasterii floll1U·s4culo renuntiare, etfratrum aggregari numero, non bahllbit intratuli libertawn, seil priw nuntiahitUt' Patri monasterii, et manebit . paucis diebus Joris ante januam (5. PACH., Reg ..xlix.).-Hehdomada pro Joribus jaceant; "ulli cum lIis de jratrwus junganlur, et semper dura et laboriosa -eis proponantur. Si oero persllf/tiraverint pulsantes, eis Mn negetur ingressus (Reg. 1. 55. PATRUM, vii.).-Ambiens quis. ifltTa cmnohii recipi disciplinam non anu pr01'S1Uadmittitur, quam diebus decem vel eo amt,liw pro joribw excubam itulicium perseflerantu, .' .. dllmomtra'Verit (CAlI8., Inst.,

IV., lÜ.). There are also reaetnblanc:eabetween thia ebapter oi St .. Benedic:t and aeveral pastage. in ST. B.wL (Cf. Reg.Jw., x, sg.). .

lI.-JI., fJ. c:huU:., a, re,

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