History of Religious Life
The Rise and Growth of Western Monasticism: Part 2
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The Institute on Religious Life and the Daughters
of St. Mary of Providence of Chicago bring you the a series of lectures given
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. on the theme The History of Religious Life.
Father John Hardon is a Professor of Theology at St. Johns University in New
York. He is a well-known lecturer and consultant to many various national, religious
and educational enterprises and is renowned as a retreat master and spiritual
director. Father Hardon is the author of many articles and books including Holiness
in the Church and The Catholic Catechism which has been strongly
endorsed by Holy Mother Church. Following is the second part of Father John
Hardons lecture on the Rise and Growth of Western Monasticism. Father Hardon.
Taciturnity Silence with a Purpose
Does this foster humility? It sure does; because given that
definition of taciturnity silence with a purpose it means therefore that
if I am, according to Benedicts norm, a taciturn individual; I will speak when
I should, I will say a lot; change the wording I will talk a lot. Not everyone
who talks a lot says a lot. I will talk a lot when thats the situation,
thats the call. I will say little when little is called for because, humanly
speaking, pride wants to manifest itself. In fact, theologically, we distinguish
between pride and what we call vanity or vainglory. Pride is an unruly or
inordinate esteem of myself. I think Im better than I am. But human
beings naturally are not satisfied with just thinking they are better than they
are; they want others to think so too. In order to give people sufficient evidence
to go on, to be thoroughly convinced of how important and intelligent and well-traveled
I hear people for example, on a plane - the last time (you can, the whole
plane can hear it) the last time I was in Morocco; (laughter) or I remember
distinctly arguing with a dealer in Tel Aviv. So, I was never in Tel Aviv. That
makes me less important than the person who had haggled with a dealer in Tel
Taciturnity Is a Very Difficult Practice of Humility
The yen to display our excellence is a profoundly human one.
Taciturnity controls that desire. This incidentally is the profoundest meaning
hidden behind the word that Im sure weve talked on already before (writing
of the board) Christ being an infans - didnt we talk about this? This
is to speak; an infant in Latin is defined as one who does not speak the speechless
one. Talking about God teaching us taciturnity! What display He could have made
- what an odd word - of His Divine Omniscience. And we who are, to say the least,
not omniscient; how anxious and eager we are that people know exactly how smart
we are, or how this or that weve got. When I see what looks like a steamship
that is called an automobile, stretching from stem to stern, who knows how many
feet what would be a long automobile, how long it would be? Ive never measured
one; lets make it thirty feet. The purpose of all of that steel and chrome
is not to transport a human body; it is to display the person in that car. Why
do people wear flashy clothes? Why do they pay - I know they do because I walked,
by mistake, into a barbershop in New York - I needed a haircut badly. And I
was desperate. I couldnt get to the one that I ordinarily go to so I walked
into another one. Then I noticed there was nobody waiting to be haircut so Ill
be served immediately. As soon as I walked in the provider got up, he said,
Father, youre in the wrong place. What do mean Im in the wrong place? This
is a barbershop. Well this is no ordinary barbershop. The prices I charge,
you dont want to pay; ten dollars, the lowest price. Why do people get expensive
hairdos? Why do people talk about things which they want people to hear except
to display themselves. How many times I have admitted in my evening examination
of conscience that I had needlessly displayed my knowledge beyond what I was
teaching was required. And the more you know, the more youve got to keep that
thing, back there! In fact Ive almost found it as a general rule so often,
people who have the least seem to be the most anxious to display what little
theyve got. Taciturnity is a very difficult practice of humility. I know. Ive
been working on it for years.
Be Serious and Always in Control
Number ten. Benedict encourages, what do
you mean encourages, prescribes of his followers, that they be serious. You
know I felt very guilty this morning when I, for about maybe ten seconds,
I couldnt control my laughter. I shouldnt have said what I did. Remember what
we said, there is Peter, (laughter) Peter sinking and the disciples, well, there
goes Peter! (laughter) I should have controlled myself. For just a moment,
I let go. What Benedict is talking about is not that we dont laugh, but that
were always in control. And just then as there is a place and a time
for speaking and what we say and how much we say; so theres a time and place
for, well, levity, recreation. No one will grow - this is Benedicts verdict
- in the spiritual life who does not control mans natural instinct to a levity.
Now there are some melancholy characters and you say to yourself, I wonder
if she ever cracked a smile. But I found in dealing with such persons, often
its remarkable - you touch some aspect of their personality and you wouldnt
believe it! Its as though a reservoir broke loose. There is levity in all
of us, a time and a place and a length and a circumstance. When its recreation,
its recreation. When its study, its study. When its prayer, its prayer.
When its work its work.
Gravity in Ones Manner of Speaking
Number eleven. You would almost think when
reading the Rule of Benedict that he was, well, an enemy of laughter. No. What
the eleventh Rule says, gravity in ones manner of speaking. Now the word gravity
in English does not quite bring out what gravitas is in Latin. It doesnt
mean, for example, that the only conversation should be, say, about the four
last things, (laughter) that were only talking about death, judgment, heaven
and hell. It doesnt mean that were only talking about, well, the problems,
the crises in human existence. Not that kind of gravity. But outside of times
of recreation, which Benedict beautifully provided for, that what we talk about
are the things that count. And here we have the word of the Savior Himself.
What does our Savior tell us, in so many words, do people talk about, what is
on peoples lips? Whats in their mouth what has first been where? In their
minds. People who have God on their mind and in their hearts will be interesting
people, cheerful people, pleasant people. But they wont be silly people, they
wont be shallow people. They will be, in the sense in which Benedict understands
it, serious people.
12th Step: The Whole Personality Should Reflect True Humility
Finally, and you might say, what else is left? Well,
Benedict wanted to make sure so he said, the whole person should reflect humility
and of course this is the 12th step. There is a humble way of talking.
There is a humble way of walking. There is a humble way of teaching. There is
a humble way of learning. Ive examined too many people especially oral examinations
which we subject our scholastics to regularly. And I know after fifty minutes
of, say, an hours examination, youre not quite sure who is the examiner and
who is the examinee. Some people can make you actually feel guilty for asking
them a question. Watch sales people. Watch airline stewardesses or now stewards,
I guess is that an airline steward - for men? Thats the mens liberation.
Watch people that deal a lot with many people. They know even if they dont
fully believe all the principles we are enunciating that whatever else turns
off, say, a customer, it is any sign of arrogance. Right?
How Quick We Are to Judge the Least Manifestation of Pride
There are so many ways our lives are filled with
manifestations of our personality, and how shrewd and perceptive we are where
others are concerned how quick to judge the least manifestation of pride.
I just wish and I yet dont wish that each of us had, every week, just fifteen
minutes in private, confidential discourse with someone with whom we live who
would tell us exactly for fifteen minutes a week what impression weve left
in the past seven days a practice we had in the novitiate, fifteen minutes
a week. They were, I neednt tell you, the hardest fifteen minutes of the week.
And this also took place in the Tertianship after Ordination by monitor, (thats
what we call each other) by personal monitor. The fifteen minutes were evenly
divided; seven and a half he would tell me whats wrong with me, and seven and
a half what I thought was wrong with him; and the next week wed alternate.
He told me that when I left the chalice at Mass, he watched me because wed
watch each other for a week. Having been on the stage as I told you before I
became a Jesuit, I always suspect my motives that maybe I am somehow displaying.
But this time I had to tell him, well Paulinus, his name is Paulinus, it may
be but keep watching me the next week. I did have an injured hand - the middle
finger is totally useless and it does stick out. All I am saying is that we
should not, also judge - thats one reason why Im telling this story sometimes
people may seem to be vain or proud or displaying and they really are not. In
any case, for Benedict, the whole personality should reflect true humility.
You all have your charts, dont you? You can see why I suggested
that we might have a little of Benedict also next time because were just on
the spiritual combat, on humility. And Benedict deserves all the attention we
can give him. Just to see where we are.
Practice Humility of Heart to Preserve Charity in a Community
The main purpose of asceticism - and we dealt
with that word I believe the last time - is to train the will. Notice,
theres nothing there about mortification. The most important form of mortification
of asceticism is training the will! In other words, restraining the wills
desire to do what the will wants. For Benedict, this is the goal of the religious
life what he called purity of heart. And we can say that because the only
lesson that Our Lord told us to learn from Him, remember, was humility of heart.
There was a purpose, however, in Benedicts mind for practicing humility
of heart. That purpose is mainly to preserve charity in a community.
On one occasion, depending on whom Ive spoken to along these lines, an hours
conference on charity and humility: You cannot practice charity without
practicing a lot of humility. To love others, youve got to be willing to
take it and take it and keep taking it.
Asceticism as a Form of Mortification
Asceticism, of course, may be spoken of as a form of mortification.
Thats true. But for Benedict there are two things that need to be mortified
because there are two parts of us that are fallen. When we speak of human nature
being fallen I suppose we commonly but inadequately identify the fallen human
nature with our flesh; and the body can sure cause us all kinds of embarrassing
trouble. But it is our nature which is fallen, not just our body. We have a
fallen human spirit. Do you hear that? We have a fallen human soul. Our minds
and wills are not what they would have been had mankind not sinned at the beginning
of its history. Both, therefore, the mind and the will and not just the body
need to be mortified. And for Benedict and this was if not an innovation, a
major development in Benedictine spirituality.
Practice Asceticism of Our Wills by Giving in to Others
The early monasticism of Pachomius and Paul
and Antony and the others so stressed the mortification of the body and
I think having read Antony, would you agree? You cant fault Antony
for not being mortified especially in his body. But Benedict discovered what
a blessed discovery that between the body and the spirit, both need to be
mortified. Asceticism should be practiced by both - but between the two - the
one that needs mortification more is the spirit. That is the main reason now,
you might say, why dont you put it on a higher level? Well, I could but in
this context, this is the level that were talking about. This, in Benedicts
mind, is the function of a Community: To enable us to practice that asceticism
of our wills by giving in to others, by seeing the finest piece of cake
there it goes! Somebody just took it. Or how many times Ive gone - we have
a common draw room? - do you have that? A room where certain things you have
to ask for special permission; other things, that well, for example, stationary,
just go in, take as much as we need. Also things you have no more use for, you
can leave there. I havent even told my Superiors and they wouldnt want to
hear. But I thought Id save a little money. I tried to buy things in New York
thrift shops. You know what they are? They are second hand places where you
buy things. These shoes, Im sorry to admit, I bought new. But I needed a pair
of shoes so I went to a thrift shop and I bought myself for ten dollars, a real
bargain, a beautiful pair of shoes. I was so enamored of their beauty. I put
them on and I thought theyd fit they didnt. So, I came home and wore them
for a couple of days, but I could hardly walk. In thrift shop, you never return
anything. So these are the things we can do, so I left them for somebody whose
feet were a little smaller than mine. And when I get back on Tuesday, Im going
to find out if one of my confreres picked them up. Im sure he did. Things that
you look for that you dont find. Things you expect, you dont get. Thats Community
life is a life of humility.
Asceticism of the Mind
But also and with emphasis, it is not only in things
material; but in things spiritual: Asceticism of the mind; of practicing, for
our purpose here, the kind of mortification that is the next step after humility.
We have an inveterate desire to know. We have a strong urge to learn. Its God-given:
listening to youngsters asking their mothers, you name it what questions. We
want to learn. But as we go through life and Ive taught minds most of my life
a very difficult faculty to control is the curiosity of the mind: That
we practice self-discipline. There are many things we dont have to read; things
we dont have to know, we dont have to learn. How much happier all of us would
be if many things that are now on our minds were not there. Asceticism of the
mind what you read, what you study and only as long as you need to, no more;
what I dont have to know, dont learn. And for one who is in the academic life,
thats not an easy statement to make.
Asceticism of the Will
So asceticism of the will, and this is to make sure that
whatever we desire, God desires. There are two wills struggling for mastery
in this world the Divine Will and the human will. We are as good religious,
we are living as strong a spiritual life as we always first find out what does
God want? If He wants it, though I dont like it I want it too. If He doesnt
want it no matter how I may like it what an asceticism of the will that is!
But shes so nice, she does me so much good! Yes, but is she really good for
me on the level of my spiritual life? If she isnt or he isnt, I, if Ive fallen
into love, I fall out of love: Much more difficult, by the way, than falling
Poverty of Dispossession and Dependence
Poverty: the spiritual combat that we have, when
were talking about the combat, the struggle we have in all of us the poverty
of dispossession and dependence. The Benedictine tradition has given us what
weve touched on before and will come to time and again. The Churchs tradition
until very modern times has been poverty, not only of dependence on Superiors,
but poverty of dispossession: that you give up. You dont just cease to own;
(pardon me) you dont just cease to use things independently. You cease to own!
In a religious community and all religious congregations as Ive think weve
explained have what is called a simple vow of poverty which does not require
the dispossession of what a person has.
You Just Do Not Depend You Give up
In the Benedictine tradition monastic spirituality
you dont just depend; you give up. All I know as one who belongs to an Order
where this is one of the conditions it does something big to you. Once you
take your last vows, you know you dont have a cent in the world and youve
vowed yourself never to own anything. Bill called me up last night. He said,
Father, I think my dads clothes will fit you. Bring them over. So, he brought
them over this morning. Ive just acquired two new coats. And Im happy to say
this is Father Burns cassock (laughter) after he passed away. I want to tell
you something. Thats why Im saying this. And may God forgive me if theres
the least tinge of self-satisfaction in what Im saying. This spiritual life
is real! And once you believe it, you live it.
Many Religious Communities Are too Wealthy for Their Own Good
Poverty, therefore in the monastic tradition is
dispossession that I give up and that I act in such a way that I dont claim
ownership. And this is even in communities where you may own. There is such
a thing as owning but not claiming ownership. Or, as I think I mentioned, and
well talk about this when we deal with the Second Vatican Council. The Church
now strongly recommends and Im hoping that within the next decade or so by
the new time of the Code coming up that there will be provisions in all Constitutions
for legislating the poverty of dispossession. Many religious communities have
become too wealthy for their own good. I mean it. I would not dare identify
the Community. And Mother Teresa, after she had made a trip in the Midwest and
we were together that last time before she went back to India, in New York she
said, Father, will you somehow get the message across; when I saw those beautiful
grounds such as few even rich people could afford, I asked myself, Who is that
for? None of us wants to live in squalor but you know the property, for example,
that some communities own. No wonder the Federal Government is putting more
and more pressure a thousand, fifteen hundred acres I know. All weve got
is one Motherhouse, thats all. And all this beautiful acreage as far as the
eye can reach. What for? Thats why there was a St. Bernard. Because by the
time of Bernard there were Benedictine monasteries that were not living up to
what Benedict wanted his followers to practice.
Two Supernatural Means to Preserve Chastity: Eucharist and Prayer
St. Benedict simply assumed that those who entered the religious
life were going to live a life of chastity. Over the centuries, since Benedict,
not all religious communities require virginity as a condition for admission.
There are some, however, who do. In other words, we should distinguish between
virginity and chastity, as is obvious, by saying that by virginity is keeping
ones or having kept ones body preserved from any carnal intercourse. For Benedict,
as for the Church ever since, chastity does not mean, merely, the abstention
from sexual experience. It is that, indeed, but always motivated by the love
of God and the imitation of Christ. What I wish especially to stress because
the Rule of St. Benedict is so explicit about it; the ascetical means, which
I dare say, are being widely neglected. Chastity can be kept provided one prays
and practices asceticism. The two supernatural means for preserving ones chastity,
in the Benedictine Tradition and, as I say now in the Church as large, are the
Eucharist and prayer. It is impossible to live a life of chastity without frequent
reception of the Virginal Christ in Communion. We must receive His Body into
our body to preserve ourselves chaste: And prayer, not only an asking for the
gift but in that humble dependence on God, which is the main purpose of prayer.
Because as Ive said so many times in different ways: Only humble people
are chaste. Pride is always unchaste. I have yet to have that statement
contradicted. And anyone who has trouble with chastity should first look to
his or her humility. And the surest sign of the humble person is one who humbly,
frequently has recourse to God. GOD HELP ME the most important three syllables
in the human language.
Besides the supernatural means, there are
the ascetical means for mortifying the body. Benedict, as you gather from his
Rule and just compare it with, again Antony or some of the titans of asceticism that preceded Antony. He did want
his followers to have adequate food and sleep, but not too much. A very important
insight that Benedict had; not to so mortify the body in, say, lack of food
or sleep - as to and you may never have heard this, but this is a good ascetical
principle lest the body seek sexual compensation. Its remarkable!
Unless we are meant to mortify ourselves in body
by depriving the body of food and sleep, I mean unless we have the grace to
live that kind of a mortified life; a person risks the body seeking satisfaction
in other ways, because there is a definite satisfaction for the body in food
and sleep and drink. Who doubts it? And the body is a demanding part of our
personality. What it doesnt get in one way, its liable to demand in another
way; which reflects the balance of Benedict, you see? Dont think that if you
eat less until youre starving that you will necessarily, necessarily control
the sex appetite. It might be just the opposite. Makes sense, doesnt it, given
the kind of religious life that he was talking about.
Modesty the Virtue of Chastity in Externals
He suggested, also, the practice of modesty. Now
modesty, as we know, is the virtue of chastity in externals. The way I dress,
the way I walk, the things I look at; even speech a garrulous tongue is a
temptation to the demon of sex.
Benedict was anathema to idleness. And the
Rule, as you know, provides every hour and every minute of every hour are somehow
provided for. Also, to learn from experience that certain things that I know
excite me or arouse me. Maybe someone else can get away with it; I cant. And
as you read Benedictine literature on the subject of chastity, you see the wise
counsels that people were given where some, for example, needed to practice
either extra mortification or not be exposed to certain stimuli; or others could
take them or leave them with no difficulty. So much for poverty.
Benedicts Vision of Obedience
Something on Benedicts vision of obedience. For Benedict,
although the obedience that a monk or a nun was to practice was, of course,
ultimately determined by the Abbot or the Abbess. Nevertheless, the obedience
that Benedict was talking about was not only, you might say, the verbal prescriptions
of Rule it is that Rule interpreted by the Community. Moreover, Benedict provided,
as we know, for Chapters at which (if you recall) he encouraged even the youngest
to speak up and not to have the older ones forbid the younger ones to talk.
What do they know? They may lack the experience, but they may have the Holy
Spirit! In any case, this was quite different from the concept of obedience,
which was almost strictly vertical, from the top down. Take in Pachomius,
he was, of course the Abbot of a number of monasteries and, before he died,
of several thousand monks. For all practical purposes the Abbot was the Rule;
what he said was what everyone had to do. What Benedict did was to draw on much
experience and the Rule was being constantly, as it were, reinterpreted or adapted
from Chapter after Chapter. In fact, we now canonically speak of a Chapter as
that meets only one thats every four or six years, right? What is it in your
Community, Sister? Six years? Five. Four. Four? Four, five, six years whereas
originally, now we have more than the vestiges of it because a Chapter is normative,
isnt it? We see as the highest legislative body in the Community. But what
is now only a very periodic foregathering of chosen delegates was a regular
meeting of the members of a Community. Thats how the notion of the Chapter
Active Life Divided between Spiritual Combat and Apostolate
Now there was input you notice the difference there was
input from the members although always the Abbot reserved to himself the final
decision. This is the active life, and who would doubt it takes a lifetime activity.
By the way, I would like to see our vocabulary gradually change in even drafting
our Constitutions to not so separate. Now (writing on the board) as our spiritual
life as somehow divided between the contemplative and the active as though the
active were uniquely identified with the apostolate. Isnt that pretty much
the popular notion nowadays? Look at your charts. How is the active life divided?
Between spiritual combat and the apostolate. In other words, what has happened,
and this is one reason why the religious life has run into such deep water and
has run into so many problems. Weve got the degree of not a few, well I would
say, shiftings and changes that are not valid. To identify the active life
exclusively with the apostolate is wrong. Ok? As though somehow by cutting
that off and just praying and working in the apostolate, youre going to be
good religious. My dear friends, it wont work. Because weve got to struggle!
Right? With who? With the world, the flesh and ourselves. This is romanticism.
This is tempting God. As I do my part and I say my prayers, God owes it to me
to take care of it. No! Takes the business of humility. Suppose a person has
not as we gone through elaborate length to describe the struggle to grow in
humility. No matter: weve got in one of our provinces in one year, one of the
smallest; we lost six PhDs in one year; the year they got their Doctorate,
they left the Order. How convenient! You get a fifty thousand dollar education
and then you, you leave the Order.
Unless a Person Works on Humility God Will Not Work Miracles
Unless a person works among on other things, on humility;
God wont work miracles. And they still talk about the apostolate. What kind
of apostolate? The apostolate of self-fulfillment, all right? Lets make sure
that we dont exclude from that active life that which is so primary because
we do have God knows it, by now we know weve got a fallen human nature
with all kinds of weaknesses and stupid desires and passions that need control.
So were still on the active life in spiritual combat.
Stability a Great Preservative of Obedience
Stability as perseverance: Benedict legislated this and this
is one of his many great contributions to religious life. He saw all kind of
wandering hermits traveling, you name it where and as a result they lost their
spiritual vitality. I went to the trouble of finding out in the Rule of Pachomius
Rule 36 and Rule 175 warned the monks and the nuns about traveling. Stay put!
And the Rule of St. Basil, Rule 36 stay put! But Benedict wrote it right in
the Constitutions. He didnt just make a Rule out of it. He made a Law
out of it. How this has, and a thousand and more years since Benedict, created
all kinds of questions; but the basic idea is that a person who remains in one
place perseveres in obedience to that Superior. Because, as he found out, the
main reason why monks and nuns want to travel, go elsewhere is not a change
of climate or it could be, provedly, better for their health. They just found
obedience, where they were, too hard. In other words, stability, in Benedicts
mind, is a great preservative of obedience. And so if religious, for example,
as I have by now have so much experience transferring communities. They want
to become contemplatives, cloistered contemplatives, which there are such vocations.
Person in a more active community may well have a genuine vocation to a contemplative
community all quite understandable. But maybe its not that rare occasion
of having a special vocation to live one way of life and join another community.
The feeling may be, well, I may not find the demands of obedience so hard. As
one Trappist monk who identified himself years ago in a clerical magazine; Ive
never forgotten it. He left, as he said, one community to join another one.
He joined a much more severe community. It was the Trappists; less food restrictions
on diet, all kinds of limitations. But, he said, Take it from a man who has
made the change. Give me bodily mortification he said, any day. This is the
way he put it; its a mans way of expressing himself. It was not, he said,
tightening the belt around my stomach; is what I didnt like the tight band
around my head. He left which was actually a more strict community because
the obedience, because the obedience was more demanding. And everybody thought
he was, well, a hero of virtue because he took on himself the severe austerity
of the Trappists. No, he said, its easier. Thats good to hear.
Obedience Ensures a Persons Growth in Sanctity
In any case, for Benedict, unlike the monasticism before
him, he was not hard on the body but he sure was hard on the spirit. And, for
Benedict, this was centuries before Ignatius. It was obedience, obedience
that ensures a persons growth in sanctity.
This concludes the second part of Father John A. Hardons
lecture on The Rise and Growth of Western Monasticism. The third part of this
lecture will be found on the next tape.
Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life
Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica