CHAPTER XXXI. What kind of Man the Cellarer of the Monastery is to be
8 Mar. 8 July. 7 Nov.
Let there be chosen out of the community, as Cellarer of the Monastery, a man wise and of mature character, temperate, not a great eater, not haughty, nor headstrong, nor arrogant, not slothful, nor wasteful, but a God-fearing man, who may be like a father to the whole community. Let him have the care of everything, but do nothing without leave of the Abbot. Let him take heed to what is commanded him, and not sadden his brethren. If a brother ask him for anything unreasonably, let him not treat him with contempt and so grieve him, but reasonably and with all humility refuse what he asks for amiss. Let him be watchful over his own soul, remembering always that saying of the Apostle, that “he that hath ministered well, purchaseth to himself a good degree.” Let him have especial care of the sick, of the children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account of all these on the Day of Judgment. Let him look upon all the vessels and goods of the Monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar. Let him not think that he may neglect anything: let him not be given to covetousness, nor wasteful, nor a squanderer of the goods of the Monastery; but do all things in proper measure, and according to the bidding of his Abbot.
Yesterday we completed the penitential code of chapters XXIII—XXX. Today, we begin a new section of the Holy Rule in which Saint Benedict will enter into the things that concern the monastery’s daily life and government. The abbot, holding the place of Christ, is the pontiff and shepherd, charged with “the things that appertain to God” (Hebrews 5:1) and with the care of souls. Saint Benedict has already treated, at length, in Chapter II, of the abbot’s charge of souls:
Above all let him not, overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, be too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things; but let him ever bear in mind that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of worldly substance, let him remember what is written: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And again: “Nothing is wanting to them that fear Him.” (Chapter II)
The cellarer, for his part, is the monastic equivalent of the ancient Roman deacons, charged with the distribution of food and clothing to the poor of their deaconry, with hospitality to pilgrims, care of the sick, and the support of widows and orphans. The Roman stational church on the Thursdays of Lent is always chosen from among the diaconal churches; these were centres for the distribution of food, medicine, and clothing to the poor of the city. Today’s stational church is the Basilica of the Holy Martyrs, Saints Cosmas and Damian. Saint Paul describes the qualities of a deacon of the Church:
Deacons in like manner chaste, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre: holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience. (1 Timothy 3:8–9)
For Saint Benedict, the cellarer is no mere administrator of material goods. The cellarer shares in the paternity of the abbot, and collaborates with the abbot in the caring for the brethen. While the abbot concerns himself principally with the souls of his monks, the cellarer, with solicitude and charity, looks after all their bodily needs. Saint Benedict’s presentation of the cellarer does not, however, make him out to be a kind of quartermaster.
Saint Benedict recognises that the cellarer must be endowed with a particular grace when he says, qui omni congregationi sit sicut pater, “let him be as a father to the whole community”. It is the abbot’s responsibility, as father of the monastery, to generate other fathers, to foster in each one of his sons the full development of their fatherly qualities. Only by growing into fatherhood does a man realise his God–given potential.
Not long ago, I read the comment of a certain abbot in France who said in an interview, “Do not call me Father; I am just a brother among brothers, even if I have been chosen to lead the community”. This is no more than a rehashing of the tired old slogan of the French Revolution —Liberty, Equality, Fraternity— that has infected and poisoned religious life for the past fifty years, rendering it tired, sterile, and degenerative. An abbot is not a brother among brothers; he is the Father among fathers.
A monastic community must be generative . . . or it will become degenerative. Without men who have grown into spiritual fatherhood, in any one of its many expressions, and assumed the responsibilities inherent in it, a community will wither, and die. Spiritual fruitfulness is intrinsically linked to fatherhood and motherhood in the order of grace.
I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth. (John 15:5–6)
By saying, “let him have the care of everything”, Saint Benedict is making an important distinction. The cellarer has the care of everything; the abbot, in contrast, has the care of everyone. The abbot of the monastery has the care of souls; it is his mission to look after the men in his care by providing them with the daily bread of godly teaching, with the sacraments, with spiritual food, drink, and medicine and, above all, with his blessings and intercessory prayer. The cellarer has the care of things.
Saint Benedict does not minimise the value and importance of things. On the contrary, he would have them be handled “as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar”. The cellarer carries out his mandate of administration in submission to the abbot, for here, as in all things, the material is at the service of the spiritual, the human at the service of the divine, the transitory at the service of what is eternal. I cannot help but relate this to the marvelous opening section of Sacrosanctum Concilium:
It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 2)
The Benedictine cellarer will look to the ancient deacon martyrs of the Church as to his special patrons: Saint Stephen, Saint Laurence of Rome, Saint Vincent of Saragossa. In Psalm 111, the cellarer will see, as in a mirror, a portrait of the particular holiness to which his office calls him:
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. Glory and wealth shall be in his house: and his justice remaineth for ever and ever. To the righteous a light is risen up in darkness: he is merciful, and compassionate and just. Acceptable is the man that sheweth mercy and lendeth: he shall order his words with judgment: because he shall not be moved for ever. The just shall be in everlasting remembrance: he shall not fear the evil hearing. His heart is ready to hope in the Lord: his heart is strengthened, he shall not be moved until he look over his enemies. He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor: his justice remaineth for ever and ever: his horn shall be exalted in glory. (Psalm 111:1–9)