CHAPTER LV. Of the Clothes and Shoes of the Brethren
7 Apr. Aug. 7 Dec.
Let clothing be given to the brethren suitable to the nature and the climate of the place where they live; for in cold countries more is required, in warm countries less. This must therefore be considered by the Abbot. We think, however, that in temperate climates a cowl and a tunic should suffice for each monk: the cowl to be of thick stuff in winter, but in summer something worn or thin: likewise a scapular for work, and shoes and stockings to cover their feet. And let not the monks complain of the colour or coarseness of these things, but let them be such as can be got in the country where they live, or can be bought most cheaply.
Let the Abbot be careful about the size of the garments, that they be not too short for those who wear them, but of the proper length. When they receive new clothes let them always give up the old ones at once, to be put by in the wardrobe for the poor. For it is sufficient for a monk to have two tunics and two cowls for wearing at night, and also for washing: whatever is over and above this is superfluous, and ought to be cut off. In the same way, let them give up their shoes, and whatever else is worn out, when they receive new ones. Let those who are sent on a journey receive drawers from the wardrobe, and on their return restore them washed. Their cowls and tunics also, which are to be a little better than those they ordinarily wear, let them receive from the wardrobe when setting out on their journey, and give them back on their return.
There is a passage in the Epistle to the Colossians in which the Apostle uses very effectively the image of clothing:
Now it is your turn to have done with it all, resentment, anger, spite, insults, foul-mouthed utterance; and do not tell lies at one another’s expense. You must be quit of the old self, and the habits that went with it; you must be clothed in the new self, that is being refitted all the time for closer knowledge, so that the image of the God who created it is its pattern. Here is no more Gentile and Jew, no more circumcised and uncircumcised; no one is barbarian, or Scythian, no one is slave or free man; there is nothing but Christ in any of us. You are God’s chosen people, holy and well beloved; the livery you wear must be tender compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; you must bear with one another’s faults, be generous to each other, where somebody has given grounds for complaint; the Lord’s generosity to you must be the model of yours. And, to crown all this, charity; that is the bond which makes us perfect. (Colossians 3:8–14)
The monastic habit, a cherished sacramental, will avail us little unless we correspond inwardly to the newness of life that it outwardly signifies. Each one of us must step out of, or strip off, or cast aside the sin that clings to him. Saint John Cassian gives us a basic inventory:
There are eight principal vices that attack humankind. The first is gluttony, which means the voraciousness of the belly; the second is fornication; the third is avarice or love of money; the fourth is anger; the fifth is sadness; the sixth acedia, which is anxiety or weariness of heart; the seventh is boastfulness or vainglory; and the eighth is pride.
Sin, like certains fashions of dress, presents itself in layers. Most men go about vested in layers of sin. These are, more often than not, worn with certain accessories. Saint Paul named them: “resentment, anger, spite, insults, foul-mouthed utterance, and lies at one another’s expense” (Colossians 3:8). The monastic habit is incompatible with the wardrobe of “the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9). Every monk does well to review what manner of vesture he has worn in the course of the day. Have I picked up the ugly accessories of sin: anger, spite, murmuring, rash judgment, harshness, foul language, intemperance, self–indulgence, sadness, censoriousness, pride, lust, and disobedience? Or have I studied the shining vesture of the saints, and asked Our Lord, in his piteous love, to provide me with their array of holiness and beauty: “charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity” (Galatians 5:22–23). One clothed in the vesture of the saints will be humble and accommodating, not domineering and controlling; peaceable and compliant, not quibbling and quick to argue; deferential to his neighbour, not self–asserting; modest in speech, not eager to display his knowledge; gracious in accepting correction, not blustering and defensive; mild and gracious, not aggressive and harsh; welcoming and sympathetic, not hard–faced and unapproachable. We read in Saint Athanasius’ Life of Saint Antony:
His countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Saviour. For if he were present in a great company of monks, and any one who did not know him previously, wished to see him, immediately coming forward he passed by the rest, and hurried to Antony, as though attracted by his appearance. Yet neither in height nor breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul. For as his soul was free from disturbances, his outward appearance was calm; so from the joy of his soul he possessed a cheerful countenance, and from his bodily movements could be perceived the condition of his soul, as it is written, ‘When the heart is merry the countenance is cheerful, but when it is sorrowful it is cast down (Proverbs 15:13).’ Thus Jacob recognised the counsel Laban had in his heart, and said to his wives, ‘The countenance of your father is not as it was yesterday and the day before.’ Thus Samuel recognised David, for he had mirthful eyes, and teeth white as milk. Thus Antony was recognised, for he was never disturbed, for his soul was at peace; he was never downcast, for his mind was joyous.
Each of us should ask himself on this Saturday in albis if he is not wearing or, perhaps, keeping in his wardrobe a few wretched, stinking garments and accessories. It is easy to have a sentimental attachment to the apparels of the old man. It is possible, almost unwittingly, even under the monastic habit, to entertain a certain nostalgia for the accoutrements of the world. The Communion Antiphon of today’s Mass will have us sing: Omnes qui in Christo baptizáti estis, Christum induístis, alleluia. All you who have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ, alleluia (Galatians 3:2).
It is against this background that I would have us hear Saint Benedict’s prescriptions for the clothes and shoes of the brethren. The tunic is a monk’s basic everyday garment; as such it represents humility. When a monk puts on his tunic in the morning, he does well to pray for a real participation in the humility and meekness of Christ of whom it is said, “He shall not contend, nor cry out, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.The bruised reed he shall not break: and smoking flax he shall not extinguish” (Matthew 12:19–20). When I put on the tunic every morning, I pray, “Clothe me, O Lord, in the tunic of a perfect charity, “for charity covereth a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
The leather cincture, made of the hide of an animal, represents death to earthly desires. In putting on the cincture, pray for chastity, not in a tense, anxious way, but with confidence and serenity, remembering that Saint Benedict would have us love chastity (Chapter IV). We love the things that delight us; we love the things that make us happy. In putting on the cincture, I say, “Gird me, O Lord, with a perfect chastity, in honour of Thy Immaculate Mother, of Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse, and of Saint John, Thy beloved virgin disciple, that I may follow Thee, O Lamb of God, wheresoever Thou goest” (cf. Apocalypse 14:4).
The scapular, representing the sweet yoke of Christ, is the emblem of obedience. Saint Benedict says in Chapter V that obedience without delay becometh those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ. One who is yoked to Christ cannot walk outside of the path traced by obedience without feeling that he is pulling away from Christ and taking another direction. Putting on the scapular, I say, “I take Thy yoke upon me, Lord Jesus, for Thou art meek and humble of heart, and I shall find rest for my soul, your Thy yoke is sweet and Thy burden light” (cf. Matthew 11:29–30).
The cuculla, with its generous proportions and voluminous sleeves, is emblematic of the gratuitousness of the contemplative life and of the primacy of adoration. It recalls the injunction of Asaph’s psalm before the ark of the covenant:
Give to the Lord glory to his name, bring up sacrifice, and come ye in his sight: and adore the Lord in holy becomingness. (1 Parapolimenon 16:29).
When I put the hood of the cuculla over my head, I pray:”Hide Thou me, O Lord, in the secret of Thy Face” (cf. Psalm 30:21). The ampleness of the cuculla represents the extravagance of her whose many sins were forgiven her, because she loved much (Luke 7:47). When, at the hour of death, a monk is clothed in the cuculla and laid in a humble wooden coffin, it is as if the cuculla becomes his way of saying, “Suscipe me, Domine, take Thou me to Thyself, O Lord, wrapped in the love that Thou hast never refused me for, by Thy grace, I have never despaired of Thy mercy”.
It goes without saying that the monastic habit, being a sacramental, must be treated reverently. Each brother must do his best to keep his habit clean and in good repair. The same must be said of one’s footwear, which ought be clean and polished. My father used to say to my brothers and sisters and me, “If you want to be neat, start at your feet”. Also out of reverence and seemliness, one will take care to adjust the hood of one’s scapular and cuculla or cloak. It is not fitting to enter choir with one’s hood all askew.