Men Wise and Mature
Silverstream Priory is blessed to have among its Oblates, several married deacons in the service of the Church in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Today’s reading from the Holy Rule applies, with a particular relevance, to our deacon Oblates. What the cellarer of the monastery is to his abbot, deacons are to their bishop. It is helpful, I think, to read through Chapter XXXI of the Holy Rule, replacing “abbot” with “bishop” and “cellarer” with “deacon”. Here, then, is Saint Benedict’s text, with bits of the commentary that I gave this morning in Chapter.
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.
Like a Father to the Whole Community
The abbot chooses his cellarer from among the brethren, taking care to appoint to this task a man who is “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”. The description of Saint Benedict’s cellarer is, I think, exactly what a bishop looks for in his deacons. Note that Saint Benedict says that he would have the cellarer be “like 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 manly potential. Only by growing into fatherhood does a man realise his God–given potential.
A Father Among Fathers
Recently, I read the comment of an abbot in Europe 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”. (One hears the same sort of discourse among religious women.) Balderdash! This is no more than a rehashing of the tired old principles of the French Revolution —Liberty, Equality, Fraternity— that have 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.
Generative or Degenerative
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). Just as the cellarer is like a father to his monastery, the deacon is, in his own right, like a father to the Church.
Visible and Yet Invisibly Equipped
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, as 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 cellarer is not to grieve or vex his brethren. The cellarer’s mission is, in fact, to foster an atmosphere of contentment and joy in the community. Even requests that may be judged unreasonable are to be considered graciously. This attitude of graciousness is quintessentially Benedictine; it is an expression of gentleness, of humility, and of a noble character. Should it be necessary to refuse a request, even the refusal is to be made in such a way that the brother making the request goes away contented, and with peace in his heart. The cellarer must acquire the art of saying “no”, whenever necessary, in so gracious and courteous a manner, that charity is in no way offended, and joy in no way diminished.
A Dispenser of Merciful Relief
“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”. In reading this sentence, Saint Laurence, the Roman deacon martyr, immediately comes to mind. The cellarer is the abbot’s almoner, that is, the authorised dispenser of merciful relief to those in need. Again, one can see clearly that the deacon ministers in relationship to his bishop in the very same manner as the cellarer ministers in relationship to his abbot.
Reverence, Good Order, and Cleanliness
“Let him look upon all the vessels and goods of the Monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar”. This is one of the most quoted passages of the Holy Rule. The principle applies not only to the cellarer, but to each monk and to the reverent stewardship of the things in his care. A monk’s cell is no less worthy of good order and cleanliness than the sanctuary of the Oratory. The library, kitchen, refectory, laundry, tool and garden sheds, storage rooms, and guest quarters are no less sacred than the choir and sacristy, and this because the whole monastery is the house of God, a temple of perpetual adoration. A chaotic cell makes for a chaotic soul. Disorder in the office or workshop creates disorder in the mind. Untidiness leads to discouragement, depression, and apathy.
According to Christ’s Bidding
As always, Saint Benedict insists on “proper measure”. Saint Benedict would have all things be fitting, suitable, and well–chosen. If the cellarer must err, let him err on the side of generosity, for there is nothing more unpleasant than a mean–spirited, pinching, economy that cuts too close to the edge. The cellarer is not an independent agent; he does all things according to the bidding of the abbot. The abbot, for his part, must do all things according to Christ’s bidding, sought in prayer, and revealed by the Holy Ghost.