Sicut pater (XXXI)

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.

The abbot chooses his cellarer. The brother chosen for this office must have a whole array of virtues: “a wise man (sapiens), of mature character (maturis moribus), moderate (sobrius), not gluttonous (non multum edax), not puffed up (non elatus), nor stormy (non turbulentus), nor insulting (non iniuriosus), not sluggish (non tardus), nor wasteful (non prodigus), but a God-fearing man (sed timens Deum), who may be fatherly (sicut pater) to the whole community.”

The model for Saint Benedict’s cellarer is the deacon that Saint Paul describes for Timothy:

Deacons, in the same way, must be men of decent behaviour, men of their word, not given to deep drinking or to money-getting, keeping true, in all sincerity of conscience, to the faith that has been revealed. These, in their turn, must first undergo probation, and only be allowed to serve as deacons if no charge is brought against them. . . . The deacon must be faithful to one wife, good at looking after his own family and household. (1 Timothy 3:8-12)

Essentially, the cellarer must have all the qualities of a good family man. If he is too young, he will be lacking in the wisdom that comes from perseverance in a commitment. Normally, by the age of thirty, a man is either a husband and father, or is committed in some other way to the direction he has chosen for his life. Today, alas, it is not uncommon for men to indulge an unwillingness to grow up: the “Peter Pan Syndrome”. Men may remain not only unmarried, but also uncommitted, without roots, and without responsibilities for others even into their late thirties. Among Catholic men, there is another syndrome: that of the man in perpetual “discernment”. Such a man wants to keep all his options open lest, after having committed to one way of life, he hear about another way of life that is more attractive, or that better corresponds to his ideal, or that caresses the notions that he holds dear. The cellarer must have the maturity of a man who is committed and stable: who knows who is, accepts where he is, and knows where he is going.

Saint Benedict says that the cellarer is not to be turbulentus, that is, of a stormy character, given to outbursts, to fits of temper, and to stirring up tempests around him. Positively put, the cellarer must be a man who is calm and serene.

The cellarer is not to be tardus, that is stingy or slow to give. Another translation of tardus is fussy. The fussy man does not respond in a timely manner because he is preoccupied with assessing every possible option, even when another brother, or even the whole community, may be waiting for him to act.

It is helpful for the cellarer to determine if the thing requested of him falls into the category of (1) what is necessary; (2) what is useful; or (3) what is superfluous. He must do all in his power to provide the brethren with what is necessary. He must also try to equip the brethen with what is useful. And what about things that are judged superfluous? Roses for the statue of Our Lady or ice cream on a feast day, or beer for the brethren on a special occasion? Such things are not to be excluded, provided that the cellarer has the means to offer them.

We must always beware of falling into a kind of puritanism. There was a French aristocrat of the last century—Armand Marquiset by name—who impoverished  himself voluntarily and gladly by spending all he had and all that he was given, not only to alleviate the wants of the elderly urban poor, but also to offer them delights that they would not have enjoyed in any other way. His motto was, Les roses avant le pain, that is, “Put roses on the table before you put bread on it”. Marquiset scandalised certain calculating do-gooders by giving a diamond ring to an elderly gentleman so that he might have the joy of offering it to his old wife on the occasion of their wedding anniversary. At Christmas, he offered his elderly poor a true feast, complete with the best wines. And, even more, he renovated a château and then made it available as a holiday home for old people living isolated in the poverty of walk-up flats. In the holiday chateau placed at their disposal, Marquiset’s dear old people were treated like royalty for a week. An unforgettable experience for the aged poor whose lives were, for the most part, lonely and dreary. Marquiset died in Burtonport, Ireland in 1981. In a certain sense, the cellarer of the monastery must imitate the prodigality of Armand Marquiset, not by offering diamond rings and by renovating châteaux, but by seeking, at least sometimes, to surprise his brethren with unlooked for joys.

Iniuriosus means insulting. It can also mean offensive or unfair. The cellarer must be gracious, never allowing a brother to think that his requests are unreasonable or burdensome to the community’s finances. You may say, “But, Father Prior, what if a brother’s requests are, in fact, unreasonable and burdensome? Then what?” The cellarer must treat every request with equity and tact. A brother must not be made to feel that he is a burden to the community.

The cellarer is to be fatherly. Fatherliness is a quality of every mature man. Even the unmarried man with no children of his own falls short in his own manhood if he fails to develop and to manifest fatherly qualities. Although all the professed monks are fathers, insofar as they are growing in likeness to Christ, the cellarer who shares in the fatherhood of the abbot must be fatherly in an eminent degree.

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