Saturday, December 04, 2010

Obedience, stability and conversatio morum

Zoe Romanowsky writing in Inside Catholic has a perceptive and worthwhile critique of the Swiss Capuchins' attempts to recruit new friars; unfortunately she makes the all too common error of calling them monks.

While Friars (e.g. Dominicans or Friars Preachers, Franciscans or Friars Minor etc.) do keep a common life, with common prayer and keep the Evangelical Counsels, they lack a basic element of Monastic life, especially the normative version in Western Christendom based on the Holy Rule of St Benedict. Stability is at the heart of Monastic life in a way that isn't true of religious life more generally. If we look at a figure like Blessed Columba Marmion we can see that he left his Abbey of Maredsous only twice; once, under obedience, to become Prior at Mont César/Keizersberg, and a second time when threatened by invading German forces. By contrast, a Dominican can be asked to go wherever he is needed; the fine priest who solemnised our vows is in Switzerland studying, having been in Rome and even briefly in Jerusalem! All of this was, we hasten to add, under obedience.

So a monk is obedient, stable in one place and works constantly at conversatio morum or conversion of life; on the other hand a friar is personally poor, obedient and chaste. Or sometimes, just chased!

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