DREAM OR PROPHECY ?
l. The unusual tension between spiritual tradition of the classical inheritance and the Benedictine world. Between the great and ancient Benedictine tradition, imposing tradition of one of the biggest Christians religious community and the spiritual tradition of the ancient inheritance, there is necessarily a particular tension, but quite a similar relationship of tension could conduct to an accord, a fruitful accord.
A fundamental component of the Benedictine institution is the personality of Benedict.
However, is not after all, we could ask, a kind of paradox to speak of Benedictine humanism? What would tell St Benedict himself about that? Now, Benedict is of distinguished descent (landowner nobility), subsequent stories tell us, he his son of the ancient and noble Roman family Anici. About six centuries before his birth, in the II century [B.C]. circles of the Roman aristocracy saw realized in the Greek spirit that human way that they themselves tried to reach in their life. Then, in such matter, it seem they have coined the beautiful term humanitas, not harmless in his indeterminateness; all the spiritual formations and all the learned works must be the way to be humanum, that is for what a decent and civic man must be. From the IV up to the VI century, AC the senatorial nobility has the biggest merit in the same field: the maintenance of the classical Romans and of the translation and diffusion of the essential Greek literature, above all philosophy. The rescue of the Greek inheritance and with that the continuity of the intellectual culture therefore owes thanks to the pro-Hellenic Rome, as being shown by the two examples.
During the VI century, Italy and a big part of the Western world was upset by a violent crisis, Gothic wars, struggle of the Byzantine Empire against the ancient Rome, the invasions of the Longobard, etc. Where did they find their shelter the literary treasures until then preserved, the ancient authors and the introductory writings to the so-called seven liberal arts, also those grammatical and mathematics writings?
In 529, Benedict founded on the Mount Cassino, on the ruins of an ancient Temple of Apollo, his monastery. The panic to escape from the world which the Oriental monachism tended, here has left the place to a stable arrangement, in which surely lives something of the ancient Roman spirit. Together with the prayer the work is regulated, manual work, but also intellectual
2. Mount Cassino and Vivarium; Gregory the Great.
On the other hand, the regula Benedicti contains only the prescription of the lectio divina, the spiritual reading, no nod to that litterae humanae that we have mentioned, to the maintenance and the copy of books like monastic duty. Now, little after the year 540 a little bit more to southeast of Mount Cassino, an other meaningful monastic foundation, work of a rich land owner took place, whose family belonged from generations to the highest nobility of the Roman officials. Cassiodoro, the founder, has not become monk in first person and his monastery of Vivarium was not subjected to the regula Benedicti.The founder has given to his monastery rules; he called them Institutiones, dispositions for spiritual work. Half of them are dedicated to that litterae humanae, and here is made the decisive step to include the seven liberal arts, the artes, in the Christian formation, and even monastic formation.
In the other part of his book litterae divinae, a chapter concerns the sublimity of the job of copyist. Yes, the hands, the fingers of the copyists are praised like blessed. A monastery with a similar educational tension was something completely new, and the Institutiones of Cassiodoro as dispositions for the monastic life did mark a new epoch.
Both foundations, however, were in an epoch of terrible violence, in an epoch of destruction without measure, fury and terror comparable only to our time. Mount Cassino was destroyed for the first time in 581 and Vivarium, Cassiodoro's monastery ,went in ruin for ever before the end of the same century. The horror of the time emerges in a very terrible way in a letter of , Pope Gregory the First that for a good reason is called the Great. To difference of Cassiodoro, he (Gregory the Great), came down really from the ancient nobil family of the Anici, declared the litterae humanae, the saeculares, that is all that is profane, futility without value, nugae. It is placed entirely on the line of Agustine and of S. Benedict, of which he wrote a life.
Observing Rome he proclaims: "Rome is uninhabited and in flames, the senate is no more, the people goes in downfall. However, why speak about men when we see how the works of destruction spread, buildings disappear? The pot in which first meat and bones had been consumed, become red-hot and melt." The only thought of Gregory was the eternal salvation of man in a world that, he retained, was dying. Nevertheless, in his phrases lives all the pomp of the ancient rhetoric received in inheritance, in which he had being educated in his youth, conjugated with the impetus of the prophet Ezekiel.
Gregory was not only a rhetor of ancient stature, he was- perhaps unwillingly, as a tool of the providence- one of the big custodians of the ancient inheritance, as a protector of the Benedictines, whose Rule his envoys carried up to the distant Anglo-Saxon (about year 600).Not only Italy, but also the whole continent was reached by the vortex of raw violence that eliminates the peaceful culture. There is not any doubt: the monasteries that little by little rose, from the beginning of the invasion of the Barbarians and in succession, in each part of the Roman empire, even more faraway , like in Ireland, they took under their custody the education become really weak; between these the Benedictines monasteries were well in front. Therefore happened, a conjunction between the Regula Benedicti and the Institutiones of Cassiodoro. However, I do not know when, neither where, neither through whom this has happened; we are surprised like in front of a prodigy. Moreover, it is that the Institutiones of Cassiodoro, after they had entered the permanent order, in the organization of the Benedictines, they could become fruitful. Yet, and this is particularly meaningful, already in the fundamental rule of Benedict, in his simplicity, in his mental opening to each good novelty must be predisposed the possibility of this conjunction.
3. The diffusion of the Benedictine institution in Europe (outline).
Those monks were indeed not only the saviors and the silent custodians in an ugly epoch, but also divulgers of the ancient good, waiting for better days; very curious and strange paths crossed close to the first, but here we could not talk about them. Only one thing: those Benedictines monks that Gregory the Great had sent from Rome to England, arrived in places that were not touched by barbaric invasions; the monasteries founded, the schools, the libraries, could develop unmolested.
From the Benedictine order originates two figures from the VII century to the VIII century: Beda the Venerable, that in his historical writings and also grammatical- very refined- represent the type of calm researcher; and close to him Boniface, with his political and organizational exceptional talent.
S. Boniface had a deeper influence than any English of an any epoch did on the continent. But this great ecclesiastical organizer in France and Germany praises the acquaintance of the liberal arts, scientiam artium liberalium; he himself has compiled a grammatical work and metrics, show himself little petrified when precisely in our land of Bavaria had the occasion to hear the formula of Baptism in the form: Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et Spiritus Sancta; he didn't know even if this was a valid baptism. To S. Boniface is owed the foundations of monasteries like Hersfeld and Fulda, also if he personally did not make the foundation of them; these monasteries had libraries with classical ancient manuscripts of inestimable value, and they had their schools. In the following Carolingian epoch, safer and centralized, Alcuino of York goes on the noble tradition of his brothers, that of his countryman Beda in his writings and that of Boniface in administration rich of success. From the Schola Palatina in Aquisgrana he turns his special attention to the monastic schools, and with him begin approximately about 800 a true aetas benedictina , justly has been said, a Benedictine epoch, that stretches centuries from the IX century to the end of the XII century. Now there is also a reproach that some children of S. Benedict has less present the Regula of their Father that the regulae Donati, that is the rules of the Latin grammar. In addition, we will see that this reproach has become a common place, that is repeated along the history perhaps up to our days. The humanism of the Renaissance is much debtor towards the monastic orders, and in a particular way to the Benedictines. If they did not guarded the classical inheritance, cultivating it and spreading it by means of the activity of copying, Petrarca and his successors would have uselessly undertaken their trips of exploration. The humanists have certainly open a new epoch with a linguistic sensibility completely different for the poetic work, for example of Virgilio, and with an impassioned hurry for the comprehension of the human individual nature, for instance of Cicero. However, monasteries and their schools took this renewal of studia humanitatis that spread from Italy in many ways. Really, a true epoch of rebirth of Benedictine studies was not in any other place except in France, where the spirit of the [umanisme dévot] prepared the road for it. The big congregation of Maurini called with the name of the favorite disciple of S. Benedict himself, S. Mauro, formed in the XVII and XVIII century, a silent line of learned workers, for most anonymous, they finished the monumental edition of all the Fathers of the Latin and Greek Church initiated by ErasmoIn addition, around the country was broadly disseminated a number not small of excellent secular schools, thing that is almost ignored. The reproach- inevitable, as it, seems- was not saved even to the Maurini: the spirit of prayer would be dimmed out because of the science; pity, simplicity, purity of the monks would be reduced to nothing. Nevertheless, all that was disproved by Mabillon, probably the most learned of all Benedectines. He united in his person deepest Christian humility and the highest doctrine, and in a specific writing in justification of the monastic studies (Traité des études monastiques, 1691) he has left- very beyond of the occasion of that time- the most beautiful self witness of the Benedictine humanism.
The Revolution in France, the Enlightenment in Austria the secularization in the countries that were under the influence of Napoleon, like Bavaria, swept away, like a furious hurricane, monasteries as well Jesuits colleges.
The circumstances of the suppressions and of the restoration in the XIX century, up to the changes connected to the vocational and ecclesiastical dynamic of the century just concluded, would be better run through following national layouts. What reported here is enough to understand how the thesis of the Author that we have followed- and we will present- it is known and connected universally to the common image of Benedictine life style.
4. Cultura animi, that is: illuminatio animi forever
Behind the temporal fate, mutable, it revealed I hope something lasting, indestructible: desinunt ista, not pereunt. The Benedictine monachism, if I do not err, has tried in all the epochs, to follow faithfully the wish of the founder, to respect a correct middle way. We do not find an excessive mystical practice, neither spiritual fanaticism, neither a rigorism that refuses thing from outside, on the contrary a characteristic opening, receptivity, as we have already said. English Benedictine, who has written in very convincing way about his Order, has dared speak about a "liberty of Benedictine spirit.” To that is connected the joy for books and the worldly realities and that “modesta hilaritas”, that cheerfulness with moderation, that in a certain way was already admitted in the Regula. It is not therefore so amazing, as it appeared in a first place, that this Order has picked up, like no other, what from the ancient, like for instance Cicero, was considered the way for a true human civilization, for the humanum, in other words the literary formation and the erudite studies. It is perhaps a normal evolution that the original manual job, above all the agri cultura of the first family of S. Benedict, do have changed in a cultura animi. The ancient humanitas was adverse to each exaggeration and excess, tended to meekness, to internal peace, to composed joy; it had always been a part of his duties, of his officia, to communicate the spiritual possession achieved and to transmit to other cultura animi. It is not therefore a paradox, to return to the initial question, talk about the Benedictine humanism. To look at the past centuries has pointed out like a historical fact, and the general considerations like something of absolutely comprehensible and sensible. Above all: transmit the cultura animi, cultivate the human soul, - the Benedictine school has carried out this duty, from the ancient monastic schools to the medieval ones, up to the ones of today. We don't marvel at all if some one has enough or, as they say, they consider it "unfeasible" but to this epoch, to this people, that so often destroys the past and throw himself impetuously toward naked hopes of future, it is painfully necessary the ancient truth, lasting, that challenge the time; the best and the most beautiful of the spiritual tradition. ( ... )
That cultura animi, that humanistic formation, (…) it must not be a weight for their memory, a weight that one day they will throw away with lightness, on the contrary an illumination of the soul, a illuminatio animi forever.
5. In addition, a dream of today: the [scriptorium] for a reception of high quality.
From the sociological point of view, the Western world has lost the convictions and the safeties of a traditional pre modern society. A position exists relative on the actual sciences of humanistic type: philosophers, history, psychologist, sociology and it exists, to the contrary, a great respect for knowledge and research of technical and experimental type of that which are centered on the macrocosm- nature of the matter, cosmological development, astronomy, control of the materials realities, origin of the life and explanations of the natural phenomenon - like the ones that concern the microcosm: origins of the life, structure of the microorganisms, function of the human body, elements that are at the root of the human being, the genetic manipulation, the operation of the DNA. The western world live an exaltation of the techne and a devaluation of the sophia that they cause an unbalance of the psyche .As far as it is known more or less of the different social groups and the individuals could have of this knowledge, induces to a dismay, a shattering of all the social-cultural-religious containers, a loss of principles at the base of convictions, that first could give security and coherence to the life of the groups and of the individuals. Result of this so-called post-modern situation is pluralism and an extreme individualism. Moral systems are object of doubts, social hierarchies became relative, the arrangements and the structures of cohabitation elaborate in the past, are depreciated. On the other hand, the technical progress of media is such that we have moved from the epoch of the homo sapiens to the homo videns. We are in a world of images. The events happen and are known in real time. News overcomes and cancels the other. A natural catastrophe appears close to a sporting event; a terrible violence is followed by information on the stock exchange. The acceleration of the modern technical, casual, media, of all the exchanges, economic, political, sexual has conducted to a speed of such liberation that we have gotten out of the sphere of reference to reality and history. Today we speak now of the "virtual."
All these transformations and overturn could not leave uninjured neither the society neither the individual. The human person risks “roaming” and being lost in the multiform reality that surrounds it. Out of the gravitational circle that maintains the bodies in orbit, all the atoms lose themselves in space and follow each his own trajectory up to lose themselves in the infinite. There is no need to insist on the ideals of the post modern. They are well known. However, we must remember them, always follow and deepened them because each monastic community could extend to create a world to oneself, little attentive to the human and psychological situation that marks the candidates of today and tomorrow, they will form our community in the future. Each monastery, instead, should live in the awareness of the social-religious context in which it found himself and be prepared to receive, dialogue, understand and promote these persons that today like yesterday are called to the salvation and also, like all the generations, walking toward God. The communities, however, that they don't want to convert the monastery in a fort, the communities that have opened to welcoming and, without turn away, desire to be up to the time; those communities that with big effort and equilibrium undertakes to a "cognitive negotiation" with the clerical and social reality of the present moment, that they accept the sociological rule of the interaction and they try to complete the three dimensions of the apostleship of the monks- mentioned in the legislation of our Congregation- more that a theoretical discussion on the characteristics of the true monastic life, to my notice, they should orient the new generations toward a search simply always renewed to reach a higher level of spiritual, human and also scientific quality. . The monastery should become a welcoming hearth of high quality, what supposes a devotion of youngest to a mystical practice of study, to personal ampler and deep formation, such that it could give a cultured and wise testimony of their being monks in the future. I in this way see a possible passage from the pastoral activity of the monks in the sense of parish service, to a monastic irradiation.
I see the monasteries of the future, busy in the formation of young people and the demand to form small cells in the community, like seminars of study and of wisdom that are the true actual expression of their own job of monastic life. Beyond the lectio, with all his values in so much excited ways, a serious study of the Sacred Word is needed, also theology and ecclesiastical sciences according to programs of academic level. The monks should orient themselves, particularly, to deepen that knowledge founded on the study of letters, thought and history, that is the base of the Western culture and deep search of the Sacred Scripture and theology. This orientation of the job in the monastery assembles the activity of the monks around the library, stimulate the responsibility of the researcher and favors the silence and the stability necessary, on the other hand, for a profitable monastic irradiation.
- Looking toward the future, I imagine that many of our monasteries that have a style and a secular history must renew the plan of life in a new sense. The example of a liturgical life is not enough, neither offer a proposal of spirituality, in accord with the monastic charisma. An example of Christian serious and intense life is not sufficient if not supported by a similar job identical to what happen outside the walls of the monastery. We need to reconstruct the scriptorium or the place where are cultivated the knowledge and the culture, from where is transmitted the intelligence of the faith. The possible candidates that knock at the door of the monastery should know that an intense life of the spirit is supported, in community, by an intense work of the spirit and of the mind, in the more demanding and higher sense of that culture that has been supported always by the study humaniorum litterarum. This plan of well definite work, this reduction of the activities of the monks around a pivot of culture and of theological knowledge, could give human and religious identity to the Benedictine communities of classical style, with a will to dialogue and with availability to offer a pastoral service to the church.
- Certainly, such plan supposes to resolve the maintenance of the community perhaps with the help of other types of job. On the other hand, not all the candidates must be able to correspond to the demands of a serious study and to the mystical practice. Nobody, however, should be exempt from a formation in a qualified work. The whole of the community should feel that his central activity could be defined like truth work: the fides quaerens intellectum. The monastery is in fact a school of the divine service in which one search God, a school not only in moral or spiritual sense but in literal sense and full of scholé, possibility of reflection, of study, of search, of wisdom. The whole community should feel involved in a continuous formation that maintains alive the spirit of all and that qualifies the prayer and the lectio. I don't know how to see the future of the monasteries where a bit of everything is done, where close to the cult and to the lectio exists a management of the house and a welcoming in a family way, without a central nucleus that unites the interest, determine the orientation and qualify the people.
- A community in such way should not have any fear of the post-modern epoch. Even, I believe that to assemble the strengths of the community to create a nucleus of qualified researchers it would be the more eloquent answer to the devaluation of the reason of our times. In front of a predominance of the technique, the monks cultivate the study of letters and of classical culture, that would also be revealed in the aesthetical taste to arrange the house. In front of the doubts and the criticisms of the historical knowledge, the monks continue to keep alive the patrimony of the past, the spiritual patrimony and the cultural patrimony. They keep it alive and they know how to transmit it to those people that today feel the need of it. In front of the culture of the image, the monks keep on the study of the book or the books for excellence: the Sacred Scripture and their historical context. In front of a shaken and fast life that does not have time to grab the events, the monks study patiently the reasons of what has happened and of what is happening in the present. In front of the loss of ideals, of the respect of the civilization, the monks study the fundamental matters of the reason of living, the why, the matters of the origin and of the goal of the human existence. They study it and they live it. In front of the challenges of the technical knowledge, of the biological and genetic discoveries the monks accept the value of them and integrate them wisely in the sphere of the transcendent, of the meaning, of the reason, first and last, in the divine economy of the salvation that God wants for all the humanity.
- This plan to form a nucleus of researchers in each single monastery, that qualify the whole community, supposes that the monks also the elderly ones convert themselves to the value of the study and to a permanent formation for all. At this point a quotation, of a meaningful phrase of Marguerite Yourcenar: "Founding libraries it is like build public barns, hoard reserves against a winter that for many signs, with my regret, I see coming." Whoever tells "build libraries” tells equally "study hard." For us, in concrete, it means to form monks that in human term give consistence, meaning and a plan to our community. I risk to say that, in certain way, our monasteries today are called to a type of "pastoral" similar to that used in the Middles Ages: transmit the patrimony of faith and of culture in an epoch of transition in which there is the risk to lose the religious and cultural values that are our roots and that have given, and still give and will give in the future meaning and salvation to the men and to the women of our civilization.
- As, the weak young people that draw near to our community could be strengthened from a plan that contemplates to consolidate their spiritual and human values. If they are too prone to sensibility, they should be help to discover and to compare themselves with a study and a strong thought. If they present themselves with a fragmented identity, the search of the spiritual and cultural patrimony of our civilization will make them firm, sure in their roots perhaps forgotten. If they are lacking perspectives, the proposal of a spiritual plan and at the same time a human one, of the community, could help them to discover and to develop their creative personal possibility and to undertake a walk of hope that from the immanent goes with impetus on to the transcendent. From knowledge to wisdom, from weakness to virtue, from creation to God.
- I am well aware that in these proposals there is a strong dimension of utopia. I confess also that what I have told, in the best of the cases, it is the first paragraph of a big revision of the actual schemes of our monasteries, where, at times, the daily matters exhaust our strengths.
- It is a plan that should be specified point by point, starting from the first consequences, up to the last details. ( ...) We return to the monastic scriptorium, to the contact with the knowledge in the sense of the biblical tradition. Like the monasteries in the Middle Ages in an unaware society of the classical world, the monks today could preserve and make known the values of a knowledge that enriches the spirit and propose an interpretation, perhaps approximate, of the cultures and of the civilizations of the past, above all the patrimony of the Sacred Scripture, of the faith, of the theology. They are values that will be discover again and appreciated by those generations that after the frantic things that are announced, they will need a self conversion to return in the gravitational human field from which hour present generations is moving out.
(RUDOLF PFEIFFER, Humanitas Benedectina in ID. Ausgewahlte Schriften, Munchen MCMLX, p. 175)