Blogging Benedict: The freedom of simplicity

In chapter 55 of the Rule, we read that the clothes of the monks are to be simple and plain, as well as few in number:

When the brothers receive new [clothes] they should always hand in the old ones at once, so that they can be put away in the clothes room for the poor. (p. 87, trans. White)

The clothing is not of importance itself. It is not to be hoarded, but the excess in the monastery’s life is to be used in acts of charity (caritasagape = the highest form of love). They are only to have two tunics and two cowls.

The teaching on clothing should be tied in with the teaching on food — simple fare with little wine. It should also be tied in with the vows of stability, poverty, and obedience (ch. 58). Again: stability = a simple life, not roving about. Poverty = a simple life uncluttered by possessions and the administration of property. Obedience = simplicity in choosing how to live.

The (ideal) life of the Benedictine is simple. Pray and work with the hands. The complicated round of prayers that characterise Lanfranc’s Constitutions is not what Benedict originally intended. The complicated tasks of administering large landholdings are not, either.

This desire for simplicity drove many of the late eleventh- and early twelfth-century monastic reform movements, such as the Tironensians (on whom I’ve blogged here) and the Cistercians. The Cistercian life was meant to be simple and austere. They were to be free to perform Benedict’s liturgy of the hours. They dress simply, they live simply.

Their minds are to be simply devoted to God. Cistercian manuscripts are rarely of secular or pagan authors. Instead, they are Bibles, biblical commentaries, liturgical texts, and the Fathers. The earliest Cistercian manuscripts tend not to have figural decorations but, instead, have lovely marginal illustrations of plants and herbs. Their churches were originally not to have steeples. They are to be simple and austere.

The title of this post is taken from a book by Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity. In this book, he charts the biblical vision of how we are to treat possessions and live in the world, as well as practical steps we can take to live more simply. According to Foster, such a life is ultimately freeing, if only we continue to pursue. It is a very Quaker approach, but the monastics would agree.

So, let’s think on how we can simplify our lives and find true freedom in Christ and gospel-centred living.

  • What activities can you cut out of your day, week, month?
  • What expenses can you reduce?
  • What temptations do you have in the area of food and drink?
  • What can you give away?
  • Is your devotional life cluttered with too many books, too many ideas, too many options, too many practices? Which might be the most helpful for you to love God more? Focus on these.
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Blogging Benedict: The freedom of simplicity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.