Blogging Benedict: More on abbots

Last time, I broached the subject of choosing the abbot towards the end of my discussion of rank in the monastery. The abbot should be chosen unanimously. I know a clergyman who has only even accepted a parish when the selection committee has been unanimous in its choice of him. Wisdom there, I think.

And what sort of man should be chosen?

The one to be appointed should be chosen for his virtuous way of life and the wisdom of his teaching, even if he is the lowest in rank in the community. (ch.64; p. 101 trans. White)

The only way for someone to cultivate the character of Benedict’s abbot is lots of prayer and Scripture. These are the two things the Benedictine life is most devoted to. Hopefully, then, a potential abbot has been well-shaped! In terms of modern application, we must free up our clergy who sometimes seem to me like administrators and undertrained psychologists who preach once a week rather than priests of God and shepherds of holiness.

Once appointed:

He [the abbot] should strive to be loved rather than feared. (ch. 64, 103 English)

Indeed, if you read the lives of the early Cistercians, Stephen Harding, Aelred of Rievaulx, Bernard of Clairvaux, you will see men well-beloved by their communities.

Finally, we circle back to the universal monastic virtue of discretion (discussed by Cassian):

Taking these and other examples of discretion, the mother of all virtues, let him be moderate in all things. (ch. 64, 103 English)

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Law and Mercy

I was looking at Cresconius, Concordia canonum, from the mid-500s today, and I see that he prefigures in some ways Ivo, Bishop of Chartres (1090-1115). Both of these men are compilers of canon law collections, taking excerpts and canons and arranging them topically to make life easier for those who have to deal with those who transgress church law.

Cresconius writes:

when an extremely fair judge has examined for himself that each and every canonical ruling of a decree concerning which a question has been stirred up at some time has been set in order in many ways, he may learn by proveable examination whether he ought to guide his judgement through severity or through leniency. (My translation)

Thus, looking at the options available, a(n episcopal) judge can make use of his own discretion, his own discernment (an ancient Christian virtue) and decide which option to choose.

The principle seems similar to that of Ivo, who believes that the variations amongst the canons are not to be explained away or one to be chosen above another as universally correct. Rather, he argues that one should follow the paths of justice or mercy based upon the case.

In this we have been led to caution the prudent reader that if perhaps he should read some things that he may not fully understand, or judge them to be contradictory, he should not immediately take offense but instead should diligently consider what pertains to rigor, to moderation, to judgment, or to mercy. For he did not perceive these things to disagree among themselves who said, ‘Mercy and judgment I will sing to you, O Lord,’ (Ps 101:1) and elsewhere, ‘All the pathways of the Lord are mercy and truth.’ (Ps 25:10) (Trans. Somerville & Brasington)

Things to ponder, I guess.