Sunday, July 25, 2010

Who avoids trials, avoids God. A Benedictine oblate blog

Coptic Egypt

An Arab proverb says, "Man fears Time, Time fears the Pyramids." The Coptic church may be the pyramid among Christian traditions. The Coptic Church's stability stands through the centuries despite plunder and persecution that have gradually eroded the church built on other lands.

It may be no coincidence that Christian monasticism was founded by the enduring Copts in the same Egyptian desert where their ancestors built the pyramids.
"Coptic missionaries reached as far as the British Isles long before the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597 AD. Stanley Lane-Poole, the well-known historian, wrote:

'We do not know yet how much we in the British Isles owe to these remote hermits. It is more than probable that to them we are indebted for the first preaching of the Gospel in England, where, till the coming of Augustine, the Egyptian monastic rule prevailed. But more important is the belief that Irish Christianity, the great civilizing agent of the early Middle Ages among the northern nations, was the child of the Egyptian Church. Seven Egyptian monks are buried at Desert Uldith, and there is much in the ceremonies and architecture of Ireland in the earliest time that reminds one of still earlier Christian remains in Egypt. Every one knows that the handicraft of the Irish monks in the ninth and tenth centuries far excelled anything that could be found elsewhere in Europe; and if the Byzantine-looking decoration can be traced to the influence of Egyptian missionaries, we have more to thank the Copts for than has been imagined.'" From The Coptic Orthodox Church.

"Irish monasteries became centre of learning and centres for the training of missionaries who went out to evangelise in Britain and on the European mainland." From the beautiful Under the Oak blog by Brigit
The ancient Copts gave monasticism to their Christian brothers and sisters, recognized as the greatest contributions from Egypt to the world (another blog on this topic and the Scetis community).

Copts (meaning Egyptian) are Egyptian Christians who are members of the Coptic Church founded by St. Mark. According to the Copts and some other Christian traditions, the book of Mark is the oldest Gospel narrative.

Copts are ethnically the same as most Egyptians. The Copts look like their Muslim neighbors and speak the same language, but the Copts are Christians who are members of the Coptic Church.

The word Copt is English for the Arabic word Gibt or Gypt. When the Arabs came to Egypt in the early 600s A.D., they called the Egyptians they conquered Gypt which is from the Greek word Egyptos or Egypt. "The Greek word Egyptos came from the ancient Egyptian words Ha-Ka-Ptah or the house or temple of the spirit of God Ptah, one of the major ancient Egyptian Gods."1

I met a Copt online recently. He is a member of the Coptic church (general info on the Coptic church and its ecumenical relations with the Catholic church here and here.)

My Coptic online friend speaks about the past and present persecution of the Coptic church. When I consider the hardships those devout Christians faced and are still living with today, it is humbling.

I also asked him about monasticism. He knows about the lives of many Coptic monks. He said he was named after Father Bola who lived for nearly 90 years in a place where today there is a monastery bearing his name.

He told me that there is only one aphorism still remembered from Father Bola, "Who avoids trials, avoids God."

The implication of Father Bola's saying might be a fitting description of the Coptic Church through time — they have not avoided trials and stayed close to God. In that closeness to God they have been preserved through suffering.

Philip Jenkins author of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, HarperOne, 2008 studied Christian churches that exist today only as remnants in many formerly Christian lands.

Philip Jenkins said in an interview with Christianity Today the Coptic church is his personal selection as the greatest example of Christian survival in history.

For the Coptic church to be recognized as the leading example of successful faithfulness during prolonged attacks gave me a lot to think about. What is there in the Coptic church that has infused such strength and stamina? I don't know.

From the little interaction I have with Coptic Christians online, there seems to be a greater intensity — but certainly the Copts might describe something else. Parents naming their sons after a monk whose only saying carried down through the years is, "Who avoids trials, avoids God" may be a good place to start looking for the answer.

As you know, my wife and I are studying John Cassian's Conferences and that has caused us to look more into the early Coptic desert monastic fathers.

Much of what endures in the wider church is associated with monasticism and its sheer endurance in the lives of faithful men and women. They return to the desert — not to avoid trials of the world, but to engage the enemy with the only weapon that lasts throughout time — God alone.



Picture is Coptic Egypt by ctsnow and is used subject to license.

1. Quote is from

For more extensive information on the Coptic church see the Coptic Encyclopedia at

Thanks to Joe Rawls whose blog is The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic, I learned about a Coptic monastery in the USA. It is the St. Antony's Monastery in Barstow, the California desert. The monastery's website has a good Coptic overview.

Monasticism is a well-organized and detailed description of Coptic monasticism compiled Mark Mikhael and edited by Father Daniel Al-Anthouny in Australia.

Coptic Cairo is a beautiful site about Coptic culture.

I blogged about the Valley of Natron — Scetis — where a prominent early monastic settlement was established and still exists.

Here is the beautiful home page of the website (not in English) of St. Mary Monastery (El Sourian Monastery)- Wadi El Natron. I found a page of fabulous pictures and videos (at the bottom of the screen) here.

Additional Coptic monasteries.

If you came from Facebook and saw Saint Cecilia's picture, for some reason Facebook got the picture at the bottom of this blog rather than the one at the top. You can read about Saint Cecilia at the bottom of the screen, that's where her picture is.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interesting Benedictine Thing of the Day. A Benedictine oblate blog

Antique Russian Icon

The Benedictines (530 AD) were the only religious order(1) existing prior to division of the church into Eastern and Western parts in 1054(2). The Franciscans (1209 AD), Dominicans (1216 AD), the Augustinians (1244) and Jesuits (1540 AD) were founded after the Church divided between East and West.(3)

The significance of the antiquity of the Benedictine order is that prior to the division of the Church in 1054 there were Benedictine monasteries in Russia which retained their Benedictine traditions after the division. They may have rejected the Western Church and its pope, but they saw no reason to depart from the Benedictine way. Even today there are Orthodox Benedictine monasteries. One is in Canada. It is the Monastery of Christ the Saviour in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.



Picture is IMG_1891, Antique Russian Icon for sale at Izmaylovo Market, by beggs and is used subject to license.

(1) The term Benedictine Order is described as follows in the New Advent Encyclopedia:
"The term Order as here applied to the spiritual family of St. Benedict is used in a sense differing somewhat from that in which it is applied to other religious orders. In its ordinary meaning the term implies one complete religious family, made up of a number of monasteries, all of which are subject to a common superior or "general" who usually resides either in Rome or in the mother-house of the order, if there be one. It may be divided into various provinces, according to the countries over which it is spread, each provincial head being immediately subject to the general, just as the superior of each house is subject to his own provincial. This system of centralized authority has never entered into the organization of the Benedictine Order. There is no general or common superior over the whole order other than the pope himself, and the order consists, so to speak, of what are practically a number of orders, called "congregations", each of which is autonomous; all are united, not under the obedience to one general superior, but only by the spiritual bond of allegiance to the same Rule, which may be modified according to the circumstances of each particular house or congregation. It is in this latter sense that the term Order is applied in this article to all monasteries professing to observe St. Benedict's Rule."

(2) The Great Schism: The Estrangement of Eastern and Western Christendom is an article describing the division from the Orthodox aspect. From the Orthodox Christian Information Center website.

(3) The Western church is generally called Catholic and the Eastern church is composed of several churches, the largest being the Orthodox, but the Eastern part of Christianity also includes, for example the Coptic Church. See the several Eastern churches described and listed.

However, there are many Catholic churches in the same areas in the East where the "Eastern" churches are the primary form of Christianity. These are real Catholic -- in communion with the Pope. These churches are called Eastern Catholic churches. See list of Eastern Catholic rites and churches.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

St. Meinrad sandstone. A Benedictine oblate blog

St. Leo Abbey

[Click picture to enlarge, then click on enlarged picture]

Recently I found Bryan Sherwood's blog on which he writes about liturgy, monasticism, and Benedictine spirituality. He's a Benedictine oblate.

He is also a good photographer. Today I saw he had posted a picture of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, USA. Look at the entrance structures in the picture of St. Meinrad. What pretty yellow sandstone. It sure looks familiar. Alert blog readers will spot that St. Leo Abbey has the same St. Meinrad-quarried sandstone. St. Leo's yellow sandstone came from St. Meinrad.

In the 1940s when the St. Leo Abbey was building its Church of the Holy Cross, St. Meinrad trucked its sandstone down to Florida and in return, St. Leo Abbey sent back orange juice from its groves.

Bryan Sherwood's picture is the best example of the same stone used at St. Meinrad. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More home shrine photos. A Benedictine oblate blog

Home shrine

A new series of home shrine photos has been added to the Oblate Spring website page on how to set up a prayer corner or home altar/shrine. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of each item, such as how they were obtained and their special meanings — just the kind of items for a home shrine/altar.

The heart's shelter is peace of the Holy Spirit. The home should know the heart.

Interview with Barb. A Benedictine oblate blog

Benedictine hospitality

Barb in California has organized and held Benedictine gatherings in her home -- following the Benedictine tradition of hospitality. An interview with Barb has been added to the Oblate Spring website. This is one of two interviews with experts in holding Benedictine gatherings/meetings in the home. The first interview was with Julia in Texas.

Barb gives a step-by-step description of how she plans such home gatherings for the divine office and Benedictine study. Hope you enjoy the interview.

Thank you Barb!



The picture is coffee & sugar by inya and is used subject to license.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prayer corners & home shrines. A Benedictine oblate blog

Replica of first-century oil lamp

A page has been added to the Oblate Spring website about how to set up a prayer corner or home shrine. Includes pictures of several homes shrines.

The picture on this blog is actually of an oil lamp I own. It is the newest addition to my prayer corner -- a replica of an oil lamp from the times of the earliest Christians. Here is a picture of the oil lamp in my prayer corner.

Remember the house where Paul spoke until after midnight with many lamps? Acts 20. The lamps in the house with Paul could have been like the one shown in the picture. In my case, this replica came with a candle. After the candle was gone, I thought, hey why not fill the lamp with oil and use some candle wick? So, I did. I set the oil lamp on a baker's rack where I keep my books and I took the picture for this blog and the webpage. I left the lamp burning, the flame got bigger the longer it burned and oil spread on the spout. Then the entire spout caught on fire with a huge flame. Hmmm. OK, note to self, leave the first-century oil lamps to the good folks in Troas, but I know that Eutychus would not have fallen asleep with me tending the lamps.

Thankfully, no books were incinerated in the filming for this blog.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Monasticism, not mummies. A Benedictine oblate blog

Getting directions at night

Scetis is among several areas where the Egyptian desert produced its greatest gift to the world — not the Great Pyramids, not mummies, but monasticism. Beginning about 300 AD Coptic men went to live in the Egyptian desert because they wanted to live the complete Christian life — the life that dwells with God. Some of those Coptic monks went to a remote Egyptian desert valley called Natron. They called their monastic settlements "Scetis" which is Coptic for "to weigh the heart."1 All of Christianity owes its monastic heritage to the Coptic church in Egypt and one of its most important examples, Scetis.

The remote Valley Natron (Wadi Natrun) is where monks established Scetis which consisted of groups of related monastic huts (cells) and settlements. The valley is in Lower Egypt (the northern part of Egypt by the delta of the Nile River).

Scetis is about 25 miles west of the Nile River. In ancient times, Scetis was a day and a night's journey south of Nitria — another monastic area and about a three-day journey northwest of the Great Pyramids.

Monasticism is often associated with stability and perseverance. At the time the Coptic monks went to Valley Natron, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara which is now the oldest free-standing stone structure in the world was already about 3,000 years old. They lived among antiquity even then.

Scetis' remoteness did have a direct connection to the Pyramids and mummies, however. The Valley Natron's ten "salt lakes" were a principal source of Natron also called niter. The Egyptians mined Natron — a salt-like mineral used as a drying agent in embalming. Natron was also used for hardening glass and ceramics.2

The Valley Natron is about 22 miles long and some of it lies below sea level. Low marshes and oases in the valley helped the monks find enough water to live. The water did not taste bad even though it had an unpleasant bituminous odor.

There were no marked routes on the earth leading to the Valley Natron. Travelers needed to know the map of the stars to find their way.3

If the monks chose the word "Scetis" ("to weigh the heart") as a description of their practices, it was a perfect choice. In about 400 AD or a 100 years after the first Coptic monks went to Scetis, the European monk John Cassian was in Scetis recording the monastic way. Weighing the heart was surely how the monks saw the effect of the remote wilderness.4

For monks in Scetis, the ultimate goal was to dwell in the tent of God, but the Scetis desert monks knew there was an intermediate goal — the daily, hourly path to follow. They taught that purity of heart must be the traveler's constant guide — without it the way is lost.4 In Valley Natron purity of heart was weighed.

John Cassian recorded what he learned and brought that Egyptian monastic wisdom back to the west in two key books, the Institutes and Conferences.

It may seem ironic that early Coptic desert monks who sought one of the most remote regions of Egypt developed a way of monastic life that shaped all of subsequent western history.

In addition to the works of John Cassian, the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers" are contained in two main series, the Alphabetical and Systematic Series of the Apophthegmata Patrum (from the Greek: apo, from; phtheggomai, to cry out; pater, father). Descriptions of the lives of Coptic desert fathers have also been preserved. Today, three easily-available books give an excellent study of the desert fathers:
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian studies 59) [Paperback]

The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers [Paperback]

The Lives of the Desert Fathers: Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (Cistercian Studies No. 34) [Paperback]
Many of the monastic principles Cassian lived with in Scetis were taken up and used 130 years later in about 530 AD by St. Benedict in his Rule for monks.

The Rule not only contains principles of monastic life from Scetis, but in Chapters 42 and 73 of the Rule, St. Benedict instructs monks to read the Institutes and Conferences (also called Collations). The clear voice of early Egyptian monks in Scetis carries well across the stillness of the desert at night.

St. Benedict became the father of western monasticism. His Rule became a trusted guide in the chaotic breakdown of civilization after the collapse of the western part of the Roman Empire. The Rule of St. Benedict (RB) became the main Rule for all monks in Europe. St. Benedict's monks and his Rule helped preserve the ancient Roman and Greek manuscripts and then reformed European civilization from a new mineral — the salt of the earth.

I blogged about the extensive Benedictine contributions to the world, but it would be equally true to recognize that behind those great accomplishments is Egyptian Coptic Christianity and in particular the Scetis monks.



Picture is M42 Orion by makelessnoise and is used subject to license.

1. Harmless, W. (2004). Desert Christians an introduction to the literature of early monasticism. Oxford [etc.: Oxford University Press, pp 173-175.

2. Natron as a flux.

See especially this interesting article:

The Use of Natron in Human Mummification: A modern
(in PDF), by Bob Brier and Ronald S. Wade

3. Harmless, W. (2004). Desert Christians an introduction to the literature of early monasticism. Oxford [etc.: Oxford University Press, pp 173-175.

4. From Cassian's Conferences:
"And so the end of our way of life is indeed the kingdom of God. But what is the (immediate) goal you must earnestly ask, for if it is not in the same way discovered by us, we shall strive and wear ourselves out to no purpose, because a man who is traveling in a wrong direction, has all the trouble and gets none of the good of his journey. And when we stood gaping at this remark, the old man proceeded: The end of our profession indeed, as I said, is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven: but the immediate aim or goal, is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end: fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible, and if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard, which will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Benedictine contributions update. A Benedictine oblate blog

All Monks

In a recent blog, I summarized the Benedictine contributions to the world. Much of the material was taken from How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization, by Thomas Woods1. I have updated that recent blog by adding the following quote from Cardinal Newman:
St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time or by any rare specific or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often, till the work was done, it was not known to be doing. It was a restoration, rather than a visitation, correction, or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure. Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that 'contended or cried out,' or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again. (Mission of St. Benedict, §9; reprint, p. 67) quoted in Benedictine Monachism, by Cuthbert Butler, London: Longmans, Green &, 1924, page 319-320.


The picture is All Monks. New Norcia, Western Australia by fastskybus and is used subject to license.

1. Thomas Woods' book is available on Amazon.

As always, any links on the Oblate Spring website or the Oblate blog are for handy reference. I receive no compensation from the links or any purchases you make. I am not associated with any of the companies listed. Hey, if this were an incoming-producing site, it would be better!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Prayers with monks. A Benedictine oblate blog

Church of the Holy Cross
St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA

My wife and I went to vespers at St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, today. We arrived at 4:00 pm for the evening prayers in the church with the monks at 5:00 pm.

In the hour before the monks arrived in person we read and prayed. I read a portion of St. Augustine's sermon on "A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit." (scroll down in this Office of Readings.) My wife read Cassian's Conferences.

Although a man was praying in the church when we arrived, he left before the start of vespers. My wife and I were the only people to pray with the monks at evening prayer and to watch as they entered and left the church. My wife commented after we arrived back home after 6:00 pm that she had the thought while in the abbey church that it was good that there was someone in the church for vespers. Today it happened to be us.

The monks processed into the church in silence. The monks were wearing their long, white choir robes that make them seem to glide across the floor. There is a rhythm about the way they enter, take their places, sing the divine office, and leave the church. A flow and movement connects all the parts. The monks appear at the entrance — each pair of monks two-by-two — each making the Sign of the Cross together, walking to the front of the church, making one step up together onto the platform, taking a few more steps, and then bowing to each other before they go to sit in the choir stalls. They sing the divine office and then process out to complete this liturgy (public worship). And like the other hours in the divine office, this evening monastic prayer constitutes and joins with the Catholic (universal) Church at prayer.

The architecture of the Church of the Holy Cross makes the St. Leo Abbey vespers a beautiful part of the Church at prayer. The abbey church is well suited to show the cadence of the procession into the church as the monks take their places in the mirror-image choir stalls. The series of arches along both sides of the church moves the eye toward the front of the church, the rows of pews are markers as each pair of monks moves along the way, and the step onto the choir-stall platform is a physical step up anticipating the monks lifting their hearts and voices to God.

Even though we are not able to visit the abbey often, being able to pray with the monks is a major part of our lives. We will think about the prayers for days. And we know that we are blessed by God to be able to have a monastery close to our home.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Benedictine contributions to the world. A Benedictine oblate blog

Kylemore Abbey, Republic of Ireland

The Benedictine monastic way has produced some of the greatest achievements in all of history. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization, said,
"The monks played a critical role in the development of Western civilization...This historical fact comes as less of a surprise when we recall Christ's words: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.' That, stated simply, is the history of the monks."1
Much of the following is taken from Woods' excellent book:

The Benedictines enshrined work as a means to glorify God, the Benedictines preserved ancient texts. Virtually every ancient text that survived to the eighth century has survived to today.

The Benedictines were pioneers in all forms of agriculture. A modern expert noted that "every Benedictine monastery was an agricultural college for the whole region in which it was located."2

Benedictine monks developed Sweden's commerce in corn, Ireland's salmon fisheries, and Para, Italy's cheese making. "Please pass the Parmesan cheese. Thank you monks."

It was the Benedictines who first improved cattle breeding by other than random means. But it is a monk of another order — the Augustinians' — Gregor Johann Mendel (1822 - 1884) who is known to all biology students as the father of the modern science of genetics.

The Benedictines fostered the production of great wine. In 1531 Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne, in southern France produced sparkling wine (champagne is a sparkling wine).

Although Dom Perignon (late 1600s) of Saint Peter's Abbey, Hautvilliers-on-the-Marne, did not invent champagne, his deserved fame as the father of champagne comes from the fact that Dom Perignon did develop many of the modern techniques used in the effective production of champagne, including the use of wire to hold the cork in place. Pop!

The Benedictine band made technological advancements in architecture and buildings. They expanded the use of water power and directed spring waters to Paris.

A Benedictine monk made the first modern clock in about 996 AD.

About 1200 AD a Benedictine monk built and tested a glider that went 600 feet.

The English Benedictines developed advanced furnaces for the production of metals — specifically the extraction of iron from ore. Within in the last 20 years an archeometallurgist discovered that the slag (a byproduct of smelting) from an early 1500s English Benedictine smelting furnace showed a level of technological sophistication that was not achieved until much later by other inventors.

An English king's short-sighted suppression of the English monasteries stopped the work of talented Benedictines who now appear to have been on the verge of the techniques that sparked the advances of the industrial age 200 years later.

Cardinal Newman would have understood why such Benedictine abilities and effective endeavors passed without notice at the time only to be recognized recently in the light of better 20-20 hindsight:
St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time or by any rare specific or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often, till the work was done, it was not known to be doing. It was a restoration, rather than a visitation, correction, or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure. Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that 'contended or cried out,' or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again. (Mission of St. Benedict, §9; reprint, p. 67) quoted in Butler, Cuthbert. Benedictine Monachism. London: Longmans, Green &, 1924, page 319-320.
While some people think of monasteries as being shut away from the world, that view gives a too narrow view of how monastic life affects and enhances the wider community. Benedictine monasteries were places of beauty and learning, as focus on God often is.
"These monasteries too, presented pictures of a cultured society engaged in the pursuit of art, literature, and science, while at the same time they exemplified in themselves the benefits which civilization brought into every detail of daily life. If the "Pax Romana" had been a blessing in an earlier age, the "Pax Benedictina" brought with it even greater happiness, for now both supernatural and natural benefits were simultaneously put in reach of everyone alike."3
When it came to using modern means of communication virtually no one surpassed the Benedictine monks — I am speaking of those like Abbot Fredegise at Saint Martin’s Abbey (early 800s AD) who helped develop the Carolingian minuscule — a better form of writing. Before the monks put there hooded heads to task, Europe had many forms of scripts such as
After the work of Abbot Fredegise, Europe and its future had a form of writing with lower case letters, spaces between the words, and punctuation. These advancements led to easy reading and writing — and widespread learning — which helped build the new civilization.

During centuries of upheaval, barbarian invasions, and cultural collapse, perhaps the most under recognized achievement of the Benedictine monks was that they existed at all and were able to maintain monastic houses as islands above the worldly wash. Amid chaos, they were places of prayer, work, and reading. Those three Benedictine characteristics helped build the greatest civilization ever known.

By the 1500s the Benedictines had given the Church 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, 1,500 canonized saints, 20 emperors, 10 empresses, 47 kings, and 50 queens.

At its pinnacle, Benedictine Europe had 37,000 Benedictine monasteries. Many cities of today trace their origins to such monastic houses.

All these Benedictine accomplishments should be seen as secondary to the greater accomplishment of spreading the good news of life to a "chaotic and pagan Europe."4

St. Benedict — the first Benedictine — is also known for another accomplishment — compiling his famous Rule in about 530 AD. Other than the Bible, the Rule of St. Benedict has been called the most important book in the development of European civilization.

This Rule for monks, sisters and nuns guides many people seeking to dwell with God. That was the goal to which St. Benedict aspired. All else was secondary.

For St. Benedict who lived in a time of cultural chaos and wars, he was guided by a simple charge:
"prefer nothing to the love of Christ"
All the accomplishments flowed from that truth about the human condition. The Benedictines' accomplishments have earned them the right to be heard by anyone wanting to live in the "real world" — it is the one the Benedictines help build.



On July 5, 2010 I updated this blog by adding the Newman quote. It was too good to leave out.

Picture is Kylemore Abbey by Jule_Berlin and is used subject to license.

At Jule_Berlin's Flickr page there is the following description of this most beautiful abbey:
Kylemore Abbey (Irish: Mainistir na Coille Móire) is a Benedictine nunnery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, in Connemara, County Galway, Republic of Ireland. The abbey was founded when Benedictine Nuns fled Belgium in World War I.
Originally called Kylemore Castle, it was built between 1863 and 1868 as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician from Manchester, England who was also MP for Galway County from 1871 to 1885. After the death of his wife Margaret in 1875, Mitchell did not spend much time there. He and his wife are both buried in the small mausoleum near the church in the grounds of the abbey. Notable features of the abbey are the neo-Gothic church (built between 1877 and 1881), a miniature replica of Norwich Cathedral, made from local green Connemara marble, and the Victorian walled garden.

The abbey houses a secondary girls' boarding school, Kylemore Abbey International Girls' School. The house and gardens are open to the public.

The name Kylemore originates from the Irish words Coill Mór – meaning Great Wood.
1. Woods, Jr. Thomas E. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Grand Rapids: Regnery, Inc., 2005. P. 60.

2. Id. P. 29.

3. "The Benedictines" by Dom Bruno Hicks, (1878-1954)

4. Dom David Knowles, "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns, Second Edition, page 50 in chapter 6. Forward by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B. Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey, The Abbey Press, Saint Leo, Florida, 1962
Online version (but this online version omits chapters 5 and 6, the last two chapters).

Friday, July 2, 2010

An Ancient Spirit Lives — Knock. A Benedictine oblate blog

Ancient Door

Queen of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon, USA, posted a great blog. A short excerpt sets the scene June 24, 2010.
"Postulant Patricia officially began her formation in monastic life in a ceremony that comes from the 6th century Rule of Benedict. That Rule, in Chapter 58, speaks about a newcomer knocking on the door of the monastery and being granted admission if she "shows eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials...that will lead to God."
The blog goes on to explain in classic Benedictine style and language how the welcome ceremony proceeded from a literal knock on the monastery door to the final blessing.

As the Prologue is to Rule's 73 chapters, the ceremony beautifully describes the beginning of Postulant Patricia's first steps in monastic life. This is the path — an ancient spirit lives.

Thank you Queen of Angels Monastery for posting a remarkable blog on monasticism. It should be read by everyone interested in the Benedictine monastic life and especially by anyone considering the calling as a sister, nun, or monk.

Congratulations to Postulant Patricia.



Picture is Ancient door 1 in the convent "Marienberg" South Tirol - Italy by alexwall and is used subject to license.

Contact information for the Queen of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon, USA:
Queen of Angels Monastery web site
Note: Under the label “An Ancient Spirit Lives” are blogs, web sites, and videos that best reveal the most ancient monastic principles — first light in the monastic day. These are essential truths I hope I never forget and ones that carry the ancient ways into my understanding today. In the past two years of the Oblate Blog, there have been a total of three such blogs of "An Ancient Spirit Lives." An alert reader may quip, "you must not understand very much" — I would readily agree.