St. Benedict of Nursia – Fuga Mundi Series, Part 3

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Welcome to the third installment of the Fuga Mundi Series.  

Christians have always been faced with the challenge of how to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  The Latin phrase for this is fuga mundi, which literally translates as “flight from the world.”  This series explores how famous monastic persons or groups lived out the fuga mundi.  

Last week in looking at St. Pachomius the Great, we see the transition from the anchoritic (solitary) type of monastic life to cenobitic (communal) type of monastic life.  Pachomius’ embrace of cenobitic monasticism presented the problem of how to navigate the “little world” created within the monastery.  This phenomenon of the “little world”–and how to keep it at bay–is a central tenet of St. Benedict’s Rule.

By the time St. Benedict wrote his Rule in the early 500s, cenobitic monasticism had evolved and developed for nearly two hundred years.  The Rule represents a short summary of “best practices” Benedict learned from John Cassian, St. Basil and other cenobitic monastic thinkers, but also from his own experience as abbot of several monasteries and perhaps hundreds of monks.  Page citation below come from the RB 1980.9780814612200

 One way to view the structure of the Rule is by the way that it regulates and governs the “little world” that is created in cenobitic monasticism.  Much of the rule is concerned with practices within the monastery.  We see this regulation of the “little world” most prominently in two places: passages concerning the Cellarer and on private ownership.  The Cellarer is to regulate the food and other material possessions of the monastery, and ought to be a monk who possesses an exemplary moral character and is well-formed in the monastic life (228-229).  Benedict is well aware of the “little world” within the monastic enclosure, which is why the position of Cellarer is so pivotal in the rule.  Following the description of the Cellarer is a brief account of how material goods should be used and Benedict’s strong exhortation against private ownership (229-230).  The stricture on private ownership is one of the strongest teachings in the entire rule, further revealing Benedict’s awareness of the necessity to keep the “little world” within the monastery at bay.  Benedict also had the broader secular world to contend with.  We see this awareness depicted in his description of the Porter (a counterpart to the Cellarer in terms of being a guardian against the “world”) (287), of brothers who travel outside the monastery (253, 289-291), concerning the reception of guests (255, 275), and on the selling of goods (265).  In these instances of contact with the world, the fuga mundi that the monk has embarked upon is to be upheld and repented of if broken.

Next week we will look at two more modern examples of fuga mundi with the Cistercians and Maurists, two very different incarnations of the Rule of Benedict.

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