March 8, July 8, November 7
Chapter 31: What Kind of Man the Cellarer of the Monastery Should Be
As cellarer of the monastery
let there be chosen from the community
one who is wise, of mature character, sober,
not a great eater, not haughty, not excitable,
not offensive, not slow, not wasteful,
but a God-fearing man
who may be like a father to the whole community.
Let him have charge of everything.
He shall do nothing without the Abbot's orders,
but keep to his instructions.
Let him not vex the brethren.
If any brother
happens to make some unreasonable demand of him,
instead of vexing the brother with a contemptuous refusal
he should humbly give the reason
for denying the improper request.
Let him keep guard over his own soul,
mindful always of the Apostle's saying
that "he who has ministered well
will acquire for himself a good standing" (1 Tim. 3:13).
Let him take the greatest care
of the sick, of children, of guests and of the poor,
knowing without doubt
that he will have to render an account for all these
on the Day of Judgment.
Let him regard all the utensils of the monastery
and its whole property
as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar.
Let him not think that he may neglect anything.
He should be neither a miser
nor a prodigal and squanderer of the monastery's substance,
but should do all things with measure
and in accordance with the Abbot's instructions.
We need to correct our vision here a bit. St. Benedict was writing
1500 years before the world knew Marx and Engels. He far predates the
kind of materialist world view that has grown up in the last hundred
years or so, largely thanks to Communism with a capital "C", but also
thanks to the excesses of capitalism, too.
There is a certain innocence in St. Benedict's time that we lack, and
that can be a trap. St. Benedict's "economic theory" or theology of
material goods is NOT directed to the goods themselves, or to profit
to the max, but to the people (the whole family,) who own them and
the one who uses them. People, first, things later!
In monastery or in family, the message here is that we do not own
things in the ultimate sense, we use and administer them. They are
needed for the common good and are therefore not ours to waste or
expend with impunity. This is very much the theology of private
ownership espoused much after Benedict's time by St. Thomas
Aquinas: we own things in responsible stewardship for the good of
all, since that is how and why God created things. Echoing the ideas
of both saints, Pope Pius XI, in the early half of the 20th century,
said that private property is not an absolute right- it bears all
kinds of obligations for the common good.
One could offer a very incomplete litany here and say: parent,
teacher, boss, all of you! Read this chapter. One could be more
complete and say that anyone who has any charge over things on which
others depend should read this. That would include, at one time or
another, all of us!
We do not realize how much like a cellarer we truly are: all of us
administer things we do not own outright. All property is held in
stewardship, all things are given by God for the commonwealth
(literally!) If we administer some of His wealth unjustly, it is Him
we offend. St. Thomas Aquinas was very clear in his teachings about
property rights and responsibilities. God made things- all of
creation- so that people could thrive. When we see to it that some
thrive frighteningly much more than others and others thrive not at
all, something is terribly amiss.
I am not cellarer, but I am guestmaster. Just as there are limits to
my own control, (this is my home, but it is not my house,) there are
limits to all of the things that all of us own. No one, no one in
Christendom owns outright. There is always the responsibility for the
good of others, for sharing, for kindness and clemency.
Look, too, at St. Benedict's concern, which he voices elsewhere when
dealing with authority, for those with little or no voice: the poor,
the guests, the children, the infirm. St. Benedict, more than once,
tries to guarantee that those who may be half afraid to ask need not
be so, that the authority will go out to meet their needs even before
they have to express them. He is trying to give clout to the
cloutless, and so should we all!
Cling to the line about not vexing others. It is always very, very
cheap and easy to let others live. It usually "costs" us far less
than we are willing to admit on a bad day. As Father Damian of St.
Leo used to say: "If it gives him so much pleasure and me so little
pain, why not?" However, spare yourself a lot of pain and frustration
at the onset by realizing firmly that treating others that way will
in no way guarantee that they will return the compliment, often quite
the reverse. But that isn't the reason one does it. One does it for
Love and prayers,