The Work Of Benedictine Hands

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  • Baking at the Monastery with the Ferdinand Benedictines
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    Baking at the Monastery with the Ferdinand Benedictines
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Author: Rod Dreher

Brother Augustine, brewmaster of the Norcia monastery (Photo by Rod Dreher)

 

I ran into Thomas Hibbs this summer at the Benedictine monastery in Norcia. Here’s a piece he’s just written about what he saw and did there. As you may recall, the monks lost their monastery and their basilica last fall in the catastrophic earthquake. They are now living on their mountainside property outside of Norcia, in a monastery building they erected with the help of the Tipi Loschi and others, and they’re busy restoring a ruined church on the property. Here’s something I didn’t know about how they’re restoring their monastery. Excerpts:

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The monks takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and also of stability. They have elected to remain in the vicinity and are rebuilding on the outskirts of town. What is striking about their plan is that, while it certainly involves fundraising, it will not depend on any government money.

Instead, they focus on an entrepreneurial vision that attends closely to the role of craft-skills in the life they commit to as Benedictine monks. The prior, Father Benedict Nivakoff, explains that the Italian government has required banks to offer funding to towns that suffered earthquake damage. But, as is clear from the recent bailout, the banking system, with the help of questionable policies of both the Italian government and the European Union, is at the root of what Father Benedict calls the “Italian economic disaster.” Rather than encourage further individual and national debt, the monks have elected to forgo government assistance.

Hibbs talks about how the monks believe that they should support themselves by the work of their hands. Of course they accept donations, but they brew beer to help support themselves — not to get rich, but to pay the bills; they will not ramp up production beyond what they need for self-support. If you are in the US and want to buy their beer, check here. They monks are also working themselves on the construction, along with carpenters and other laborers. Hibbs:

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Monastic tradition elevates lowly things, particularly manual labor. The great philosophical tradition of thinking about the good life, inaugurated in Plato and Aristotle, denigrated manual labor as befitting slaves. Stressing humility and the wholesomeness of working with one’s hands, Saint Benedict saw manual labor as part of the monastic calling. Brother Augustine speaks of the virtues of “intense manual labor,” activities that are “peaceful, quiet, and contemplative.” The monks integrate their labor into their life of prayer, for which they keep an arduous schedule, beginning at 3:30 in the morning and ending around 8 in the evening.

In a world where increasingly we dwell in virtual realms and both work and personal relationships are growing detached from the body and the material world , “perhaps the time is ripe,” as Matt Crawford suggests, “for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world.” In his famous essay from which his influential book takes its title, Crawford observes that “a decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them.”

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Read the whole thing. This is just one more way the Monks of Norcia are teaching the rest of the world by example. Follow the link in this paragraph to learn more about them, and to see how you can be part of their labors, no matter where you live. I have centered The Benedict Option around them and their teaching, which you can benefit from even if like me, you are not a Catholic.

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