November 25, 2014

What Matters: Baptism and Vocation

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Thus they made men believe that the profession of monasticism was far better than Baptism. . . .

. . . Furthermore, the precepts of God and the true service of God are obscured when men hear that only monks are in a state of perfection. For Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart, and yet to conceive great faith, and to trust that for Christ’s sake we have a God who has been reconciled, to ask of God, and assuredly to expect His aid in all things that, according to our calling, are to be done; and meanwhile, to be diligent in outward good works, and to serve our calling.

- Augsburg Confession, Article XXVII

* * *

One of the contributions that Martin Luther and the other Reformers made was to overturn the idea that there are distinctions between Christians; that some are elite and advanced before God while others are simply ordinary, lesser believers.

It was the influence of the monastic institutions in the Church that led to this kind of thinking. Ordinary Christians were called to keep God’s commandments. However, monks and nuns also made vows to observe special counsels such as poverty, chastity, and obedience to their order’s rule of discipline. Separating themselves from ordinary communities, they established their own cloistered centers of prayer, work, study, and ascetic practices. This led to the common perception that those who chose monastic vocations were engaged in a life that was higher than that of ordinary women and men, and that they were on a special path to “perfection,” which was unavailable outside the cloister.

Many people have the idea that the Reformers simply rejected monasticism whole-hog. On the surface, the subsequent history of Protestantism lends credence to this, for the Protestant churches have not traditionally fostered monastic movements within themselves. However, as Dorothea Wendebourg tells us in her essay, “Luther on Monasticism,” the reality is more complicated than that.

First of all, she reminds us that, without monasticism there would have been no Reformation. As she observes,

. . . to a large extent these men [i.e. the Reformers] owed to monasticism the spiritual impulses that made them reformers. The vision of the Christian life and of the church with which they confronted the church of their time was inspired by the ideals and insights that had been shaped in the course of their monastic lives.

- in The Pastoral Luther, p. 328

Second, she reminds us that Luther remained a monk until the age of forty-one. He wore the monk’s habit during the most important years of his life, when the Reformation was taking off and gaining steam. Some of his spiritual heroes, such as St. Francis and St. Bernard of Clairvaux were founders of monastic orders. It was, indeed, Luther’s experience as a monk that led him to feel personal anguish about his inability to find comfort before God. After years of study, he came to see that his spiritual life had been built upon a false foundation. The way to peace with God is not through achieving perfection, but through faith in Christ, which unites us to him who is perfect.

This experience led Luther to view the monastic life differently, for now he came to understand that “spiritual perfection” is not simply for those who have taken special vows, but for all baptized people in all walks of life. Wendebourg writes,

Therefore what the monk Martin Luther had discovered as the prerequisite for undivided love and devotion is valid not only for monks and nuns, but also for every Christian. Undivided love and devotion are the fruit of faith. And since it is through the sacrament of baptism that Christ’s becoming one with humanity (which finds its realization in faith) comes about, undivided love and devotion are the fruit of baptism. Luther had recognized fairly early that the decisive step is not entering the monastic life, but baptism. It is in baptism that we receive holiness; holier we cannot become. Therefore it is baptism from which springs a holy life. When he receives the sacrament of baptism, the Christian pledges to lead such a holy life: he promises “to slay sin and to become holy.” This is true of all Christians. “In baptism we all make one and the same vow: to slay sin and to become holy through the work and grace of God, to whom we yield and offer ourselves, as clay to the potter. In this no one is in a better position than another.” [from Luther’s Works] Hence the monk is not in a “better position” than he who leads a secular life; a Christian wife and mother pleases God no less than a monk, perhaps even more. (p. 334)

For many Protestants, this insight spells the end of monasticism, and they heartily agree. They view monasticism solely through the lens of “the way of perfection” that seeks to win God’s favor, or as an institution designed to promote Christian elitism. Reading some of Luther’s scathing denunciations of monks and the monastic way lends support to this, as do the events of the Reformation itself, which led to the emptying of convents and chapter houses.

However, Dorothea Wendebourg shows that, despite his strong criticisms of the cloistered religious life, Luther continued to believe there was a place for monasticism. His strong criticisms, which culminated in his treatise Judgment on the Monastic Vows (1521), were rooted in the sad state of the institutions of his day, not in their original purposes, which he hoped would be renewed.

U6244995544_1977a155b2_zltimately for Luther, it came down the question of vocation and how it should be defined. In common understanding the monk or nun was called to a vocation that was higher than that of the ordinary Christian — indeed, taking vows was seen as a “second Baptism” and, as the Augsburg Confession charges, this “made men believe that the profession of monasticism was far better than Baptism” and led to the highest life possible.

Luther came to teach that such a vocation was not higher, but simply different than that of others; different and still legitimate if accepted as such. In fact, Luther continued to hold that there were some advantages to the cloistered life. For example, he believed that because it involved more suffering than ordinary callings, it may enable those who pursue it to exercise the baptismal life more fully, since baptism is about dying to the world.

Nevertheless, the contribution Luther and the other Reformers made is to help us understand that all Christians in all walks of life have a vocation, and that vocation involves the fulfilling of our baptism. This is what matters in life: (1) that we are baptized into Christ, united to him by grace through faith, and (2) that we embrace the callings God gives us in life as opportunities to live out our baptism by living with faith toward God and active love toward our neighbors.

This has a twofold effect on the relationship between monasticism and the “ordinary” Christian life.

  • First, it removes the religious life of a monk or nun from any special, elite category. They are not the truly “radical” Christians, the “more perfect” followers of Jesus, engaged in a “higher” calling. They take a different path, but in the end they are simply baptized Christians, seeking to live out their baptisms.
  • Second, it raises the standard for Christians in all walks of life. When Luther made his “ecclesiastical visitations,” inspecting the state of the churches and the beliefs and practices of ordinary Christians, he was appalled at what he found. If the monks and nuns were viewed as the truly religious, the common believer was both negligent and neglected as to growing in faith and works of love. Wendebourg calls this effect of the Reformation “the universalization of monasticism.” A renewed emphasis on faith and love for all believers led to the reform of Christian teaching and practices in families and congregations through such means as the Small Catechism, the use of the Psalter, renewal in preaching and pastoral ministry, the development and use of hymns, and habitual forms of prayer for use by individuals and families.

There is only one kind of Christian: one who is called to live out his or her baptism in daily life. No matter what my vocation, I have been raised to walk with Jesus in newness of life therein.

Comments

  1. I think the best thing about the monastic life for Luther, his that it drove him to seek out the merciful God. The monastic life showed him (and many, many others) the wrathful God.

    No matter how hard he tried, he never had any assurance that God was for him. And when he rediscovered what Paul was saying, through the eyes of a ‘grace scheme’ and not the ‘legal scheme’ (striving and working towards being “better”)…then, “the gates of Heaven were opened up to him”.

    What he learned in the monastery was an immense help in Luther’s formulating the theology of the Cross.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The monastic life showed him (and many, many others) the wrathful God.

      Much of what monastics have written seems to indicate it goes much further than “wrathful” [as odd as that sounds]. Wrath might bring them some comfort.

      “In my heart there is no faith—no love—no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation. I don’t pray any longer.” –Mother Teresa

      I once read an odd little fantasy story which was a conversation between one being who had been cast out, hated, despised, accursed – and another who had been simply left, abandoned, forgotten, utterly disregarded. They were commiserating over who had the worse lot. Eventually the accursed agreed that the one abandoned had the darker place, for even to be hated by the one you desperately love is to be regarded by him. I remember that story when I read about darkness – I wish I could recall its name or author. Perhaps silence is what is meant by wrath, if so then it is the nuclear-option of wrath.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Steve and Adam,
        A friend once posted a quote by someone who was essentially “promoting” the wrathful character of God. At the time I bristled at the quote, for I don’t see any use of a wrathful God in trying to share the Gospel Good News of Jesus Christ.

        I still bristle at that, but both of your comments have made me consider “wrath” from a different angle. Thanks.

  2. Robert F says:

    Yes, CM. Wherever the Christian community is bifurcated by the unbalanced practice of monasticism into the more and less perfect and holy, the result is that a truly Christian communal life is not lived together; rather, a kind of Manichaeism is the result, and the spiritual values of semi-gnosticism become very influential. This has happened not just among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but also in Protestantism.

    Here in Ephrata, PA, where I live, two centuries ago the Ephrata Cloister, for all intents a Protestant monastic community with monasticism at its center, was started by Conrad Biessel. Extreme and self-punishing forms of asceticism were practiced by the male and female monastics, who were supported by a much larger lay married community surrounding them. The lays followers hoped, in a very Manichaeian way, to find spiritual favor with God by their support of the more perfect monastics.

    The experiment didn’t last long. In less than a hundred years, there were no more monastics left, and the last of the lay Cloister followers died a few years ago, after the small group had essentially become absorbed by traditional Protestantism.

    Monasticism may serve as a support to the larger Christian community, but when it occupies the central position, distortions are bound to occur, or else the vision will simply be a short-lived one.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Here in Ephrata, PA, where I live, two centuries ago the Ephrata Cloister, for all intents a Protestant monastic community with monasticism at its center, was started by Conrad Biessel. Extreme and self-punishing forms of asceticism were practiced by the male and female monastics….

      Self-punishing asceticism as in self-starvation and the whip of Flagellantes or Da Vinci Code albino monk assassins, or did they kick it up to the lye-gargling/claw-skin-to-scar-tissue level of St Rose of Lima?

      And according to Fr Orthcuban, such more-ascetic-than-thou “Monk-a-bee” is the common Eastern Orthodox method of flaking out.

  3. Unfortunately, the effective end of any monastic option for Protestants and the understanding of “vocation” means not only that ordinary life — marriage, family, and work — are elevated, they become the only real, only legitimate, option for a “sanctified” life and calling. There are no other proper choices, and thus everything that isn’t marriage, family, and work is simply a transitional state, a place of waiting. Protestantism doesn’t know what to do with people who aren’t called to marry, or have a family, or do work with much social meaning, or who are called to devote themselves to the service of God, and the love of neighbor, in ways only monks or nuns are called. Both Lutherans and Calvinists have taken this desiccated view of the calling of God and in their own ways, used it to disenchant the world, to create a piety and moral rectitude based largely on the ability to plan and acquire and accumulate, to fulfill all of the “callings” of bourgeois life.

    If the church catholic forgot that there is sanctity in ordinary life, the children and grandchildren of the Reformers (and the confessions they have made) have forgotten that God calls some to the extraordinary life. God does, in fact, speak to some in ways God does not speak to others. God does, in fact, set some aside, and not merely as pastors.

    • Yes.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > There are no other proper choices, and thus everything that isn’t marriage, family, and work
      > is simply a transitional state, a place of waiting.

      True. Anti-Ascetic-Monasticism I get; but the dearth of choices, or at least recognized/celebrated choices, is notable.

      > Protestantism doesn’t know what to do with people who aren’t called to marry,
      > or have a family, or do work with much social meaning,

      Agree. Commonly it will politely and quietly ask them to leave. Or that is how it often seems. I don’t believe this is institutionalized in most cases, but when a culture has no place for you…

      > or who are called to devote themselves to the service of God, and the love of neighbor

      In the modern era in the western world most people who feel so compelled pursue this outside and apart from the church, as the church [mostly] has no idea how even to talk to them – if it is not outright suspicious of them. But if you talk to people practicing civic engagement, advocates, and civil servants they often talk about their `careers` as callings, and use very similar language. There is very little space to integrate the secular [worldly] with the sphere of faith – even if we reject gnosticism we have to deal with defacto gnosticism in our institutions.

    • Robert F says:

      Charles, I think what you say is very true.

      My own tradition, Anglicanism, reopened the monastic option to Anglicans over a century and a half ago, and the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has shown much interest and initiative in spurring the church on to re-imagining and revivifying monastic vocations in the 21st century. In fact, I think Archbishop Welby feels that the revival of deep spirituality in the church is impossible without a revival of monastic life in the worldwide communion.

      • I may be overstating this, but I actually think it is one of the main hopes, if not the only hope for the church in the coming century.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > the revival of deep spirituality in the church is impossible without a revival of
        > monastic life in the worldwide communion

        I suspect he is probably correct. This is certainly a hope of mine.

        If the Church cannot find a way to deeply integrate / reintegrate with civic life as well as provide rich and multitudinous models of life I do not see how she can avoid utter marginalization.

      • Kathleen Brannon says:

        Can you tell me more about monastic revival in the Anglican Communion, and what options might exist now? I am new to the Episcopal Church. I have always cherished a secret calling to monastic/convent life. It would be even more wonderful if such a revival provided options for people in middle to later life – married or formerly married – as well as younger people with a vocation. With three grown children, it would be the fulfillment of a very old dream of mine to become a “nun,” contemplative or engaged in community life.

  4. Some believe that these folks in monasteries are more holy than they are. Closer to God. That they are somehow set apart for a ‘higher’ calling.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. They are the same as you are. They have the same sinful thoughts. They are no holier and no closer to God than you are.

    If they want to live their lives inside…then so be it. But there are no points for it. No special merit for it.

    The whole Catholic system of Sainthood says that there is special merit for the pious and “holy”.

    Wrong.

    • Steve, your view lacks any of the nuance I tried to communicate in the post. Don’t paint with so broad a brush.

      • flatrocker says:

        CM,
        I’d say Steve’s point is more akin to an attempt at painting a Monet with a mop head.
        Firstly, the mop is poorly suited for the task. And secondly, there is only one Monet.

      • So often these posts about monasteries make them, and the people who inhabit sound like holier places and people than say, Joe and Mary Christian who might work in a restaurant.

        It’s just not true.

        • I did a post about the task of monks back in Oct. 2011, called “Close to the Fire.” In that post, I compared monks to the people who shoveled coal into the boilers down in the deep belly of steamships, who never got to enjoy the activities on deck, and who were unknown and unappreciated by the other passengers.

          How glamorous and “holy” does that sound?

          • If that they are somehow special because they are for fitting going up on deck…some might believe they are somehow then closer to God.

          • I somehow think that Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 is more akin to sending the boys back up on deck.

            But, as I have said, we are free, as Christians, to do what we want to do. If someone desires to hunker down in the boiler room…that’s fine by me. I just don’t want anyone to feel that there is something higher or more holy in that choice.

          • So, ok. Did you actually read today’s post? Because that’s exactly what I said.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Probably not. Too busy looking for yet another opening to Argue MY Theology.
            (Can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject…)

          • So, I am backing up what you have already said…and you have a problem with that?

            O…K…

        • flatrocker says:

          Steve,
          It’s always interesting how our beliefs support what we pre-conceive to be already there. No bias, no prejudices – just pre-conceptions that justify our positions.

          There’s a demon under every rock and we don’t even have to lift up the rock to make sure. He’s just there because… well…just because.

          It helps us all sleep better at night, doncha think?

        • Steve,
          I’m responding to your post in which you refer to those who “hunker down in the boiler room”. I’m puzzled because it sounds as if being in the boiler room is less important than being on deck. For many monks and others, the boiler room is a place of prayer (keeping the fire going) on behalf of those on deck. The story is told that when Spurgeon was preaching, there were many in the basement praying. As a young man I had the privilege of visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. It blew my mind that here were people whose primary calling from God was to be praying in place those of us with less time to pray. Several years later my wife and I visited one of our former college teachers. She told us that she prayed for her former students every day because she was now retired and they were the ones on the “front lines”. We each have our calling. Looking back, I think she was still on the front lines, too. I’ll be eternally grateful for her and others in “the boiler room”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And the whole Fundagelical system of Full Time Christian Ministry(TM) says there is special merit for Pastors, Missionaries, P&W Celebrities, Pastors, Missionaries, Celebrity Christians, etc.

      “The new Presbyter is but old Priest writ large.” — Milton

    • We can only hope that Steve doesn’t notice that call to be “diligent in outward good works” in the first quoted passage. What were those Ausbergers thinking?

      • Like you, or anyone else here is diligent in outward good works.

        And so what if they were?

        Wasn’t the Pharisee in the Temple?

        • Dana Ames says:

          Steve,

          Is there no place in your understanding for cultivation of virtue? Not to gain anything from God, but as an expression of the goodness of human life in union with him because of Baptism?

          Dana

          • Then the focus is on yourself.

            Christianity is not a move from vice to virtue…but a move from virtue to grace (Gerhard Forde).

            When you are free…you are free to forget about yourself and just live. And help others when you see a need…with no thought about “cultivating virtue”.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Well, I don’t think the focus has to be on yourself. I think it can still be centered on Christ, and that we can just live freely and help others when a need is seen. I don’t think virtue and grace are opposed, but rather that they work together for living life and becoming more Christ-like now. I think it’s problematic to be absolutely unaware of what’s going on inside us, with no effort at cooperating with God for the working of grace within us. As Dallas Willard of blessed memory used to say, grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort. As an Orthodox Christian, I understand grace to be not something created by God or outside of God, but the actual action of the Holy Spirit within us, with our consent.

            We may be talking past one another, and/or may have to agree to disagree. Holier and smarter people than I am have discussed these things for many years.

            Dana

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Like you, or anyone else here is diligent in outward good works.
          > And so what if they were?

          Then they did good works – that is the “so what”. They exemplified love. They helped their neighbors. They comforted the grieving. They fed the hungry. They spoke for the speechless. They defended the widow and the orphan. They made there community a better place. They brought peace where there was strife.

          And thank goodness for them, and anyone who does any of the above.

          Ask the one who is fed, comforted, or healed if the act was “so what”.

          If all of that is “so what”…. then I do not even know what to say… I’m baffled. But if Christianity leaves all kindness, diligence, rigor, steadfastness, compassion, love, patience, council, comfort, and industry as “so what”, then Christianity is garbage and should be forgotten tomorrow.

          • Adam, you are right, Luther would say you are right, the Augsburg Confession would say you are right, and the N.T. says you are right. Paul did not say that the only thing that counts is faith alone. He said: “For in Christ Jesus … the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6).

          • “Love” is where we always want to land.

            In a perfect world that would be great.

            But for self-lovers, the kind we are…the emphasis ought be, the focus ought be on faith.

          • Steve, I appreciate that where you have been and where you are coming from, that makes sense to you. But I think it is a mistake to make it a rule for all believers, and since Paul did not always put his focus on faith…well, maybe there is a place for “stirring one another up unto good works.”

  5. I recently accepted a call to pastor a baptist church in New Hampshire. One of the interesting parts of my interview (as well as the “settling in”) has been observing anti-clerical sentiments among my congregation. Baptists, of course, are historically sensitive to distinction between the clergy and the laity because of their emphasis on soul competence and the priesthood of all believers. This combines with a reactionary tendency toward anything that smells of Roman Catholicism (even slightly).

    So suspicion of the separation and elevation of clergy may be somewhat parallel to this issue of monasticism — at least in certain traditions.

    With this in mind, I think the Pastoral Search Committee appreciated it when I explained in our interview that I believe that while the pastors job is to proclaim the good news (not the moral code) it is also to to model a life of moment by moment repentance. The expectation that I should live an exemplary life is not so much about the appearance of righteousness, but rather about constantly seeking to rely on the righteousness of Christ. In that sense, I see my exemplary role as not one who stands above my congregation, that they should aspire to be like. Rather I see myself as being in the same trench with them, and my vocation is to demonstrate how the gospel of Jesus applies within their vocations.

    I don’t think I’m saying it well here — but apparently they liked my answer well enough because here I am. ;-)

    All that is just to observe how the elevation of clergy (or the opposition of the elevation of clergy) today seems to carry some of the same freight as the struggle on monasticism.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Separating themselves from ordinary communities, they established their own cloistered centers of prayer, work, study, and ascetic practices. This led to the common perception that those who chose monastic vocations were engaged in a life that was higher than that of ordinary women and men, and that they were on a special path to “perfection,” which was unavailable outside the cloister.

    How does this attitude differ from the current Evangelical attitude towards “Full Time Christian Ministry” (Pastor, Missionary, P&W leader) as opposed to all those “worldly” and “fleshly” pursuits?

    • Your observation is right HUG. While I referenced a suspicion of clergy, there is also a simultaneous tendency to elevate “FTCM.” If you are truly serious about God, you pursue the higher calling. I was subject to this through much of my youth. I see it now as the result of an ingrained gnosticism that lurks just below the surface of much church life in America. Spirit good. World bad.

      Spirit = church, bible, prayer, witness, missions, preaching, bible study, etc.

      World = work, money, art, school, sex, etc.

      So to become a missionary (for women especially) or a pastor (men only) was the equivalent of a monastic vocation.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “So to become a missionary (for women especially) or a pastor (men only) was the equivalent of a monastic vocation.”

        I was a freshman in college at age 17 in 1955. The college I attended was a conservative, Wesleyan, liberal arts school. The president of the college saw a largest part of the college’s purpose to be the beginning point for the education of his “preacher boys.” The best dormitories were built for the men because of this reasoning. The production of missionaries was important also, but it was the “preachers” that he considered to be all important. Campus jobs, student preaching appointments, and other help went to these guys.

        • David,
          Off-topic, but just curious. Were his initials ZTJ? If so, my freshman year was his final year as President.

        • David,
          I can’t find a link to directly reply to your reply. Several of my best friends were “preacher boys”, but I don’t remember the same stress on that that you observed. In just a few years a beautiful, modern new girls’ dorm was built. I think the founding history of the college had something to do with the emphasis you encountered.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I see it now as the result of an ingrained gnosticism that lurks just below the surface of much churnessingch life in America. Spirit good. World bad.

        Spirit = church, bible, prayer, witness, missions, preaching, bible study, etc.

        World = work, money, art, school, sex, etc.

        More like:

        Spirit = church, SCRIPTURE, prayer, SCRIPTURE, Witnessing, SCRIPTURE, Witnessing, Witnessing, WITNESSING!

        World = everything else.

        And what was not Forbidden (World) was Absolutely Compulsory (Spirit).

        • Just to add a little too what you said, the mindset not only puts the FTCM into the place of the monk and the nun, but puts the rest of us in that lower calling. It not only diminishes the work that the majority of the world does, but engenders laziness within the congregation giving them the impression that their work for the kingdom is to “support” pastors and missionaries. In a way it engenders an attitude that the only meaningful thing that the “laity” does is show up with their check books on Sunday.

  7. Excellent post, CM. Growing up Roman Catholic and attending parochial and Jesuit schools I was led to believe that priests and nuns and brothers and monks had answered a higher calling and, as a consequence of their greater sacrifice in this life, had greater favor from God and could expect a higher position in heaven (whatever that means). Now, it may be argued that Roman Catholicism never really taught that, but you wouldn’t know it from what I heard and experienced for the first 24 years of my life.

    I admire Martin Luther for a great many things and especially for his views that, as stated in this post, “…the [bad] idea that there are distinctions between Christians; that some are elite and advanced before God while others are simply ordinary, lesser believers.” This egalitarian view of particular position or status within the church was one of several things God used to draw me to Himself. And for that I remain most appreciative.

    But thinking of what Dallas Willard and others have written with regards Christian spiritual formation, it appears to me that by diligently practicing spiritual disciplines (e.g., periodic fasting, prayer, solitude, celibacy, even) we can all be “part-time monks,” no?

    • “Part time monks” – I like that. I know a few people who would fit into this category. I think this also points to another problem that monasticism can present – laity that is content to let other perform spiritual disciplines. Don’t get me wrong, we are not all called to the same thing, but I do believe spiritual disciplines are a huge grace and benefit, rather than a drudgery or a set of laws to fulfill. Which brings us full circle to the original point.

      • For the record, I have no inclination to be a monk–part-time or full-time. Still, it is nice to know that I can at times experience a tiny bit of it if I so choose. And now that I no longer believe that being a monk is any better or worse than not being a monk nor that God loves or favors me any more one way or the other I can enjoy a little part-time monasticism on occasion.

  8. In his usual cryptic manner, Charles Williams said it best;

    “The City is simultaneously hierarchical and republican, and it rejoices to be so”

    My Neoplatonic instincts love the idea of Energies descending a ladder from the Triune God through the heavenly hierarchies through the earthly to the beasts, plants and minerals, because the upper exists to serve the lower and not vice versa, yet the City (the Kingdom of God, I imagine, although Williams is notoriously coy on this) is also absolutely republican. All stand before Him face to face and there is no acceptance of persons. That being said, it always seemed to me that hose who would benefit most by the City being 100% hierarchical and 0% republican should be the most scrupulous to uphold the republican traditions of the City and render honor to the lowest as unto the highest. Those who would benefit the most by the City being 100% republican and 0% hierarchical should be the most fastidious in “saluting the uniform rather than the officer”, and rendering due honor to those in authority over us.

    I can make no apologies for Orthodoxy being an ascetic religion. We are, warp and woof. That said, the idea of “merit” is as alien to Orthodoxy to as prayer wheels. We’re all called to the same asceticism'; priest or layman, married or monk, but we serve One who delights to reward the eleventh hour worker as richly as the one who bore the heat of the day. After all, even if we all loved God from the heart as fervently as did Christ, what more could we claim for ourselves but that we had fulfilled the original design?

  9. What differentiates a monk from a layman, in my mind, is that the essence of an average thought or action or random day for that matter is intensified with a monk. With a cloistered individual there isn’t much else going on to dilute and distract. That doesn’t make them better but it does make them different. They do become a variation on the theme if you will. On the positive side you get some Mertons and on the negative you get some pretty loopy individuals. We, by way of distraction, have, lets say, the luxuries of beer and baseball or…… Not so with them, on average. I’m reminded of the monk who stood up for the once a year word and criticized the cooking as atrocious. The next year another monk stood up for the once a year word, praised the cooking and sat down. One year later a third monk stood up on the given day to say he was leaving the monastery as he could not take the constant bickering.

    • Robert F says:

      Many have reported that life inside traditional monasteries can be filled with petty grievances that metastasize, precisely because of vows of silence and strictures against forming close friendships with other monks or nuns. In such an atmosphere, the occasional expression of disagreement between long periods of silence during which grievances are silently nursed can indeed represent deep dissension and animosity. Nothing loopy about it.

      • You’re exactly right. That of course is the point of the joke. I just happen to know some odd duck monks personally.

        • Robert F says:

          It just may be that the monks you know were made odd ducks by living the monastic life.

          Merton himself was derided by his abbot, and the psychiatrist that his abbot ordered him to see, for his literary renown, which abbot and psychiatrist interpreted as a form of ego-inflation and pride. On more than one occasion, Merton was reduced to humiliated tears by both men in their presence together.

          Merton was well on the way to becoming an odd duck himself, because of psychologically destructive experiences like these in the monastery at the hand of his superiors; I think what saved him is that he was somewhat providentially (and miraculously, given the tendency in his order at that time to discourage it) permitted to become a hermit (not entirely successfully, because it was not uncommon for people who had caught wind of it to come traipsing through the woods where his hermitage was located in order to have an unauthorized private audience or interview with him).

          It was during these few brief years as a hermit at the end of his short life that he was able to explore Zen, photography, calligraphy, and the diving down to the place within where he found that his tormented self was rooted in the compassionate and loving grace of God, and in this discovery he was able to know a release from the knot of self that had gripped him all his life. That’s why the late Merton had a much keener and ironic sense of gentle humor, as evidenced by his writing, than the earlier Merton. It seems to me that truly profound engagement with the spiritual depths always has as one of its central manifestations a greater sense of gentle and wise humor in the one who has gone through the ordeal, and this was certainly true of Merton.

          • Christiane says:

            thank God for the ‘odd ducks’ in our world . . . the ones who march to a different drummer . . . may they continue to give us something to wonder at and secretly to envy in their non-conformity to our sameness

            Thomas Merton’s need for solitude gave birth to writings that have been read world-wide . . . I’d say he ‘connected’ with people, just in a different way than the usual . . .

            If we have lived a life devoid of ‘oddness’, and kept our best hidden in order to conform, there is a price to pay when we are confronted with what deeply resonates within our own spirits.
            There is a line in Emerson’s essay ‘Self-Reliance’, this:
            ” In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts:
            they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

          • I’m speaking specifically in this case about psychosomatic obsession. Other neuroses or odd behaviors can be brought on under the pressure of living a life you are not sure you are called to and yet see no way of changing.

  10. Robert F says:

    “Luther came to teach that such a vocation was not higher, but simply different than that of others; different and still legitimate if accepted as such. In fact, Luther continued to hold that there were some advantages to the cloistered life. For example, he believed that because it involved more suffering than ordinary callings, it may enable those who pursue it to exercise the baptismal life more fully, since baptism is about dying to the world”

    Right up until the time of Luther, many sought monastic vocations precisely because many monastic orders were far more economically and socially stable than the surrounding society, and life inside the monastery or convent afforded protections and privileges and continuity often unavailable outside, especially to the poor masses of people. Ordinary lay life, in fact, often involved far more suffering than cloistered life. During the counter-Reformation, many reforms were undertaken in the monastic orders as well as outside, and this laxity, and even luxury of life, began to disappear.

  11. Christiane says:

    most people need some ‘monastic’ time during their lives . . . seeking healing solitude is not exactly ‘sought’ until it is the only thing that will be able to help someone who has been ‘injured’ in some way

    I don’t think it is the amount of time in days, months, years that matters, but there is a place in our lives for ‘time out’ and for ‘private time’ and for ‘getting away’ and if we don’t honor that need when it arises, then we may remain ‘injured’ indefinitely . . .

    some folks have little choice about the busy-ness of their lives, so they take time for themselves in their own way by carving out an hour at night or before sunrise, when the house is quiet, and that time becomes very, very precious to them as a mechanism for pushing the ‘reset’ button

    some personalities need more ‘silent time’ than others, and those who are called to the monastic life likely KNOW they ‘belong’ in that life when they become aware that it exists and is for them, an option. I can think of some startling examples, notably the beautiful actress Dolores Hart who entered a convent, having visited one for a weekend break from working in New York City, and ‘something happened’ there and she felt drawn to return, and when she did, she KNEW . . . and never regretted her decision.

    For the monk or nun in all of us who seeks solitude, if only a cup of hot coffee, a lit candle, and a Book of Psalms early before sunrise, I say ‘yes’ . . . take the time . . . that ‘hour’ nourishes the part of us where we are being renewed by God

    • Damaris says:

      Yes, very true, Christiane. And whatever we think about a lifetime pursuit of monasticism, many of us here on iMonk have been grateful for the havens that monasteries have provided, even for those who aren’t Catholic. Places like Gethsemani, St. Meinrad’s, and many others are maintained partly as beacons of rest and grace for those of us still in the fray.

  12. Jacob C says:

    The idea of vocation that Luther taught is something many Christians have evidently never heard of. I have heard Baptists, who pride themselves on being as far from Rome as possible, say things like, “So and so in in full time Christian service while this other person is in the world.” The person spoken of as being “in the world” has a secular vocation, and it is almost like this is a sinful thing. I’m picking on Baptists here, but I am sure that this view is common in general Evangelicalism as well.