July 12th, 2017: Saints Anthony and Benedict and Monastic Life

It was probably Wednesday, February 15th, that Father Linsky recommended Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, historical fiction set in 12th Century England. I know that because I see that is the day I ordered it from Amazon for my Kindle. At the time he made the recommendation, the focus was on what can be learned about the financing and building of the 12th century cathedrals, but the book also gives insights into monastery life in that century.

Pillars of the Earth is the first of a trilogy. The second, World without End, is set in the same town in 14th Century England. There is more building, more daily life, more monastery insights, and The Black Death. And there is evidence that the folks are getting a little smarter, that the light at the end of that Dark Ages tunnel is being seen by some. The final book is due out this fall, and I will have to read it. If you decide to tackle them, be warned that they are about a thousand pages each and filled with gory details, abundant misbehavior, and a few virtuous characters.

There is also a Follette trilogy covering the twentieth century, and I am on the third of those. Mr. Follette has eaten up a lot of my discretionary time in the past five months.

Giving Mr. Follette the benefit of the doubt on his historical accuracy, I believe these books can help us understand how monastery life was critically important to preserving and passing along the faith through those dark centuries. And, they can help us better understand the tradition that is continued at Mepkin Abbey.

Books have been written on the topics we discussed briefly this morning: St. Anthony, St. Benedict, Desert Fathers, Trappists, monasticism in general, etc. So, I’m not going to write any essays on the subject but have looked up some good links for further edification in case any Men’s Prayer Group participants are in search of such.

Friars vs. Monks – What is the difference?

Trappist Monasteries in North America: There are twenty three, sixteen for Trappist Monks and seven for Trappist Nuns. Mepkin Abbey is the only one in South Carolina. Our Lady of the Holy Spirit is in Conyers GA, just this side of Atlanta. I went on a retreat there about 1982 with leadership of a Presbyterian Church of which I was a member. Karen and I have stopped by there on the way home from Atlanta. And, the Abbey of Gethsemane in Trappist, KY, was the home of Thomas Merton. Those are the three closest to Columbia.

Rule of St. Benedict (Online):  I don’t expect anyone will dig too deeply into this but read the short Chapter 1 for an explanation of four kinds of monks and clear judgement of which ones are “detestable” and which ones are “in every way worse” than detestable.

Brief Biography of St. Anthony (Desert Father)

Brief Biography of St. Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism

Mepkin Abbey is worth a visit. Next time you head to Charleston, allow a couple of extra hours and drive through the country to Moncks Corner. You may want to make a reservation for a couple of nights there. Even if you aren’t going to Charleston, Mepkin is an easy day trip from here, especially by the back roads. The extra nineteen minutes is time well spent. I love that drive.


By the way, the phrase, “Pillars of the Earth,” is from Sacred Scripture.

1 Samuel 2:8 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

He raises the needy from the dust;
    from the ash heap lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
    and make a glorious throne their heritage.

“For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world upon them.

1 thought on “July 12th, 2017: Saints Anthony and Benedict and Monastic Life

  1. Brian Durocher

    Thanks Darryl! I am really enjoying your recap of our meetings. Especially the ones I have unfortunately missed the last couple of weeks.

    If you like St Benedict, try John Cassian’s Institutes. Cassian is also one of the Desert Fathers and he had a little influence on the Liturgy of the Hours I understand. You can probably find a little of Cassian in Benedict’s rules as well.

    Here is a link to The Institutes: http://www.osb.org/lectio/cassian/inst/

    In Books 1-4 of Institutions, Cassian discusses clothing, prayer and rules of monastic life. Books 5-12 are rules on morality, specifically addressing the eight vices – gluttony, lust, greed, hubris, wrath, envy, listlessness, and boasting – and what to do to cure these vices!

    Also, Fr Linsky mentioned St. Bernard of Clairvaux this morning as one of the monastic Cistercian reformers. One of his writings that I’m familiar with is called On Loving God and is available online here:


    It’s not really relevant to the discussion this morning; but it’s not very long, generally easy to follow, and certainly relevant to us as we make our journey of faith in this life!
    If you just want a good summary, you could read chapters VI and XV, although there are good parts throughout. I thought the end of chapter 3 used some beautiful imagery and the last few sentences made me think a bit about the Holy Spirit as I first read it shortly after Pentecost the first time a couple years ago.

    Here is a brief description from CCEL to peak your interest perhaps:

    Description: What is love? In his text On Loving God, St. Bernard surveys the four types of love that Christians experience as they grow in their relationship with God: loving one’s self, selfish love, loving God as God, and loving one’s self in God. St. Bernard reminds us that not only did God give us life, but He gave us Himself. For indeed, “God deserves to be loved very much, yea, boundlessly, because He loved us first, He infinite and we nothing, loved us, miserable sinners, with a love so great and so free.” St. Bernard reminds us that we are indebted to God for his love and His sacrifice. Not only should we love God because it is what He deserves, but also because loving God does not go without reward. Loving God is to our advantage. The Lord rewards those who love Him with the blessed state of the heavenly Fatherland, where sorrow and sadness cannot enter. St. Bernard’s medieval prose is poetic and full of clever imagery. His work is as beautiful as it is knowledgeable.



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