A BENEDICTINE ABBEY
There has been a growing desire in our Church for an order of laymen devoted to the service of Christ in Community life. There are many reasons for an adoption of the Benedictine Rule. It has been established now for thirteen hundred years. It was formed in the early times to which we Anglican Churchmen appeal. The Benedictine Rule was written before Roman errors had arisen and is consequently free from every trace of them, whether modern or mediaeval. The new Community which has been formed under this Rule professes sincere loyalty to the true Catholic position and teaching of the Anglican Communion. It recognizes Episcopal authority and conducts all its work under Episcopal direction.
St. Benedict gave a Rule based on family life. The Abbot was the Father of the family. The members lived together under a common Rule of life adapted to the age and country in which they lived. In the comprehensive spirit of our Church there is room for such an order. We are in the midst of a forward movement among men. The Church is feeling the impetus of a great spiritual movement. The revival of the consecrated Religious Life in our Community is due to Dr. Pusey. He laid the foundation of the first Sisterhood in 1844. The members at first were few, but they had the prayers and guidance of a great saint. There are now, according to a statement made in the English Church Quarterly, 5000 Religious women in different societies and a hundred, and perhaps more, men. Many laymen among us are intensely desirous that our Church should regain its full Catholic heritage in doctrine and worship and be better known by the American people. A lay order can do very much to forward this glorious cause. The Church needs lay missionary helpers. There are not a few who, from a lack of trained scholarship, are not adapted to the Ministry but can do effectual missionary work. Sometimes a word from a layman goes farther than from the professional lips of a priest. Moreover, the life of a Religious gives a special emphasis to his words, and the consecrated Religious life has a great effect, not only within the Church but on those outside of her. We live in a money-making and pleasure-seeking age, with vast numbers whose intellectual horizon is bounded by the world. Worldliness, and the indifference to God, rule in the market place, exchange, in business and politics, and in all professions. The Religious Life, with its simple living, spirit of poverty, and self-sacrifice, testifies with tremendous force against the world and bears an effective witness to an unseen spiritual one. It preaches more effectively than any sermon can do. Over against the world, with its honors, pleasures, and delights, it bears witness to the blessedness of simplicity, self-denial, the following of Christ, and the Eternal reward.
Again: what our Church needs in clergy and laity is a real deepening of the spiritual life. We become so intermingled with the world as to lose the fresh enthusiasm of the early martyrs and confessors. We are lacking in that zeal and self-sacrifice which won, in early times, England and Europe to the Faith. Many of our Clergy perform their duties in a perfunctory way, and their families naturally demand their chief interest and care for their support. To preach Christ effectually the minister must preach of the Cross from the pulpit of the cross. We would say not a word against married clergy. But their work can well be supplemented by a Religious dedicated to a celibate life, and helped on also by a lay order.
Moreover, our age has risen to the importance of specializing different departments of work, making a special study of bodily diseases and social problems by scientific investigation. We need Communities whose life enables them to study and practise the mysteries of the spiritual life. How far below most of us come from the standard of that "fulness of God" revealed in the New Testament! How comparatively little is known of the science of prayer, as developed by the great teachers and saints! Laymen say a morning or evening prayer and some clergy make meditation, but in a Religious House its members would practise the life of devotion and their prayers would bring a blessing upon the Church and thus especially enrich it.
These are some of the reasons for a need of Religious Orders. It is the highest life a man can live. By it a great work for God can be done, and it has the promise of a special reward.
The Rule of St. Benedict allows for Priests. It is well that in every House there should be one or possibly more brothers in Priest's Order who can say Mass for the Community. This saves them from being dependent on the charity of outside secular clergy. But by the Rule, Priests belonging to the Community have by virtue of their holy orders no preference or standing over the lay members. They are not allowed to be called "Father," but simply "Brother," like the others. So, in my judgment, if Priests want to enter the Religious Life, they had better enter some other Order, as there are two excellent ones in our country--the Society of the Holy Cross and the Society of St. John the Evangelist. There does not appear to be need of any other.
Laymen can join either of these orders, but on becoming lay brothers, they have no vote in Chapter, and they do the work of house servants. In the Benedictine House, they are full professed choir members, and can hold any office and are the governing body.