(AI) Peter Berger–What could monastic life look like in the early 21st century?

Two recent stories in The Tablet (the British Catholic journal) at least give a hint of how one might think about this problem.

The two stories, both dated September 13, 2014, were put under a heading “The New Monasticism”. Story #1, by Liz Dodd, reports further on a development that I had commented upon in an earlier post: the invitation by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a group from the Community of Chemin Neuf to live in Lambeth Palace (his historic residence). This project is now taking on a clearer shape. Chemin Neuf was founded in France in 1973 by the Jesuit Laurent Fabre. Originating in a Catholic charismatic prayer group in Lyon, it has now morphed into an international movement that does indeed propose a new model of the monastic life. Affiliates of the movement live together around a daily practice of communal prayer. In that respect the new model of monasticism doesn’t differ much from the classical one. In other respects the difference is radical. There are no vows of permanence, individuals stay for shorter or much longer periods. The mix of people includes clergy and laity, men and women, married couples and singles, Catholics and other Christians. While living in a community, individuals work outside at all sorts of jobs. As of September 2015, twenty individuals will move into Lambeth Palace, and stay for one year. The mix will be much like that of the Chemin Neuf model, though the spirituality will be Benedictine (Welby is a lay affiliate of the Anglican version of that order) rather than Jesuit. The Lambeth experiment will be called the Community of St. Anselm. The name emphasizes its English location, but also the unity of Western Christendom before the great schism of the sixteenth century (Anselm was of Italian origin, a Benedictine monk and one of the fathers of Catholic scholasticism. He was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1033 to 1109).

Story #2, by Riccardo Larini, is about the Community of Bose (a town in Italy), founded in l965 by a Catholic layman, Enzo Bianchi. It is similar to Chemin Neuf in its ecumenical emphasis, though it is closer to the classical model of monasticism in that permanence is assumed. The Community had its origin in the radical student movement of the time and it continues to combine its spirituality with political activism. Its main focus is ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Bianchi has recently been appointed as an advisor by Pope Francis I. Significantly, Bianchi was a close friend of Roger Schutz, who in 1940 founded the Order of Taize (though it was only called this much later). Schutz was a Swiss Reformed pastor, who during World War II was active in helping Jews escape from Nazi-occupied France to Switzerland. After the war Schutz and a few disciples created a sort of monastery at Taize in the heart of Burgundy. The group developed its own distinctive liturgy, which is congenial to its ecumenical membership””Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox. This too has now become an international order, whose members live and pray together, but disperse into the world in order to work. Taize has become a destination for pilgrims, mostly young people from all over Europe. I was there once, years ago. It is a tranquil place in a hauntingly beautiful landscape.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Church History, History, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer

One comment on “(AI) Peter Berger–What could monastic life look like in the early 21st century?

  1. Vatican Watcher says:

    It would be interesting to know the numbers involved for these new communities outlined in the Tablet stories. How many are joining? How many are sticking it out for a decent period of time? What is the rate of churn over time as people come and go? What’s the average age at each community?

    These are important in order to judge if these new forms of community have any true vitality as compared to the post-Vatican II reformed Catholic congregations and the Catholic congregations that either retained or returned to the old pre-conciliar ways. The reformed congregations, many of whom adopted a life much like what these new communities are going for, are dying out fast. The unreformed are experiencing a boom.