On the Various Kinds of Monks

It is plain that there are four kinds of monks. The first are the Cenobites, that is, those who live in a monastery, serving under a Rule and an Abbot.

The second are the Anchorites, that is, the hermits; those, namely, who not in the first fervor of their conversion, but after long probation in the monastery, have long since learned by the help of many others to fight against the devil, and being well armed, are able to go forth from the ranks of their brethren to the singlehanded combat of the desert, safe now, even without the consolation of another, to fight with their own strength against the weaknesses of the flesh and their own evil thoughts, God alone aiding them.

The third kind of monks, a most detestable class, is that of the Sarabaites, who, not having been tried by rule or by experience, as gold is tried in the furnace, but, being softened like lead, by their works showing loyalty rather to the world, publicly by means of the tonsure profess their infidelity to God. These in twos or threes, or even alone without a master, shut up in the sheepfolds of their own choosing, not in those of the Lord, have as their law the gratification of their desires; since whatsoever they consider agreeable to their own will and fancy, this they call holy, and whatever is not to their choice they consider unlawful.

The fourth sort of monks, called Gyrovagues, spend all their lives wandering about through different provinces, dwelling three or four days now in one monastery then in another, always roaming about with no fixed abode, given up to their own pleasures and to the excesses of gluttony, and in all things more vicious even than the Sarabaites; of the most wretched manner of life of all these it is better to be silent than to speak.

Omitting all reference to these, therefore, let us proceed with the help of the Lord to formulate a rule for the Cenobites, who are the most steadfast kind of monks.

While a few types of monks our Holy Father mentions in this first chapter may no longer exist, one could say that there are still Christians that keep their spirit alive.
St. Benedict paints the Sarabaites, not as hypocrites, but idolaters. They profess to be Christian, but then worship their bellies, calling holy whatever suits them. Among Anglophone Catholics, these kinds of people are known as “Cafeteria Catholics”. These people profess to be Catholics, but then pick and chose what they believe. Their à la carte Catholicism is a balm of sorts for their deformed conscience, allowing them to indulge in their passions, especially when these lead them to commit mortal sin. Their belief is little more than a form of moralistic therapeutic deism. Many shades of Catholics fit into this category – from the nominal Catholic, to the card carrying who punches in at Mass on every Sunday. They know better than the Church. Pride does not allow them to submit in filial obedience to all the Church teaches. Perhaps we ourselves have been “Sarabaites” at some point in our lives.
As for the Gyrovague, one can still find his spirit alive in those who are unable to settle down anywhere spiritually. They are constantly hopping from one parish to another, never maintaining a spiritual director; I have even met people who “shopped” around the sui juris churches, looking for the perfect fit. They’re always on the lookout for the perfect devotion/prayer. “Catholic nirvana” is just over the fence for such as these. They will not commit because they are forever finding flaws, unable to see their own. They lack stability and so do not persevere. They are the “If only…” Catholics.

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“Stability is so passe. Gotta get out there; do mah own thing; be mah own man”

I would say that the cenobitic – monastic – life is, at its heart, a family life, and the Rule helps give it form. For a family to thrive, the members must know what the “house rules” are. They need to know what is expected of them, what their relation to one another is, how and when correction is to be applied, etc. If this is true in the natural sphere, even more so when the aim is sainthood. The Holy Rule provides the monks with stability. They know the boundaries; they know who they are and what their place is. This, paradoxically, gives them freedom.
I believe this is the same with natural families, constituted by husband, wife and children (and eventually extended family). Parents, perhaps more so than children, need to know their place. How many broken families have not resulted from parents not fulfilling their roles, not knowing who they are supposed to be? One parent thinks they are to be first and foremost their child’s friend; another thinks their child is not allowing them to be happy; another thinks children are merely an accessory to their life; husband and wife do not share an understanding of their life in common… So many scenarios where lack of a “rule”/plan leads to the downfall of a family.

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When I began this blog, in passing I spoke of why the Benedictine way of life appealed to me. As I said then, and have repeated time and again throughout these posts, I discovered quite early on that the Christian life is one of discipleship; that it can only make sense as one of discipleship. While most Catholic families will tend to find their way within a parish setting, others may feel the need of something a bit more regulated, a bit more structured. I know that this is definitely my case. Parish life, with the vague counsels (if any) given by the priest during confession, did not provide me with the stability I desired. The Lord providentially directed me to the Benedictines, and the Rule as a way of life, even while in the world, made all the sense in the world for me. Corresponding with Father Prior over the years, plus reading his and other commentaries on the Holy Rule, confirmed that the Benedictine charism was how God was calling me to be faithful to Him, even while in the world. In these past few years, having begun to make Silverstream’s particular charism my own, embarking on the path to oblateship seemed like the only logical thing to do.

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