A statement on the American-Cassinese Benedictine Monastic Life
Thirty Sixth General Chapter, Second Session, June 1969
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Problems
Part 3 - Life
Part 4 - Conclusion
The publication of "A Statement on Benedictine Life" by the Congress of Abbots (September 1967) has brought forth mixed reactions from the American-Cassinese Congregation. Some feel that the document is too general, trying (as it does) to speak in behalf of all Benedictines throughout the world. Others praise the "Statement" in its attempt to present Benedictine life as relevant to the twentieth century.
Although the American-Cassinese Congregation, meeting in General Chapter in June 1968, adopted the "Statement" as a preamble to its deliberations and decisions, the Chapter realized that the adoption of the "Statement" was hardly sufficient. Aware of the Congregation's problems and the need for a more specific sense of direction to assist it in the process of renewal and adaptation, the Chapter voted to constitute an Interim Committee1 and charged it with the task of preparing a statement referring to the American-Cassinese Congregation (cf. minutes of the General Chapter, page 2). The American-Cassinese statement "Renew and Create" represents the work of the Interim Committee as modified and approved by the General Chapter.
"Renew and Create" takes cognizance of those areas which are a matter of grave concern both to individual monks and to communities of our Congregation. The problems facing the contemporary American Benedictine are real, and the Vatican Council's call for renewal and adaptation in religious life demands that Benedictine communities delay no longer in giving them the attention they deserve. The General Chapter feels that "Part II: Problems" in the present statement describes the Congregational life situation, with its stresses and tensions, and earnestly hopes that the delineation of the "Elements" in Part III will assist the accomplishment of renewal. "Renew and Create" is by no means a final statement, nevertheless, it represents the results of prolonged, thoughtful discussions and frequent exchanges regarding the Rule of Benedict as it relates to life in the monasteries of our Congregation.
The General Chapter believes that the most basic problem in our Congregation today is that of Benedictine identity. One must be careful to note, however, that we do not understand identity in some static way as if the problem could be solved by the discovery and establishment of some timeless definition of the monastic life. Rather, we are now convinced that discovery of identity is a continuous process, combining fidelity to historical tradition with creative Adaptation to contemporary realities. We acknowledge that this historical tradition is frequently ambiguous and that this fact has created serious problems in our Congregation (cf. Part 11). In confronting this 'problem of identity, then, we think that the critical question is not simply, "Who are we?" but also, "What do we expect to become in view of what we have been and considering the present opportunity?" We see identity therefore as a matter of purpose as much as a matter of essence.
In consequence, the "elements" (cf. Part III) are not presented for use as a kind of facile check list for determining the relative fidelity of any community to some supposedly established norm of Benedictine life. Rather, the elements are set forth as certain time-tested characteristics of a monastic tradition reaching back to, or even beyond, the Rule of Benedict. The General Chapter is well aware that these "elements" have been interpreted in various ways in the long course of Benedictine history and is convinced that this process of reinterpretation should continue within the framework of that basic orientation. Accordingly we have felt free to suggest in describing the elements certain new dimensions of meaning or application in view of the realities of our present historical situation and of our hopes for the future. In this way, we trust that the presentation of the elements will recall our heritage and challenge us to growth and development in an era of revolutionary change.
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