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Congregation of Saint Maur

About the same time that some English monks were attempting to revive Monasticism in Flanders -- efforts that resulted in the present, English Congregation -- a reform was initiated at St. Vanne near Verdun, which soon spread throughout the other houses in Lorraine. The French monasteries were not slow to follow the example of St. Vanne, and in 1621 was formed the famous Congregation of St. Maur, destined after some time to embrace as many as two hundred houses.

Not the least interesting point in connection with the founding of the Maurist Congregation, is the fact that the reform movement that it embodied owed much of its success, if not its inspiration, to the famous minister of Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal, fortunately for his purpose, found a monk eminently suited to the work he had at heart in Dom Gregoire Tarisse, for twenty-five years Superior-General of the newly formed Benedictine Congregation.

The mere mention of the Maurists suggests at once to the ordinary reader a body whose claim to the admiration of posterity rests on the magnitude of its literary achievements. That such a reputation is most certainly deserved no one can deny, but it is only fair to the Maurists to say that their critical and historical labors were never more than secondary objects in their life. The primary idea of the movement was a return to a strict monastic regime and the faithful carrying out, in every detail, of the Benedictine Rule. In this connection we see that the regulations prescribed perpetual abstinence from meat, strict poverty, manual labor for all, the devout recitation of the Divine Office at the canonical times, with long hours of silence, prayer, and meditation. Nor is there any reason to doubt that, during the long and glorious period of Maurist history, literary work was never allowed to interfere with the smallest detail of monastic discipline; and the hardest workers and most brilliant savants never claimed nor obtained exemption from such duties.

At the same time, the Congregation of St. Maur has won the gratitude and respect of all succeeding generations, whatever their beliefs and callings, for the stupendous works of erudition which it produced. Not only were the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers collated and edited from manuscripts, then known to exist in the libraries of Europe, but vast numbers of historical, theological, and critical works were produced, remarkable as much for their far-reaching diversity as for their sound scholarship. Indeed, were not these monuments of colossal labor still extant as silent witnesses of the fact, it would seem incredible that so much could be done, even by large bodies of learned men, in so short a time.

But it is just in this very fact that we understand the secret of such great undertakings. The literary productions of the Maurists were the result of corporate works, and their several authors were frequently unknown. All the monks contributed their share, the labor was divided and the work, organized with a skill which deserved, and actually achieved, success hitherto unknown in Benedictine history.

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