A conference given to the Friends of Mt. Saviour on Febr. 2, 1997 by Br. Pierre.

Very early in life, I was interested in the notion of objectivity.  As the youngest in my family of 8 children, I could see the mistakes and the success of my brothers and sisters. I became a hockey referee in my college years.  Monastic life meant for me a balance for the body, the soul and the spirit (corresponding to the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions in life.)  I soon got interested in the history of spirituality.  As I read, my question was: "How are people seeking God throughout the centuries?"  I noticed two major movements that we name: monasticism and scholasticism.

Up to the 4th century, Christianity is struggling to survive through persecutions, heresies and a search for identity.  When the practice of the Christian faith is made more easier with Constantine (288-337), monasticism develops; pious Christians gather around a spiritual master or move to remote places to avoid "corruption".  The Church was making compromises with the government and society.  Some Christians took radical means to "save their soul".

FORMATION:  A holy man would receive candidates who would ask the classic question: "What should I do to be saved?"  The holy man would give an appropriate answer.  One of them had a stunning answer once: "Water the broom stick."  The story says that the new monk trusted the Abbot and followed the advice. After a while, the broom stick blossomed.  Many stories of the Desert Fathers have a profound message in  spite of startling statements.

AIM:  The goal of the early monks was purity of heart. Conversion or a turning away from sin and toward God guarantee the promise of the Beatitudes..."for they shall see God."

PREREQUISITE:  No human credentials were required to join that quest.  Grace and faith in a triune God made the journey possible.

MEANS:  Reading of the Scriptures and the psalms in a liturgical context and the admonitions of the abbot provided the substance for their reflection and contemplation.

FORM:  The poetry of the texts and the music added to them touched their heart.  It increased their desire to meet God in glory as the psalmist says: "I thirst for God, the living God, when will I be, at last, face to face with my God."  We are talking of an experience of God.

RESULT:  Most of the early monks enjoyed an integration where  theology, spirituality and culture became one.  True "wholeness", we hear about nowadays, is a form of holiness.
Monasticism  Scholasticism 
FORMATION  Abbot  Master 
AIM  Purity of heart  Truth 
MEANS  Scriptures,psalms  Logic, syllogisms 
PREREQUISITE  Grace (faith)  Brain 
FORM  Desire, experience  Science,research 
RESULT  Integration  Reports,books 
In the 11th century, monasteries are in a state of renewal.  The Church in general is troubled by a lack of discipline, a need to clarify the doctrine, the superstitions and a movement of reformation.  The need for clear teaching was obvious.  A return to classic authors (Greek and Latin) led to a new way of thinking.  Universities are taking shape and scholasticism is a new way of learning.

FORMATION:  Learned men (in those days, they had the monopoly of  education) were masters, very similar to our present-day professors.  If they were asked: "What should I do to be saved?", They could not answer: "Water the broom stick."  They would be fired.  A more appropriate reply would suggest to follow "the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive way".

AIM:  A search for the truth motivated the students.

MEANS: Logic with syllogisms and the Greek philosophy were the tools of their trade.  The Fathers of the Church with their allegories were well known.

PREREQUISITE: With few books around, an excellent brain was needed to store and process all that knowledge in open discussions.

FORM: The scientific method or reasoning with facts is prominent.  Talks and debate inside and outside the classroom enable us to know the issues of the day.  The letters and sermons of St. Bernard reveal some "hot topics."

RESULT:  They could argue their cause and, like today, write position papers, dissertations, declarations, encyclicals and books.

Where are we in the face of the 2 movements today?  We are deeply influenced by the scholastic movement.  Modern monks try to adapt to the 2 ways of behaving and thinking.  Monasticism speaks to the heart while scholasticism speaks to the mind.  Here are some of the elements pertaining to each group (no specific order).
Detachment  Arguments 
Generosity  Calculate 
Service (doing)  Speculating 
Hopeful  Stuck 
Looking for 

God's will 

...a job 
Universal love  Specialty 
Faith  Evidence (facts) 
Perfection through 


Renewal  Renaissance 
Altruistic  Self-centered 
Beatitudes  Commandments 
Eastern Church  Roman Church 
The monk, through humility, is detached not only from material goods but also from ideas since the only Absolute is God. The scientist will argue his theories until proven wrong.  The heart is generous by nature.  It keeps pumping mercilessly while the mind will remind you that you have reached your 8 hours of duty.  Out of love, the monk is at the "school of the Lord's service" (doing).  The modern school is geared towards speculating (thinking).  The stability of the monk makes him persevere even in the boredom of daily because of a hopeful attitude.  Scientists may get stuck in their research or discouraged by the limitations of their predicament.  In seeking God, the monk is looking for God's will while students are ultimately looking for a job.  By his celibacy, the monk is vowed to universal love: close to nature and hospitable to every one,  Our schools tend to train for a specialty with the danger of fragmentation.  True faith is an experience of God.  The evidence of facts is at the root of the scientific method.  For the Franciscans, poverty was their way of witnessing the faith;  the Dominicans chose preaching.  The monks understood renewal as a return to the sources for simplicity.  Out of scholasticism, the renaissance reveals a new understanding and glorification of human nature.  Michelangelo presents his man like giants with big muscles and much potential between their legs.  His women are healthy and seem to produce a lot of milk.  What a difference when we look at the paintings of El Greco with elongated bodies, mystical faces out of this world where sex does not seem to matter.  Monastic living is altruistic (shared life).  Schooling is more self-centered to get the best marks.  The statue of David in Florence represents that success; he seems to say: "I stand out."  Following the Beatitudes is more appealing to the monks; it calls for a response that is qualitative rather than quantitative.  The Commandments are more precise (like supporting the Church with the tithe).  The Roman Church with its structure and canon law fits easily in the scholastic group.  The Eastern Church can show more emotions in its liturgy because its perspective is primarily from the heart.

What can we make of all those elements in a modern monastery?  We cannot forget the evolution of the centuries.  We have been formed by the scientific method.  Imagine the following dialogue if an abbot dare suggest to water the broom stick to a postulant.

Postulant: "Excuse me!"
Abbot: "Water the broom stick."
Postulant: "You are kidding?"
Abbot: "Water the broomstick."
Postulant: "Well!  Which end should I water?"
Such skepticism is no surprise because it is not "reasonable".  Some years ago, when we had a big Fall Festival, one of the monks cut two long sticks to attach a banner; the next spring, one of the stick showed some leaves on the stem.  Was it a minor miracle???  Our abbots do not feel that they have all the answers.  In many places, the life itself is the main factor of FORMATION with some tutors to provide instructions geared to individual backgrounds and needs.  The Liturgy at Mount Saviour takes a prominent place with 7 times of prayer in the chapel.  This MEANS of learning where we stand in the history of salvation, is personalized in our "lectio divina" (meditative reading) outside the chapel.  We try to maintain a prayerful attitude in all we do.  The Liturgy of the Hours is a reminder or a point of reference like the down beat of a musical line.  A melody does not stop with the down beat; so is our prayer.  A PREREQUISITE is some degree of maturity acquired in previous work situation.  The AIM is still to "truly seek God.  Our life is FORMed by an anthropology that gives room for the body as it stands close to nature and to related sciences in manual woks, for the soul yearning for knowledge and for the spirit as a means of communication in prayer.

The RESULT of our efforts is the practice of the love command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...and your neighbor as yourself.  By our commitment to seek Him, by our praise , and by faith in his mysteries, we seek the glory of God.  By mutual support, the monk exercises a social role.  With an awareness and appreciation of his own talents and limitations (self-knowledge), the monk is able to relate to others and to God.  He remains human and is in need to "bear most patiently one another's infirmities" (St. Benedict).

To Br. Pierre's page

To Mt. Saviour's page