Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 4

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The practicalities of the rule could however, be considered less pertinent in modern society.

Many may look at the retreat of the monks and nuns from society and feel that they are merely too scared to face the real world or that they are evading their responsibilities. Even Christians may say that their cloistered life breaks Jesus command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Their seclusion also means they are not contributing to society as may be expected. In modern society it is assumed that everyone works to build society: applying their skills in one way or another, and paying their taxes. Many would see monks as only consuming what society offers (they are entitled to NHS treatment and government pensions, after all) and not contributing.

A lot of people also see it as a waste of a life. These men and women could have so much potential to do so many things, yet they give it all up to spend their lives praying and reading.

However, 684 monasteries and convents still profess Benedict’s Rule; 11 287 monks and

10 722 nuns still live by his teachings[1]. They certainly do not consider their lives irrelevant in society.

One such group of monks are those resident at Pluscarden Abbey, near Elgin in North East Scotland. A monastery was first established there in 1230, as an order of Valliscaulians (a Benedictine Order “that combined the strictness and the spirit of fellowship of the Cistercians with some of the solitude of the Carthusians”[2]). In 1454 their white habits were replaced by the black ones of Benedictine monks as the house of Pluscarden and the nearby Urquhart Priory were amalgamated. Only one hundred years later, in 1587, however, though there was no state sponsored dissolution of the monasteries in Scotland as there was in England during the Reformation, Pluscarden officially dissolved as a monastery.

Almost four hundred years later John Patrick, 3rd Marquess of Bute, purchased the ruins of the Pluscarden Abbey and began to restore the buildings. In 1945, his son handed over the property and 23 acres of surrounding land to Dom Wilfred Upson OSB (Order of St. Benedict), Abbot of Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire. In 1948 the first five monks returned to resume the Benedictine life in that ancient place.

Today twenty-eight [3] monks are a part of the Pluscarden community (though some are resident overseas), living “an ordered Christian life of prayer and work, carried out within the enclosure of the Monastery according to the pattern established from the way of life of the original Valliscaulians brought by Alexander II from Burgundy in 1230”[4]. They even wear the white habits.

Brother Michael de Klerk OSB joined the monastery twenty seven years ago when he was just twenty one years old. He had been brought up in the Catholic faith and, whilst studying engineering at university, he became more and more interested in focussing his life around a daily routine and structure of prayer. A friend suggested he visit Pluscarden for a short retreat, however, only two months after that first visit he returned for good.

When I visited Brother Michael, I was able to ask him what he thought of the relevancy of Monasticism today and its scriptural basis. He said that, whilst there is no direct reference to a lifestyle such as his in the Bible, it has been approved by the church. Catholics believe that the traditions of the church and church leadership have authority similar to scripture in the guidance they may give to their followers, therefore, monasticism is considered to be approved by God.

He also said that whilst he wasn’t personally preaching the gospel to the nations, the place was. More people know of Pluscarden Abbey and the monks within, than know, or could have known, him personally. As a part of the Abbey community he contributes to the ministry it practices in witnessing to the world. He believes that part of that ministry is prophetic, in that it makes people consider the spiritual side of life. When people see and understand the devotion of the monks, and the sacrifices they make for their belief in God, they are forced to consider the faith which leads to that, they are forced to think about God and the church; they are forced to reflect that, if someone is willing to commit to something so wholeheartedly, there must be something behind it.

I asked about Jesus’ commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, in Matthew 25, and the fact that as an enclosed order the Benedictines don’t fulfil that. Brother Michael said that he believed Jesus had been addressing the crowd as a group, not individuals, and that it was the church as a body which was called to do this work, as not everyone has the time, the skills or the desire to do each of the tasks. Not everyone can do everything. He also said that they complete these tasks within the monastery itself when caring for and visiting sick community members and by providing hospitality free of charge through their guest houses. Pluscarden also enables other people to be charitable and show kindness, as the primary income is from donations which pay for everything from food to the upkeep of the buildings.

[1] New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia, Statistics of the Order:

[2] Holmes, Dom Augustine OSB, Pluscarden Abbey, Heritage House Group Ltd. 2004 p.5

[3] Holmes, Dom Augustine OSB, Pluscarden Abbey, Heritage House Group Ltd. 2004 p.22

[4] Holmes, Dom Augustine OSB, Pluscarden Abbey, Heritage House Group Ltd. 2004 p.28


One thought on “Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 4

  1. Pingback: Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 5 « rach’s blog

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