The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (10)
Each day carries with it three duties: prayer, work, and reading. There should be no idleness in the monastery, and so instruction, writing, and the repair of clothing or other useful work should be provided as the Lord says, “that you appear not before me empty-handed.”
- Rule of the Céli Dè (9thcentury)
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
- 2 Thessalonians 3.10-12
Celtic monasteries were, at their best, places of intense and sincere piety and mutual love and edification.
They were also places of industry and culture – places of work. In addition to the works of ministry monks had to learn and practice – preaching, teaching, practicing soul friendships, leading in worship, evangelizing, and so forth – each monk had duties to perform daily that required him to work in more mundane capacities, whether within the monastery itself or among the members of the outlying community.
Monastic rules from this period give us some insight to the way monks were expected to prosecute their daily work. The Rule of Columcille was undoubtedly the foundation for the later Rule of the Céli Dè, cited above, in saying “Your daily occupation should be threefold, namely, prayer, manual labor, and lectio.” The Rule continues:
Your manual labor should have a three-fold division. First, fill your own needs and those of the place where you live. Secondly, do your share of your brothers’ work [that is, the work of the community]. Thirdly, help your neighbor by instruction, by writing, by making garments, or by providingfor any other need of theirs that may arise. As the Lord says, “No one should come before me empty-handed.”
From these and the other monastic rules of this period, we may discern five general principles for the work each monk was expected to fulfill, according to his daily assignment.
First, monks were forbidden to beg. Whatever were their needs, they were to look to the Lord first, then their own labors, and the labors of those with whom they shared a common rule.
Second, monks had certain work to do each day relating to their personal needs or to the needs of their brethren. This could include making or repairing garments, washing themselves and their clothes, cleaning their cells, and especially, writing and studying and copying manuscripts. All this work was to be done as unto the Lord, and neither grudgingly nor with complaining.
Third, a good deal of hard manual labor was essential to keep a monastery adequately provisioned and in good order. Monks were all expected to share in the various tasks, such as farming, animal husbandry, carpentry, carrying water, making and caring for fires, and the like, and to work hard at whatever assignment was appointed to them: “In Christ’s eyes they are truly clerics whose hands are calloused” (Rule of Ciarán). “The measure of your work should be to labor until tears of exhaustion come” (Rule of Columcille).
Fourth, all work in every aspect of a monk’s vocation was to be done with a view to serving others, especially those in the monastic fellowship and the surrounding community. This was especially to be the case with those who were in obvious need: “Let him be the servant of everyone…Let him satisfy the need of each infirm person, and let him assist everyone who is ill” (Rule of Ailbe). Keeping focused on others while working was a way to ensure that work would be done unto the Lord and out of love for neighbors.
Finally, monks were expected to fulfill all the labors of their vocation in an orderly manner, with dignity and integrity. They were to regard all aspects of their work, and not just their ministry work, as the “service of the Lord” and to see it all as “light, wonderful, and pleasant” (Rule of Comghall). They were to do their work in silence, by “patience and humility” (Rule of Ailbe), with a view to praising God for work well done (Rule of Cormac Mac Ciolionáin).
It takes all kinds of work for the Kingdom of God to advance on earth as it is in heaven. The monks of the Celtic Revival understood this, and in taking on all kinds of work themselves, in addition to the works of ministry which were their primary calling, they showed the importance of all legitimate work for the advancing of Christ’s Kingdom.
All the work God has given us matters. If we see our work within the framework of Christ’s advancing rule on earth, we will do it like those ancient Celtic monks – happily, faithfully, efficiently, excellently, and with a view to praising and glorifying God in all we do.
Psalm 90.12-17 (Landas: My Faith Has Found a Resting Place)
So teach us all our days to note that wisdom may be ours.
Return, O Lord, have pity on those servants who are Yours.
Each morning let Your love appear that we for joy may sing.
And make us glad for every day You us affliction bring.
Now let Your work to us appear; our children show Your might.
And let Your favor rest on us; show mercy in Your sight.
The work that You have given us, confirm, and to us show,
That we Your chosen path may walk and in Your precepts go.
The Legacy of Patrick
We hope your interest in the Celtic Revival is growing, and that you’ll begin looking more closely at this period as a source to inspire, direct, and equip you, just as we do at The Fellowship of Ailbe. Our book, The Legacy of Patrick, examines the lasting impact of that great saint’s life and ministry, and outlines the lessons to be gained from a more careful consideration of this period. Order your copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.