The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (9)
Let him satisfy the need of each infirm person, and let him assist everyone who is ill...Let him be the servant of everyone...Let him be the servant of all, humble and kind.
- The Rule of Ailbe (possibly 6th century)
Show humility and joy towards friend and stranger alike, and homage, obedience, and fealty towards every person.
- The Rule of Carthage (6th century)
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
- John 13.14, 15
The orientation of monastic life, after devotion to God, was decidedly in the direction of devotion to others – denying oneself, taking up the burdens of others, and doing whatever was necessary, eagerly and with joy, to care for others in the way Christ cares for us.
Such devotion can be difficult to sustain. Since the rules of monasteries were regularly read and re-read as part of the communal disciplines of the monks, the brethren would be frequently reminded of these most essential practices, and encouraged to review their own practice in the light of each day’s experiences.
This basic orientation of servanthood was supported by various traits and disciplines which, because they were explicitly named in these monastic rules, would have been learned and practiced with diligence and care, reviewed as part of a regular discipline of self-watch, and improved under the careful guidance and oversight of trusted mentors and soul friends.
A servant of others had to be, first, humble, which is to say, realistic about himself as a representative of Christ and His Kingdom. Kingdom greatness comes through humble service (Mk. 10.43-45), and loving service is only authentic when it issues from a heart which esteems others better than oneself (Rom. 12.3; Phil. 2.1-4).
Monks were also expected to practice helpfulness: “He should never refuse assistance to a person who calls with insistence for it”(The Rule of Ailbe). Helpfulness required that a monk learn generosity, remembering that the time of his life is God’s time, not his own, and not counting his possessions as his own, but as held in trust for the needs of others. He would also have needed to exercise forbearance toward his brethren, not begrudging them whatever assistance was necessary in sharing the load of their burdens.
Monks were expected to practice honesty with one another. They had to learn kindness to be loving in every situation, not grumbling or complaining, but helping, sharing, and bearing burdens in complete silence. When monks did speak, they were to be careful to use their tongues in an edifying manner, guarding against all harsh or hurtful speech (Eph. 4.29).
The leaders of these monasteries believed it was important to commit such practices to writing and to review them frequently. Given our natural inclination to serve ourselves rather than others, and our tendency to lose sight of Kingdom values and priorities, writing these disciplines of service down, and reviewing them regularly, made it more likely that members of the monastic community would practice love for one another through various forms of mutual service and ministry.
In brief, “This is the path which leads to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, the all powerful: Let all people love God in heart and deed. To love God with all your strength is not, as is obvious, a matter for sorrow. You are also to love your neighbor as you love yourself” (The Rule of Carthage)
Monastic rules of discipline were not yokes or burdens meant to oppress those who submitted to them, or merely to keep them in line. They were a covenant with God and other members of the community, prescribing what each member must do to continue growing in love for God and expressing His love to one another. The effect of these rules was to create tightly-knit communities of worship and service, which spilled over to the larger communities that gathered around the monasteries, and into the world of paganism and unbelief through missions carried out in love.
Surely some form of written covenant between brethren in the Lord today can enable us, like our Celtic Christian forebears, to realize more of the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
1. To whom are you accountable for growing in love for God and your neighbor? How do you practice that accountability?
2. To whom is God sending you as a servant today? How should you prepare?
Psalm 133 (Tryggare Kan Ingen Vara: Children of the Heavenly Father)
Behold, how sweet, how pleasant, when the brethren dwell together;
all in unity abiding find God’s blessing there presiding.
Like the precious oil of blessing flowing down on Aaron’s vestment,
God’s anointing rests forever where His people dwell together.
Like the dew of Hermon’s fountain falling down on Zion’s mountain,
so the blessing of the Savior dwells where unity finds favor.
Lord, grant me daily reminders of my call to serve, and help me today to…
Living to Rule
If you’d like to know more about how Celtic Christians pursued a disciplined life in community, you can download our free ebook, Living to Rule. This brief overview looks at the various monastic rules preserved in The Celtic Monk by Uinsean Ó Maidín and arranges them by categories to help us in considering how to redeem our time. Get your free ebook 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.