In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 
 
 

THE BLESSED TRINITY AND MONASTIC LIFE         

In this talk my intention is to find points of comparison between the Blessed Trinity and the monastic life.  This is surprisingly easy to do in spite of the fact that the comparisons are drawn between the very august and the very humble.  Baldwin of Ford presents an elevated view of the theme: “The common life”, he says, “flowed out from the Fount of Life itself. …  ‘With you is the fount of life and in your light we shall see light.’  The common life, then, is a sort of radiance from the eternal light … a sort of effluence from the everlasting fountain, from which  flow living waters, springing up into eternal life.”  Just as the Blessed Trinity “have one common essence and one common nature, so they have one common life.  God is not alone or solitary, for God is three and one; nor is the life of God not common, for there is but one indivisible and undifferentiated life for all three persons.”  (Tractate 15.  On the cenobitic or common life)

 

            Benedicta sit sancta Trinitas atque indivisa unitas.  (Introit for the Mass of Sunday.)  Trinitas et unitas, Trinity and unity, communion and solitude.  First, solitude and what is implied in solitude, silence.  God is one divine reality, albeit existing in a threefold manner of being.  He is Deus absconditus, the hidden God, dwelling in inaccessible light, in a silence from which He utters His single Word.  By reason of His transcendence, He is ‘outside’ His creation, totally other, therefore apart, in His own enclosure, so to speak.  The Rhineland mystics speak of the ‘deep quiet’ of the Godhead.  Our separation from the world in the monastery is a faint reflection of this divine sufficiency and peace, though we must always bear in mind, even before we consider God as communion, that this sufficiency, God’s or ours, is never apartness for the sake of apartness but a solitude for others.  Yet let us be honest.  There is a need for aloneness in the human heart, as there is a need for fraternity.  There is a need for silence and a longing for unchangingness, as there is a need for exchange and a longing for dynamic action.  These are legitimate needs and longings, though they can be misused or distorted and misunderstood.  Solitude is not meant to be an escape from the demands of others or even primarily, a means of being alone with God who, we tend to think, will not make such distracting demands on us.  Such attitudes are real temptations and people in the world suspect us of having succumbed to them.  In its truest form, we would hope, by solitude, to enjoy God, to converse with Him in tranquillity, to be ourselves in His presence.  And this should tell us something about God’s solitude.  It is not sterile or empty but full of presence.  We do not long for emptiness but for communion in solitude.  We do not want to be alone, or lonely, we want to be alone with the Other.  This, too, may become a snare, if this God-given desire for solitude becomes an exclusive and excluding desire, if our rightful longing for spiritual fulfilment were to become something that wanted to take rather than to give.  Such a solitariness would turn in on itself and modulate inevitably either into tedium or an unhealthy taste for reclusion.  The true solitude which we find in God has nothing anti-social about it.  Perhaps we experience a need for this true solitude and silence - and this is only a personal speculation - because every Christian soul feels called to share in the transcendence of God, to go beyond thought and feeling into a love that falls silent, since there is nothing left to say.  And if we are called to share in transcendent solitude and silence, we are equally called to share in communion, which our finite minds have to think about in a separate conceptual compartment.  And yet, as we have seen, that which we desire most deeply is solitude in communion with God; and communion with others in the quiet of the Godhead.

 

            The reason for this, of course, is that God is not only a transcendent Being but a communion of Persons.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family which is love.”  A commentary on the Catechism (Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft) has this: “The reason God is a Trinity is that He is love… There needs to be three for love: the lover, the beloved and the relation of love between them.”  This is imaged below in every Christian family and community.  We are all meant to love one another and be loved in return, so that the love of the community is a tangible reality and creative of new life both within and outside the walls.  We are, so to speak, relational beings like the three Persons of the Trinity.  It goes without saying that the first relation of love in the monastery exists between ourselves and God.  God’s charity is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.  “This charity”, remarks Baldwin again, “is in us by grace and reveals to us in a certain way the nature of that incomprehensible charity which is God himself” and by an “inward feeling of charity, it indicates to our innermost being that the nature of charity is to love and to wish to be loved.”  Everything good shines with a more beautiful light when it is held in common with another.  “A love of sharing is not enough for the lover; there must also be a sharing of love.”  This experience causes God to be seen by us even now, for our sharing of charity corresponds to the nature of God.  Through charity we are reformed in the image of God, the Blessed Trinity.

 

            Charity incarnates itself in a loving obedience.  Christ speaks of Himself as the Son who does the Father’s will.  He speaks of the Spirit as uttering only what He hears and never on His own authority.  Obedience, humility, submission to authority are the very life of the Trinity.  As we know, these are St. Benedict’s values for his monks, thus revealing a sure instinct for the way of life in God.  The commentary on the Catechism has a good little passage on this: “Obedience goes all the way up.  It is not merely a human virtue…it is the nature of ultimate reality.  Since it was not demeaning for God the Son to obey God the Father (they are equals) it is not demeaning for human equals to obey each other.  Obedience means something totally different from what it means in the world.  It does not signify inferiority in any way.  Christ was obedient to the Father, but He was equal to the Father in all things.  The Spirit is equally divine, yet He is self-effacing.”

 

            A similar point may be made about poverty and chastity and a global conversion of life.  A monastic house, a monk or nun imitates the life of the Trinity.  When they renounce themselves for the sake of the kingdom, when they reserve themselves for God alone, and dedicate themselves in purity of heart and body, this is an image of the endless mutual outpouring in love and self-giving of the three divine Persons.  Again, I have in the past drawn attention to the alternating rhythm of rest and work in the Trinity, also imaged in our Benedictine monastic life.  To recall, here is Bl John Ruysbroeck from The Adornment of Spiritual Marriage (chapter 63), “Every lover is one with God in rest and like unto God in the works of love; for God in His most high nature of which we bear the likeness, dwells in fruition in eternal rest according to His essential unity but works in eternal activity according to the Trinity; and the one is the perfection of the other; for rest abides in the unity and work in the Trinity,”  This passage is referring to the individual soul in its likeness to God but it is very apt for a monastery where prayer and work follow each other and ideally flow from and back into each other,  Even if our prayer seems like work and struggle as well, we can be sure that there is a silent feeding taking place, a ‘quies’ being established, which we then bring to our works of charity, our daily tasks.  This is especially true of the nourishment we receive at Holy Communion.

 

            Praise is the activity, for want of a better expression, which images that of heaven and - though one does not hear this much, I think - the Blessed Trinity itself.  I praise Thee Father, Lord of heaven and earth.  This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.  These are expressions of mutual praise between Father and Son during the Son’s earthly life.  We may surmise, then, that their praise of one another in the Holy Spirit continues in heaven.  Love is the life of the Trinity and praise is an intrinsic part of love, or rather, flows from it quite naturally.  It is likewise part of God’s redeeming activity.  “Liturgy is the actual work and deed done by God’s grace in Christ: it is not merely something we do but something God does.  And what God does is redeem us, save us from sin and make us holy… It is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist that the work of our redemption is accomplished.  It is really done, not just symbolised.  The Catechism 1069 has: ‘Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption.’”  (cf Kreeft: Catholic Christianity).  As the slain Lamb, He stands before the throne of the Father as our advocate; and because we are Church, members of Christ’s mystical Body, the liturgy, the work of redemption is our work, too.  There is an apostolicity of praise.

 

             An interesting sideline - though I don’t think there are real sidelines on this subject - is the question of the existence of music in heaven.  The Bible says there is: The voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps and they sing a new song before the throne…”  Earthly music points beyond itself.  That is why, suggests Peter Kreeft, we are moved by it here; it reminds us of There, which is our home.  “It is not that music is in heaven; Heaven is in music.  Heaven is the region where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.  Heaven is both silent, like a contemplative mystic, and full of sound, like a dance or a symphony.”  Our chant and our silence then image life in God.

 

            What about lectio?  It, too, is like something in heaven, something in the Trinity.  When we recall that it is, at its deepest, contemplation of the Word.  The Father and the Son, are eternally engaged in a contemplative gaze, into which we may be caught up by the Holy Spirit when we do our humble lectio divina.  For this we need a great interior silence, where hearing and seeing of the Word become one thing.

 

            To sum up, we have considered that monastic values such as solitude and silence, fraternal life, stability, obedience, chastity, poverty, work and rest, praise and prayer and adoration, even music and holy reading are a little like the life of the Blessed Trinity.  No wonder our life feels so blessed.  It is penetrated with the values of the kingdom, both visible and invisible.  Costly to nature, of course, as well.  That is why we need to play sometime.  Does the Blessed Trinity play?  St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, G.K. Chesterton among others would say “yes”.  In Balthasar’s study of St Thérèse, cited in The Way of the Lamb, we read: “The child busies himself in play, which originates in paradise and is a creaturely reflection of God’s creative busy-ness.”  That makes play sound respectable but perhaps it is even simpler than that.  Christ came down to us as a little child.  God played among men.  That revealed the joy of heaven, God’s gaiety, His kind laughter, His springing of surprises.  Our play in His sight pleases Him, I think.  It shows that we are quite at home in His presence, that we have understood a little of the real nature of the Trinitarian life and are confident enough to embody it in our own monastic home.