A Different Way of Acting

Yesterday’s post looked at some aspects of the cellarer’s duties and the personal qualities needed to perform them well. The second half of RB 31 goes into greater detail about how the cellarer should behave in various demanding situations.

Benedict has already reminded us that everyone and everything is, potentially at least, holy — imprinted with the divine image and to be treated with the utmost respect. Now he says that the cellarer should ‘above all’ possess humility and answer kindly if he is unable to meet a request (RB 31.13, 14). There is real psychological insight here. When someone is responsible for the welfare of others, not being able to provide what is necessary can be hard to bear. A crotchety manner, a rough answer, apparent indifference, they are all ways of masking the inadequacy and failure that the person feels. Benedict will have none of it. The cellarer must have an interior freedom about his service which will enable him to answer mildly and with patience. Moreover, just because he has the power of giving or withholding goods, the cellarer mustn’t think he can behave in a superior manner, as though he were conferring a benefit on others. There must be no arrogance or delay in giving the brethren their food, for example (RB 31. 16).

Benedict is aware, however, that the cellarer himself must be treated with consideration or nothing will get done as it should. The proper times for asking for things must be adhered to, and there should be assistants if the community is comparatively large (RB 31.17, 18). What Benedict aims at is, above all, peace and harmony in community.

I have myself been cellarer in a large and comparatively rich community as well as in a smaller and poorer one. I’m not sure which presents the bigger challenge. Mediocrity has always been the bane of Benedictine life. Monks and nuns in richer houses become too comfortable, forgetting the fervour and zeal with which they began. What was once enough becomes in time not quite sufficient, so that yesterday’s luxury becomes today’s necessity. In poorer houses, the need to economize and make do becomes in time a kind of institutionalized miserliness. It is not too much to say that the cellarer bears a great responsibility for steering a middle course, ensuring that legitimate needs are met but no luxury or excess creeps in, not even in inverted form.

There is only one way of ensuring that the cellarer is equal to his responsibilities: fidelity to prayer and constant watchfulness over his own behaviour. To some, what Benedict has to say may sound naive. All right for monks and nuns, perhaps, but not for people in the ‘real world’. It depends what you think is real, I suppose. Benedict’s recommended way of acting is different from that of some of our corporate mega-stars, but I have a hunch that it makes for greater happiness in this world and the next. It certainly makes for greater fairness. What do you think?

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11 thoughts on “A Different Way of Acting”

  1. I bought a copy of the Rule when I stayed in a Benedictine guest house. I remember that the post of the cellarer and the doorkeeper – an elderly monk who won’t wander away from hi
    s post ( if I remember correctly), struck me as being so practical.

  2. Your remarks about rich and poor communities can also apply to family life. When money is tight, it is only too easy to slip into miserliness and when comfortable (I’ve never been rich) luxuries can become necessities.

  3. It has been salutary to read these posts. I have often been put in administrative positions. After the last one I cameto realise that having the ability to do something doesn’t mean that the carrying out of the tasks is life giving. After reflecting on these blogs, I will never again say I am good at administration. I deal well with the things but not with the inter personal aspects and this is why the roles weren’t life giving. Thank you.

  4. A humble, kind approach, executed with patient mildness, is surely a good ideal for all of us to try and pursue, no matter what our station or way of life? Do we not all want to live in peace and harmony, being neither miserly nor taking our goods for granted? May I always stay faithful to my own commitment to pray and remain watchful (and honest) over my own behaviour. Amen.

  5. When you are in a management position in an orgainisation, it seems to me that your major responsibility is usually to provide the resources for the team to get on and do the job: tools, budget, training, information, staff …. etc. That definitely sounds like the cellarer.

    True, there are times and roles where the abbot’s vision and discernment are also needed – this is where management shades into leadership. Regrettably, servant leadership in the mould of cellarer or abbot is seldom appreciated or even understood within organisations.

  6. fidelity to prayer and constant watchfulness over his own behaviour

    Absolutely.
    This is why I like so much to come here and learn or be reminded of what truly counts.
    I may become a better person thanks to you! 🙂

  7. Have so enjoyed these two posts and the comments. Benedict’s wisdom is needed in all walks of life and agree with Andy, particularly within large organisations.

  8. This is so appropriate for me at the moment, as a Chair of Governors at a school, trying to support head teacher through dealing with a complaint from parents. The comment about the need for the cellarer to be treated with consideration applies in this situation too.

  9. This part of the RB applies equally to family and daily life for significant numbers of people: “yesterday’s luxury becomes today’s necessity. In poorer houses, the need to economize and make do becomes in time a kind of institutionalized miserliness.”

    I am guilty of it myself but this reminder does at least give me pause for thought once in a while.

    Thank you

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