17 February 2009

Ora et Labora?


In honour of the return to blogging of ‘Felix Culpa’ at Ora et Labora, I’d like to say something briefly about the title of his blog. As a devotee of St Benedict, I have become somewhat acquainted with this motto. It is frequently associated with Benedictine monasticism, and no wonder! As Terrence Kardong has observed in his interesting and occasionally humourous article, ‘Work is Prayer: Not!’, ‘Benedictines themselves have cheerfully plastered this motto on everything from their napkins to the carving above the front gate.’ But Kardong is anxious to clarify, first of all, that this motto, ‘Ora et labora’, does not appear in St Benedict’s Rule itself; and second, that the mistake some have made of reading it as suggesting that ‘Work is prayer’ is completely foreign to St Benedict.

As to the first point, Kardong notes that the motto does not appear until the nineteenth century. He cites an article (Marie-Benoît D. Meeuws, ‘Ora et Labora: devise bénédictine?' Collectanea Cisterciensia, 54 [1992] 193-214) as demonstrating that it originated with a popular book by Fr Maurus Wolter, whom—as the abbot of Beuron—I’ve already had occasion to mention on this blog.

Concerning the second point, Kardong refers to a mistaken quotation of St Benedict as having ‘once said, “Work is prayer”.’ But Kardong points out, ‘Now Ora et Labora is very close to Ora est Labora. Unless you know some Latin and are very careful with words, a qualification which eliminates most people, it is easy enough to arrive at Labora est Ora and blame it on St. Benedict.’ Furthermore, it is true that St Benedict considers work important, since in RB 48 he writes, ‘[T]hen are they truly monks when they live by the labour of their hands, like our fathers and the apostles’ (The Rule of St Benedict in English and Latin, trans. Justin McCann [Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic, n.d.], p. 111).

As Kardong goes on to demonstrate carefully, however, the Rule never merely equates work with prayer, but provides a rigid daily structure, the orarium, allotting time for work, prayer per se, and reading, often referred to by the Latin phrase lectio divina. Concerning the relationship between these three, it seems to me that Kardong’s take could stand to be supplemented by Armand Veilleux on lectio and the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé on meditatio—in the latter’s estimate something very like prayer of the heart (The Rule of St Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary, trans. John Baptist Hasbrouck [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1983], p. 242). In this context, de Vogüé says something similar to, but I believe richer than, Kardong:

Rightly has someone protested against the famous formula Ora et labora (Pray and work), wrongly presented as a complete summary of the monk’s life. In fact, as was said, a third term should be added: Ora, labora, lege (Pray, work, read) [he cites J. Winandy, ‘La spiritualité bénédictine’, in J. Gautier, La spiritualité catholique (Paris, 1953) 13-36, specially 33-4]. We in our turn would readily plead for one further enlargement of the formula: Ora, labora, lege, meditare. Without meditation the monk’s day is incomplete. Continual prayer lacks its support, reading lacks its prolongation, and work lacks its accompaniment. This work of meditation truly deserves a place among the fundamental elements of the monastic life, for it binds the chief occupations together and cements their unity. (p. 242)

Of course, as he is an Orthodox clergyman, I’m sure all of this, or something like it, is implied in the title of Felix Culpa’s blog, so I certainly don’t mean to protest his use of the formula. But it is interesting to see what the Benedictines have to say on the subject. Incidentally, while it’s been some time since I read it and I don’t recall much about his conclusions, Dermot Tredget’s paper, ‘Can the Rule of St Benedict Provide an Ethical Framework for a Contemporary Theology of Work?’ seems like another interesting consideration of St Benedict and labora.

The image above shows a sundial at Reichenau Abbey with the motto ‘cheerfully plastered’ on it. I found this on the eponymous blog, and Felix Culpa gives a full explanation of its provenance here.

11 comments:

Felix Culpa said...

Actually, this is all news to me. I chose the title for the very simply reason that it sounded cool!

aaronandbrighid said...

Reason enough, as far as I'm concerned, but I had to give you the benefit of the doubt!

Felix Culpa said...

Too kind, too kind!

You should really link to the July 11, 2008 post, since it gives a full explanation of the sundial

http://ishmaelite.blogspot.com/2008/07/saint-pirminius-in-reichenau.html

aaronandbrighid said...

Yes, thank you, I didn't remember this, but I've added it now. I'd also like to repost this on the 'German Orthodox Church' blog my friend started, if you don't mind.

Macrina Walker, ocso said...

I'm pleased to see someone picking up on Dom Armand's work on lectio. From my perspective this has not been adequately appreciated in too many Catholic (including, regrettably, monastic) circles. It's something I'd thought of writing on, but hadn't got to yet...

aaronandbrighid said...

Sr Macrina> Yes, I'm not terribly familiar with Catholic circles, but from what I have seen Dom Armand's perspective certainly does not seem to have been appreciated, if it's been noticed at all. I don't want to pry too much, but what do they think of the writers I've referred to at your monastery?

Macrina Walker, ocso said...

Well, I'm a bit hesitant saying much about my monastery in public, but in general terms I'd say that Kardong and de Vogüé are known and probably seen as fairly mainstream, although I'm not sure how many people really read them. Dom Armand is known but his perpective on lectiovirtually unknown and would probably be seen as shocking - I came across it as a novice, found it most refreshing but did not receive much encouragement from others, although that may have changed a little by now.

By the way, I was interested in your positive reaction to Michael Casey a while back. I'd been put off him because their is a bit of a cult around him in Cistercian circles and so hadn't really got down to reading much of him, something that I should perhaps rectify.

aaronandbrighid said...

Sr Macrina> It's interesting to hear about your monastery, though I understand your hesitance and I don't mean to cause you temptation or push you into saying more than would be prudent. Personally, having read de Vogüé, I really can't imagine trying to understand, much less live the Rule without him now. Though I suppose it helps when you have experienced examples and living guides and so on!

As for Michael Casey, the only book of his that I've read is Strangers in the City, but I really thought it was excellent. Not indispensable like de Vogüé, but really good. In his photo on the back he doesn't look like he would make a very good cult figure, but maybe he's different in person! ;-)

Macrina Walker, ocso said...

I wouldn't want to imply that Michael Casey is a cult-like figure - it's more the way his books are sometimes received, which is probably more a reflection of my own prejudices than anything else!

You are starting to convince me that I'll have to do something about reading de Vogüé. I'll put him down as second choice on the list for my Lent book - we virtually always get our first choice but it's possible that my abbess might get the idea that I should read more Catholic authors (my first choice is Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex) in which case I'll spend Lent ploughing through a dictionary! More seriously, I think that I must propose ordering him in English as most of the Dutch are more likely to read English than French.

aaronandbrighid said...

Don't worry, I knew you weren't saying anything about Casey himself, it was just a poor attempt at humour!

If my incessant campaigning manages to convince a Cistercian to read the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé, it will, I think, be one of the greatest ironies of this blog!

Faten khoueiry said...

Hello I want to ask you that in hindu religion we find source karma yoga which is "work is worship" what does the bible say concerning work from mowing the lawn to helping the poor is it considered worship or service to god?