02 July 2016

Discoveries Among Benedictine Books

In the last few weeks I’ve made a happy series of discoveries about connections between some of my books. I’ll begin with the series of histories of English monasticism and religious orders by Dom David Knowles, which my dear friend, the old Ochlophobist, sent to me a few weeks ago. I began slowly reading the first of these upon receipt—The Monastic Order in England: A History of Its Development from the Times of St Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 943-1216 (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1950)—and there are still three more to go: The Religious Orders in England, Vols. 1-3.

A footnote at the bottom of the first page of The Monastic Order in England made an intriguing reference to a work I had been rather mildly interested in for some years: ‘For a general view of Benedictine history, polity and life Abbot [Cuthbert] Butler’s Benedictine Monachism (1919; 2 ed. 1927) stands in a class by itself.’ [1] Thus it was that during my solitary sojourn on the campus of the University of Oklahoma a few weeks ago, I was excited to discover a copy of the second edition of Abbot Butler’s work in the old stacks of the Bizzell Library. This copy was a later reprint featuring a foreword by Dom David Knowles, and it was this forward that determined me on acquiring the book for myself. Knowles writes of Benedictine Monachism: ‘It was accepted at once as being, what it still remains, the best historical and analytical survey of Benedictine life in the English language, or indeed in any language, even if we may go to others for a fuller historical account or for a more adequate definition of the monastic spiritual ideal.’ [2]

Having received a copy in the mail earlier this week, I have begun reading it for myself. It is in this way that I made two more fun discoveries.

First, I learned from the second footnote of chapter II that Abbot Butler is responsible for the article on monasticism (and, according to a footnote on p. 16, an article on ‘Basilian monks’ as well!) in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911), which rests on the shelf just a few feet away from me. I have not yet read these articles, but I now intend to.

But second, at the bottom of the very same page where Butler references his own EB 11 article, he also writes:

If it be desired to control what is here set forth by reference to historians of monasticism who stand outside the movement and criticize it from an independent standpoint, no better books in English can be recommended than those of Hannay and Workman, mentioned in the List of Works. [3]

Upon turning to the List of Works, which immediately precedes the beginning of chapter I, I found this:

It will be of interest to name also two writers who view monasticism from outside with a critical though not unfriendly eye; they both write with wide and accurate knowledge of the literature, old and new, and with sympathetic understanding: James O. Hannay (clergyman of the Church of Ireland), The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903); Herbert B. Workman, Principal of the Westminster Training College (Wesleyan), The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (1913). Both books are frequently referred to in these pages. [4]

Although I had never heard of Hannay’s work, I immediately realised that although I had not recognised his surname, Workman’s Evolution of the Monastic Ideal was familiar to me as a book I had purchased in paperback reprint several years ago for just a few dollars (and which, embarrassingly, I have also not yet read!).

But the final discovery really brought a smile. The forward to my reprint of The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal was written by none other than Dom David Knowles, OSB! [5]

[1] Dom David Knowles, The Monastic Order in England: A History of Its Development from the Times of St Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 943-1216 (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1950), p. 3, n. 1.

[2] Dom David Knowles, Foreword, Benedictine Monachism: Studies in Benedictine Life & Rule, by Dom Cuthbert Butler (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1961), no page number.

[3] Dom Cuthbert Butler, Benedictine Monachism: Studies in Benedictine Life & Rule, by Dom Cuthbert Butler (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1961), p. 11.

[4] Ibid., no page number.

[5] Dom David Knowles, Foreword, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal from the Earliest Times Down to the Coming of the Friars: A Second Chapter in the History of Christian Renunciation, by Herbert B. Workman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 13 pages, unnumbered.


Prior Theodore Phillips said...


I just saw this article, and thought I would offer a brief comment that the first 13 Chapters of Dom Cuthbert's monumental book are what we use for inquirers and postulants who are seeking to gain a basic understanding of Benedictine ethos prior to entering novitiate and beginning a more intense study of the Rule (for which we use the Commentary on the Holy Rule by Dom Paul Delatte, Fourth Abbot of Solesmes -- to whom Dom Cuthbert gives very high marks).

Although obviously not Orthodox, Dom Cuthbert is very keen to hearken to the spirit of St Benedict himself and the early centuries of Benedictine monastic development. This keeps his work very close to the ancient Orthodoxy of the West and makes it especially suitable for those of us who are Orthodox Benedictine monastics.

I am now very interested to find the volume by Dom David Knowles on the development of the monastic order in England.

Thank you for your article and for making this excellent work better known in Orthodox circles!


Dom Theodore,
Monastery of Our Lady and Saint Laurence
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese

Aaron Taylor said...

Christ is risen!

Dear Dom Theodore,

I must apologise that I have not kept up with the comments on this blog in quite a while. I was pleased to finally see your comment and to learn that you are making use of Dom Cuthbert and Dom Paul in your work. I hope maybe we can be in touch a bit more. You aren't on Facebook by any chance, are you? ;-)

Fr Deacon Aaron (Oblate Cassian)