Dom Notker Wolf, OSB
Abbey of Saint-Ottilien (Germany)


Monastic Entrepreneurs


NMellerayThis title may sound contradictory. The monastic aim is habitare secum, or better, habitare cum Deo. We sometimes forget that habitare secum as Gregory the Great puts it follows the words in superni spectatoris oculis – ‘under the eyes of God’ (Dial II 3,5). Monks tend justly to retire but not to be self centred in a narcissistic way. They open their hearts to God. Furthermore Benedictine monks live in communities. They are living ‘by the labour of their hands’ (RB 48,8). They are not living as sarabaites or gyrovagues living by the works of other communities (cfr. RB 1, 6.10). A good abbot has to dispose everything well so that the brothers may live in peace. He is not the only responsible person but includes his brothers in his leadership (cf. RB 3).

Contemplation does not exclude hard work. St Paul insisted that he lives by the work of his own hands (1 Cor 4.12). Nevertheless he remained with God, ‘Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Col 3.17)

If we look at our monastic history I should like to mention only the great abbots of Cluny. They were entrepreneurs in building up their abbey, in founding priories all over Western Europe. St Bernard, famous for his spiritual writings, was a great entrepreneur sitting on his horse, in search for new novices and animating people for the Crusade. Our baroque abbots constructed enormous abbeys of high cultural qualities. Our Benedictine schools have an on-going tradition.

All this needs strong organizational qualities and an outstanding leadership.

Some may have it by nature, by their character, but it can be improved. That is the reason why we have set up at S. Anselmo in Rome the summer course of leadership and the Rule of St. Benedict.

RawasenengIn an agricultural society it has been rather easy to survive, but nowadays we are embedded in the political and economic development of our modern world. It is no longer easy to find means of survival. Jobs have become very professional which need studies of modern laws and abilities. Monks are not prepared for highly professional jobs and will have to rely upon the knowledge of lay people. Nevertheless they have to run the whole place and oversee what is going on and give the orientation.

Even if we can still create our own products such as cheese, chocolate, liqueur, sweets, we have to follow the modern regulations of safety. This can become rather expensive and will only be profitable if we produce on a large scale. Other activities like the embroidery of the nuns have been absorbed by cheap Chinese industry. We have to become creative and find out new products. Monastic farms have discovered green industry, bio-gas and solar panels. Our monastic craftsmen have been rather creative in the past, and so it should be now. Perhaps we should view this problem not only from the angle of the abbot and individual monks. Why should we not sit together, the whole community, and find out some new way for the future? Not only the superior should be an entrepreneur, but the whole community should carry on a sense of entrepreneurship. This does not carry us away from God, unless we fall into danger of money-mindedness. We are created according to the image of God. Creativity is the unfolding of our gifts. It is our vocation to be co-creators with God. This is our dignity and our not always comfortable challenge. But monks have not made a vow of comfort. ‘Idleness is the enemy of the soul’ (RB 48, 1).