Dom Médard Kimengwa Kitobo, OSB
Monastery of Lubumbashi, Kiswishi (DRC)

The Cellarer according to the rule of S Benedict
A Father to the whole community,
as the Abbot and with the Abbot

An account of a Conference given

at the meeting of MAC by Dom Simon Madeko



Why should we be interested in the spirit and motivation which ought to animate the behaviour of the cellarer in a monastic community in the Benedictine tradition?

We live in a world which has a conception of economy not necessarily in harmony with our monastic ideal or with Christian ideals in general. The problem is that basically we are the heirs, by way of Greek culture since Plato, of an anthropology (a vision of humanity, of the human composite) which is dualist, or in other words, negative. This dualist anthropology determines the current conception of the economy which is an outrageous simplification, to the point of being a caricature.

This conception operates a dry distinction between economic (temporal) and spiritual life. Consequently the religious superior, abbot/abbess or prior/prioress in our Benedictine context, is the person who has exclusive charge of the care of souls with no connection to the material and temporal life (everything which concerns the production of goods, the provision of means to reach that point, their sale and their division) which is the business of the game-keeper of the economy, the cellarer.

But in the context of Benedictine spirituality is this conception correct, that the superior has nothing to do with the material life and the cellarer nothing to do with the spiritual life? In this case it would be normal that the cellarer should miss out the hours of prayer and other spiritual activities to complete the administrative and other tasks. This conception is simplistic and false.

Nothing could be further from the truth than this caricature, particularly in view of the Rule. There is no separation between the two domains. Concretely, in the Rule, the abbot is identified not only by his role in spiritual matters but by anything which touches the human person, including the material life. He must be concerned with the material life, without which the spiritual life cannot develop. Monastic life presupposes a decent level of material life if it is to develop. If the abbot is to generate sons who can conform to the will of God, their Father, he must look after the necessary material conditions. Did not the ancients say that a minimum of well-being is necessary for the practice of virtue?

According to the Rule it is incumbent on the cellarer to look after the temporal (economic) life of the whole monastery (RB 31.1). But St Benedict does not stop at this formulation of his mission. He also indicates the spirit which must characterize his action in looking after temporal affairs. Concretely, St Benedict says that the cellarer ‘should act in collaboration with the abbot, behaving like a father for the whole monastery’ (RB 31.2). This is very important. Father like the abbot, so his mission is indeed also spiritual. He shares with the abbot in the exercise of his mission. Like a father for the whole monastery, just like the abbot, the cellarer participates in the exercise of his ministry in generating sons for God, which is the prime mission of the abbot. Therefore the cellarer has also the mission of caring for the souls of the brothers in the monastery. If he has nothing to give he will respond with a word of goodness (RB 31.7, 13). No question of refusing for the sake of refusing, but ensuring that the brothers are born to the life of the Spirit.

MadekoKoubri2019The cellarer must act like the abbot. He must take note of persons. He must work in close collaboration with the abbot. In the exercise of his task he must do nothing without the order of the abbot and uniquely put into practice what the abbot has commanded (RB 31.4-5; 12.15). If the cellarer enters into that sort of relationship with his abbot his obedience is to achieve peace in the monastery. He is told that if there is no harmony he must answer for it (RB 31.9, 16).

The style of life or of spirituality implied by the economic question in the monastery should be aimed principally at the care of the human person, a sacred vision. The cellarer is instructed to treat the goods of the monastery as the sacred vessels of the altar (RB 31.10) and to sell products without greed (RB 57.4-8).

In other words, what is important in the economic activity of the monastery is not material gain but the well-being of the human person in the search for God. Those who have to do with the material organization of the monastery need to consider the primacy of the human person without sacrificing it on the altar of economic efficiency or of economy as such. Do the measures which I take and the actions which I pursue contribute to the development of the human person and to the peace and harmony of the community?

Having created Man in his own image and likeness, God wants him to stand proud, for God finds his glory in Man and his dignity (cf. St Irenaeus of Lyons). All the commentators on the Rule of St Benedict unanimously recognize that what makes its permanent actuality is its adaptation to every human person within the interplay of the community. The whole horizon of the Rule is human dignity, in which Benedict conceives monastic life as an enterprise of conversion, of return to God by work, the way of obedience after the subjection of the human will (RB Prologue 2-3, 8).

The need for a spirituality with this horizon of attention to human nature can be seen in an economic current, ‘social economy of the market’. Care of the human person or attention to Man is, on the other hand, the last of the cares of what is called economic liberalism of ‘wild capitalism’. If in the market economy there is any interest in the human person, in wild capitalism there is none, what is uniquely important is gain. Indeed, as citizens of the Congo and participants in this session at Goma in North Kivu, not far from South Kivu and Ituri, we can apply this conception of economics to consideration of the grumbling, interminable war which affects people obliged by the threat of arms to leave their homes – ‘let them die’. This is of no concern to the multinationals and their managers who are their lackeys. The fact that the Italian ambassador was sacrificed is of no concern to their interests. The world may stir for a moment on seeing lifted a corner of the veil which covers the pangs of this infamous war, but immediately afterwards silence returns, imposed by the god Mammon, the master served by the new masters of the world, the controllers of the world bank.

To keep all due proportion, Max Weber can be held to be the ancestor of social market economy notably by his book, L’éthique du protestantisme et l’esprit du capitalisme (1904/5). He there shows how the Scandinavian countries, under the influence of Protestantism, have come to know an economy which puts Man at the centre. According to him Protestant ethics generated a capitalism with a human face.

This makes it possible to understand why market social economics is favoured by the Magisterium of the Church though its social teaching since Paul VI and his encyclical Populorum progressio (1967). But Paul VI himself espoused an eccleial sensibility on the question, a sensibility which is to be found already in Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) and in John XXIII in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (1961). Their successors have continued to walk in the same direction, as one can see in John-Paul II (Laborem exercens, September 1981; Sollicitudo rei socialis, December 1987; Centesimus annus, May 1991), Benedict XVI (Deus caritas est, 2005, chapter 3: Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, November 2011) and Francis (Laudato si’, May 2015; Apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, February 2020). In the different positions taken on these occasions on, among others, the questions we are considering, the Magisterium of the Church attempts to encourage Christians and people of good will to take stock of human dignity and to give preference to humanity. With all this, we realise that the spirit which must inspire the cellarer in his office has a solid foundation in the Magisterium.

In this context, what spirit should inspire the cellarer? What should be his style of life in the exercise of his mission? In answer to this situation and linked to our ideal of life at the basis of our conception of the economy there is belief in divine Providence. We are aware that sometimes our economic investments, despite all precautions, do not give a sufficient return. So we must live, produce, share our assets and at the same time remain humble in asking help and trusting in Providence. And we must share an awareness of the economic factors of the world capitalist economy to educate the masses.

Echoing all these preoccupations and uneasiness expressed by participants facing wild economy Fr Simon wakes us up by the following propositions:

Faced with aggression by the liberal economy why not set up a network of sale of the products of our monasteries (MAC) in which the conditions of production respect human and environmental dignity? Promote private initiative, enter into partnership among ourselves and with others. Set up a co-operative, an ethical circle! After all, with the populations which surround us we are victims of the liberal economy. The supermarkets are strangling us! We are conditioned by publicity. That is why we must be critical of the information which is flooding to us.

To enter this circuit we must realise the potential of what we intend to put on the market. They must be quality products and above all ethical to attract the clients who lean toward us as alternatives to supermarkets. In the same registers, to promote solidarity within the functioning of the economy of our monasteries we can also think of the possibility of a health co-operative for our monasteries of the MAC as an expression of our attention to human dignity in our research for a healthy financial situation. This would be a good illustration of our productive effort putting Man at the centre.

In short, our principal concern is the spirit which must animate those who have direct responsibility for the management of the economy envisaged by Benedict, the cellarer and the abbot in particular.

It is a matter of entering into the spirit of the economy according to the father of Western monks. This is the perspective of an economy according to the spirit of the Rule. At this school the economy is built on a spirituality.


Monastic Life according to the Rule of St Benedict

St Benedict conceives monastic life as a way of conversion, of return to God through the labour of obedience. And this, after the fallibility of the illusions of personal will and autoregulation (cf. RB Prol 2-3.8). The destination of this road is the return to God, eternal life or more simply an authentic life, the kingdom of God, the life of communion with God, beatitude (RB Prol 42;5.3,10; 7.11; 72.2, 12).

When Benedict makes of ‘eternal life’ the ‘kingdom of God’ or ‘joyful days’ the terminus of the journey back to God which the monk undertakes he is not thinking of final ends; but an experience already in the present life, harmony lived with those who share the life of the monk in the same monastery. The concrete place of the experience of this beatitude and this peace is living according to God’s commandments, a life enlightened by the Word of God. In other words, St Benedict asks monks to undertake this road by leaving themselves to be guided by the Word as principal source of action and light to their step day by day.

In conclusion St Benedict wanted monastic life to be like a school for learning to serve the Lord or being totally given over to service of the Lord.

In the living out of the gospel ideal, apart from the determination to make monastic life a school of the Lord’s service, Benedict also wanted monastic life to be a workshop at the interior of which the spiritual art was exercised (RB 4.75, 78). The monastic ideal thus defined by Benedict is the responsibility of the abbot. He must incarnate and guarantee it, spreading it to all those who with him have built up the school of the Lord’s service and the workshop of training in the spiritual art.


Profile and mission of the abbot according to the Rule (RB 2 and 64)

MadekoGedonoOn the profile and mission of the abbot according to the Rule the yield of chapters 2 and 64 are filled out by others: 21-24; 28;31-33; 36; 39-41; 44,47-51, 53-57; 60; 66-68; 70.

The abbot in his capacity as guarantor of the ideal which Benedict proposes to his disciples, has the mission of guiding the monks entrusted to him in the realization of the ideal of return to God. This is because he makes Christ present: through him God engenders, or better re-engenders, sons. He is not Christ, but makes Christ present by his witness and by his teaching, by teaching, but in a particular way. Teaching is not the problem but the manner of teaching. He must teach by his word, inhabited by the Word of God. He must possess this Word, proclaim it, explain it, but above all illustrate it by his example, his witness of life, its actualization. For example, in correcting others he corrects himself. He needs to care for his monks, but on the condition that the monks open their hearts to him, laying open their spiritual sicknesses, as for example submitting to him what they want to offer to God during Lent, so as to realize it with his prayer so that they do not fall into presumption and vain glory. This form of abbatial paternity, according to St Benedict, is the heritage of the figure of spiritual fatherhood in the tradition of the deserts of Egypt and the origins of monasticism, a figure immortalized in the Apophthegmata.

For the spiritual development of his monks the abbot must pay special attention to necessary material conditions. In other words, for the temporal life for which he primarily is responsible. Superiors are primarily responsible for the temporal life of the monasteries confided to them. Concretely, St Benedict foresees that the monks sleep in good conditions (RB 22) with a dormitory for themselves, for example. He must also ensure the quality of food and drink (RB 39). He is a realist if ever there was one! He must also look after the weak (the elderly, the sick and children – RB 36 and 37).

For the sick his vigilance goes further: Benedict prescribed that there should be an infirmary where the sick must receive due attention
(RB 36.7-8). Among the weak in the care of the abbot Benedict mentions also strangers, pilgrims and guests. He is instructed to oversee that they are well received, notably with a lodging under the care of someone who fears God (RB 53.16-22). The issue is that no one should remain outside the care which the abbot provides for the monastery.

Definitively the community in which the monk must configure Christ should have everything necessary on the material level (RB 66.6). To have everything is a universal proposition. It is a community in which one should find different instruments for different tasks. The abbot is asked to hold an inventory of them (RB 32.3). Why not think of holding an annual inventory?

The abbot must also ensure that the monks of his community have the necessary kit for their work, adapted to each person (RB 2.23-32; 33.5).

The mission of the abbot, then, consists in this, that all the members should be in peace (RB 34.5). A minimum of peace would make our monasteries a paradise. But our sin makes this impossible. All the members, including those for whom one does not have a good feeling, must be at peace, for in the bosom of the house of God which the abbot governs no one should be sad or preoccupied (RB31.19). Every morning he should look at each member of the community to test the state of soul: is he or she in peace or troubled? Does she or he have problems?

The economic health of the monastery is an important dimension
for the development of psychological and spiritual health of each member. Peace and harmony is a factor for each monastic vocation. This is why in the Rule the abbot appears as an agent of a superior authority to whom he must render an account (RB 2.1; 4.7-8, 20-21). He is the manager of the monastery as a whole in everything which touches material life as well as spiritual life, with a particular attention to each person, eager to adapt to each one. The abbot is manager of persons before being manager of its goods. If he manages the goods this is only because they are at the service of persons in the process of a return to God. Persons therefore have primacy over goods.

To avoid derogating from his spiritual mission the abbot delegates his powers to the cellarer and other officials, collaborating with them. In addition to being a manager he is also a teacher of the Word of God which he has to actualize. As well, he is a father in reference to Christ, and he must keep his monks safe, loving them as God loves his children, and insuring that they have bread to eat. In the last analysis he is a pastor, a shepherd, a doctor. He is called to have compassion and to care, to look after especially those in difficulty. Superiors of communities must learn to do without sleep sometimes to merit their role as father or mother. There is no merit in being the sole perfect person in a community of delinquents. We will complete the course together.

The spirituality of the cellarer should be sketched beside that of the abbot by the fact that the cellarer acts like a father, imitating his abbot and generating sons for God. According to the data of the Rule the identity and mission of the abbot which have repercussions on the cellarer are those of incarnation with relation to justice and peace. This spirituality prescribes that

• The cellarer is marked by the fear of God, virtuous, clothed by the Word of God to be transfigured by it, finding in it consolation and strength.

• He should be obedient, submissive, docile and attentive (RB 31.4)

• He should be charitable, sympathetic, discerning, ready to give a special place to the weak in the conviction that the goods entrusted to people should be first of all put at the disposition of the weak. It is a diaconal ministry of service.

• He should have a responsibility with regard to people and possessions in developing a freedom with regard to worldly things, but also developing a confidence in Providence.

• He should be humble, open to collaboration in the knowledge that he is a useless servant.

• He should be honest.

Basically the cellarer no less than the abbot is invited to live a spirituality of the Cross. The cellarer is the one who looks after the temporalities for the salvation of souls. From this fact the abbot and the cellarer are linked in a special collaboration in confidence, faith, peace and harmony.