Simon Wakeley finds a haven of ‘stability’
in a hectic world of change
THIS PHRASE meaning “To the Lord God, supreme ruler of the world”, is the motto of the Benedictine Order. Most of us will know this phrase by its abbreviation DOM found either on a bottle of Benedictine, or as a prefix similar to “Fr”, used by Benedictine monks. A couple of weeks ago I became an Oblate of Buckfast Abbey in Devon. As I drove the fifteen miles or so to get home I reflected upon what I had just experienced and what had prompted me to take this course of action.
It was something I had been considering for a long time. I had read the Rule of S Benedict a few times, spoken to those I thought could help and of course, prayed that I might be guided to make the right decision. So this was the coming together of a lengthy period of thought and prayer.
The Benedictines have been a major force in the Church for around 1500 years. In other words, the Benedictines were up and running 500 years or so before the schism between East and West. The Benedictines are then, grounded in the Christianity before the arguments of jurisdiction and theological interpretation became so vehement and uncharitable. In order not only survive for so long but to maintain their strength and vitality, the Benedictines must have something different, something special. And that something special probably consists of two things above all else. An adherence to Scripture as containing the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and that well known watchword of theirs – “Stability”. For those of us who are getting a bit fed up with the politics of the Church of England and desire nothing more than to live out our Christian lives as free as is humanly possible from arguments about what ought to be considered central to Christianity, this “stability” the Rule aims to give is something I, and others increasingly need during these uncertain times.
At the Mass during which I was enrolled as an Oblate of S Benedict, the Oblate Master of Buckfast Abbey said a few words about the importance of the Benedictine Order to European Christianity. He wanted me to realise that it could be said that without the Benedictine “stability” there would be no Christianity in Northern Europe. Pope Gregory the Great was formally
a Benedictine abbot before being created Pope. He it was, of course, who sent S Augustine, the Benedictine prior of S Andrew in Rome to convert the English. S Augustine remains an important influence on the lives of Traditional Anglicans being the patron of Forward in Faith. One of his ‘disciples’, S Anskar, “the Apostle of the North” was sent in 826 to preach the gospel in Denmark and the rest of the Scandinavian countries. And here in Devon we have S Boniface, “The Apostle of Germany” who went off with a commission from Pope Gregory II to preach the gospel to the numerous tribes and to bring the Frankish kingdom into line with Roman Catholic order.
But what was their method of conversion? Benedictines have not #been all that prominent in the theological debates that have raged throughout history. They have lived out their Rule quietly, drawing others to the Christian faith by the quality of their lives and devotion. And here is the point of these few thoughts. This same “stability” and adherence to Scripture and Tradition is what is needed in this country NOW. Britain needs faithful men and women who pray, who are firmly based on the God of the Scriptures and the Fathers, not on the passing fads that seem to so preoccupy many in the leadership of our Church. The unchurched people of this country are not stupid – they know that when the Church changes its mind on core doctrines they are getting second best, the new invention that may look good but has not been tried and tested and is full of unforeseen ‘bugs’. Sadly, I recognise that politics in the C of E are necessary if this Church is to have a hope of survival. But those of us who are not called to such a role must not feel inferior to the up-front men and women of our organisation and integrity. Such feelings can happen. The Church has always had those who enjoy arguments – thank God, (I have often wondered where Fr Geoffrey Kirk’s energy would be expended if the C of E was not in this mess! ) but it has also always had those who do not enjoy these arguments. No-one can say the Jesuits were not as important as the Benedictines in the history of the Church; the two orders fulfil different roles. But, I must admit when the Oblate Master of Buckfast Abbey, the Very Rev’d Jerome Gladman OSB said in his homily, “Simon, you are a Benedictine now, whether you like it or not!” I was glad and I felt immediately at home.
Fr Simon Wakely SSC is parish priest of All Saints, Babbacombe