Friday, March 14, 2014

CHAPTER 31: The Kind of Man the Cellarer Should Be

Let there be chosen from the brotherhood as cellarer of the monastery a wise man, of settled habits, temperate and frugal, not conceited, irritable, resentful, sluggish, or wasteful, but fearing God.  The cellarer should be like a father to the whole community.

‘Cellarer’ is monkish for ‘treasurer.’  He’s the guy who keeps track of all the stuff: clothes, tools, money, and most importantly, food.  Part of the reason you join a monastery is so that you won’t have to worry about these kinds of things; but someone has to keep track of them, so the abbot chooses a cellarer, and this is the man to ask when you need a new toothbrush or a new habit or a sack lunch.

In its own way, the office of cellarer is a powerful position in the monastery, which is why it is so important that he be humble, mild mannered, and wise.  Moreover, material things can be a great temptation, even in a spiritual community (see the story of Judas for more on that), so the cellarer has to be the sort of person who can watch over the monastery’s possessions without becoming too attached to them.

At the same time, however, this office is important because the things themselves are important.  Throughout the centuries, Christian sects of one sort or another have slipped into the error of believing that our existence could be neatly divided between the spiritual and the physical—that the spiritual world was good and the physical world was bad.  To be sure, the spiritual is more important than the physical (your soul is more important than your body, for example) but you have to be careful not to draw too clear a distinction.  To do so is not only wrong, but dangerous, because as soon as you start to scorn the physical world, you become capable of abusing it.  I think this is most likely to happen when Christianity is divorced from the Sacraments and reduced to a “religion  of the book.”   It is the Eucharist above all (that miraculous fusion of physical bread with the divine essence) that protects us from this heresy.  It also reveals a world of mystery and miracle.  When we have accepted this truth that all creation—both spiritual and physical—is good, we can say with the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

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