Benedict Option

The idea has been around for some time. I will read Rod Dreher’s book, but it seems from what I have read on the Internet to be closely tied to Roman Catholic constraints and the situation in America. Some Europeans have looked into the possibility of taking at least the general idea and adapting it for the situation here.

Setting up some kind of community in England or Europe with a priest who is not Roman Catholic or at least not bound to the system and its bureaucracy and regulations would depend on a number of things in the practical order. That seems to be the general idea.

For the theory, the Romantic world view paints a picture of pessimism in regard to the modern world, the continuation of the Enlightenment and The Struggle, and the need to make a commitment to alternative living. I have discussed the notion of alternative “intentional” communities: some are more “romantic” than I am in their advocacy of hard-line environmentalism and veganism, and others seem little different from the modern world in their new forms of the old class system of those with money and power and those without. Here is the Diggers and Dreamers site about communities in England. They exist, and need to be discovered to find out what they are like. There are some Christian communities, but perhaps following some idea other than what attracts me.

This site might help to give some idea of what is involved in practical terms. Perhaps it is possible to take over an old Air Force airfield and grow crops and take a crash course in farming! Otherwise we have to go into the real-estate business, which in England is prohibitively expensive. It’s a bit cheaper over here in France, but there are many official regulations that make autonomy from the modern world difficult.

What I could imagine is some small remote farm with the possibility of modern communications like internet and 4G mobile phone coverage. That allows modern work like translation and computer programming from a distance – the advantage of being in town whilst being out of town. For as long as the system works… Some people can do small crafts, but they don’t make much money. The whole thing depends on money. to buy the buildings and land, do the necessary work of renovations and adaptation, eat and pay the utility bills, land tax and so forth. That would leave the persons interested in such a project with a “plant” already in someone’s ownership. My own house would house 3 persons at most, but someone would have to “buy out” my wife so that she could go and live in town. A tiny amount of development would be possible, but there isn’t much land. Farming would be out of the question. I have a small translating business, but the two others would have to have a means of income. Yeah….

A building or group of buildings with a lot of land permits farming, so less dependence on cashflow. But are any of us competent in farming? It’s a highly skilled job – and full time, and very hard work. I can’t imagine this with cosmopolitan intellectuals who haven’t held anything more than a bar of soap in their hands. There is the compromise of earning a living with modern technology and leading some kind of common life.

What would we want to do together? I assume that most of us appreciate privacy and some alone time, of which I got plenty in seminary, but precious little in marriage, which has improved somewhat in recent times with reorganisation of living space upstairs. There can be daily Mass and some Offices – assuming that we are not too taken up with work and working to client’s needs and timetables. There would be meals, cooking, cleaning and maintenance and some kind of interface with the outside world. The community would need a central theme, say, Romantic Christianity, but that needs to be expressed outside through writings and lectures. Otherwise we would be self-absorbed, narcissistic and would break up as a result of the first dispute. How would steam be let off? Monasteries have the Chapter of Faults which is more or less psychologically healthy.

For earning the community’s living, is there any kind of common business activity that can be envisaged? Publishing for example? That would be a part of the ministry of teaching and the written word. Who could put up the capital and get together some mechanism so that no one is the boss and no one is the underdog? There would have to be some kind of democratic system to rule the community and deal with conflict between persons. The principles could certainly be found in Diggers & Dreamers communities.

Future members would be initiated by some kind of “trial period”, but the real deal is that of the founders. I have had a bit of correspondence here and there, and I would have to meet these people and see if they and I get on in terms of building friendships. Friendship is the only way to build trust, and it’s twice the haul for someone like me who is “socially challenged” by needing people to be clear and straight when communicating what they want me to understand. I’m no leader and detest alpha dogs (I love canine dogs, not human ones).

I would love to share the things I have like my library, chapel and workshop. Different members would have assets to share. Would we be single people, married people without children, or married people with children? If the latter, it’s really going to be difficult and expensive. Homeschooling is a lot more complicated here than in America, so there is the link with the system. Medicine too from the moment someone has an accident or a health problem. I see little more than a compromise solution where the system is held at arm’s length but used to answer these issues.

The basic “ideology” has to be agreed, the Romantic world view, love of culture, the Catholic faith and liturgical life, the intellectual life, dialogue and writing. Very few will be interested and able to attempt such a thing. The vegan environmentalists have other priorities and are likely to prefer another style of music and reject any kind of structured religion or spirituality. What compromises are possible?

In my own experience, I spent about four years alone in a ropey old house in the Vendée countryside, and it taught me many things. It wasn’t always rosy, especially in winter! The money problems are always there. I married a woman from Rouen and moved up to Normandy. We live in a village and she works in town, and has no driving licence. So I have to take her to the station every day and go and fetch her each evening. Her philosophy of life isn’t quite modern, but not quite mine either. But, we live in the country and escape many of the less pleasant aspects of modern civilisation. It is still there all the same, and we can’t pretend to have only known what Novalis experienced in his family home in eighteenth-century Saxony! We can’t “un-experience” what we have experienced, and that is the limit of the community. Novalis died at 29 from TB. I’m vaccinated against it and can get hospital treatment and be cured if ever I catch it. Our world is different, both more difficult and easier.

If anyone would like to comment, they would be most welcome, or they can write to me privately (send a comment to get my e-mail address). Also, if you own a massive property and would like to donate it to a worthy cause, this might be it – if the little group can agree and get together. I’m not exactly holding my breath, but my Bishop received a hefty legacy to help buy his new pro-cathedral in Kent. Miracles do happen…

So, a few reflections on Benedict Options from a very un-romantic point of view, but still with the Sehnsucht and hope that I might reach something worthwhile in this life before passing on to greater pastures.

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7 Responses to Benedict Option

  1. Pingback: The Great Fast… | Patrick's Blog

  2. Timothy Graham says:

    I can see two possible models working, writing somewhat realistically and selfishly as a man with a family.

    (1) A fully fledged monastic community run on traditional lines at the centre of a looser lay community gathered around it in relative proximity. The lay people (some of them oblates) would worship with the monks/nuns and orient themselves around the agricultural and work side of the life as much as they wished but without strict obligation.

    (2) A looser “ideal parish” idea in which the communal bit would be worship and fasting/feasting (daily Vespers, Sundays, feasts) with a “hard core” group committed to saying the office daily. This kind of community needn’t have a tightly cenobitic life under a Rule except if some of the (unmarried) members so wished, and would simply try to attract people into its orbit by virtue of the kind of life the founding members built up together (a common farm, looking after down-and-outs or impoverished elderly, academic work, arts). A Little Giddings model if you will.

    I can foresee difficulties for communal living for a number of families unless the accommodation was very large indeed… part of the problem is the lack of precedent.

    Monasteries can be relatively stable for centuries, as can tightly knit parishes and communities like the Mennonites etc. where there is an attempt to make a kind of village with separate housing. However I don’t know of any experiments where a number of families shared a communal rule and roof under a “charismatic” leader that didn’t end in heartache or (one thinks of recent cults) in much worse.

    • In practical terms, the only kind of community I would consider would be a kind of mini-village, something like your (2). Everything would depend on the size of the community, whether there are school-age children, how people make their living and what happens when the chips are down (some kind of simple “welfare” fund). If numbers are under something like 10, everyone would be “ex officio” members of the council and they would elect one of their number for a term of one to three years to act legally in the name of the community according to defined rules. Perhaps the council can meet every month and as often as necessary.

      Indeed, look at precedents – which is why I suggest looking at “Diggers & Dreamers” for communities in general, how they work and how they manage conflicts.

      I am opposed to the totalitarian cult model too, too many abuses.

  3. Thank you, Fr Anthony. I’m finding it increasingly at work and at home that I am seen as a kind of troglodyte or freak. A while ago a colleague at work was complaining about “Jesus lovers,” and I’m sorry to say that I said nothing, all the while thinking that I love Jesus myself. I’m surrounded by women who wear trousers and other tight-fitting, revealing clothes; men who follow their genitalia around; people who work, work, work and go on package holidays, dine out, and only go near a church for funerals and weddings. I hate the culture of drugs, degenerate modern music about fornication (and drugs), the alcoholism, the immodesty, and the kind of opprobrium you get if you openly profess belief in Jesus Christ. And I also reject the idols of Equality and Diversity.

    With regard to the “Benedict Option,” as a means of getting out of the prison of modern life, it’s perfectly natural to seek out the company of like-minded people who live by similar values. Something like the Amish communities is what I’m looking for. A self-sufficient place where we grow, and make and cook our own food (all that shop-bought food is slowly poisoning us, I think) and have otherwise limited contact with the outside world. We needn’t live by a “rule;” we needn’t, indeed, belong to the same Christian Church. I am not in a utopian and I am not interested in charismatic persons or leaders. All I want is to live in a small community where I am not offended by the sight of scantily-clad people or their music, and we all go to church on Sundays.

    • I have been dropping and discussing ideas about this community, but there are obstacles, especially money and some kind of building complex that could be acquired and used. Frankly I am sceptical, unless we have people with money and commitment – and we can agree on that commitment. There is the problem of the priest: he has to be RC and obey his Bishop, he has to be Orthodox in the same conditions, an Anglican priest (mainstream or continuing) might not be accepted as really being a priest by some in the community. One possible solution is that a priest (me for example) would keep his priesthood to himself, it would essentially be a lay community and the priest called on when needed for this or that. I don’t might wearing civvies and being called plain “Mister” or “Anthony” or whatever.

      I turned my attention fairly early to the establishment of a kind of “school”, not for the education of children but a study group. My idea is to unify this group around German Idealism and the Romantic spirit which had an enormous role to play in the Catholic movement in the Church of England and continental Catholicism ravaged by the French Revolution. It would give a centre of unity. Ideally, such a group would form within the precincts of a University like Oxford or Jena, but I am no longer at university, nor are you. Perhaps, such a school under the symbol of the Blue Flower could make intellectual work the basis of any future community rather than common worship because of the radical incompatibility between Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans. All the same, perhaps a common Office (just Lauds, Vespers and Compline) would be possible from the Benedictine breviary or perhaps Sarum. There has to be a unifying point and a way to resolve conflicts.

      The village model might be possible on an old farm, with the farm buildings converted into housing, workshops, the chapel, library for common use. Another possible model is the College like at Oxford, Cambridge or Durham, where people are not regimented but have certain commitments to the community.

      The other issue is cash flow. People have to commute to wherever someone will employ them as a bank clerk, shop assistant or whatever – or come up with ideas of running a small business that doesn’t involve too much travelling. I work as a translator and only need my computer and an internet connection. Others could develop software, run a publishing business, do crafts and find a sales outlet for what they make, and there are probably lots of ideas. Perhaps the Blue Flower might diversify into publishing and we would all do that if it is viable as a business.

      I’m just throwing ideas around, unsure of whether they will ever work out. I’m going ahead with my pdf periodical with what I write and others contribute, and it might stay like that for want of will and interest. Alternatively, the Blue Flower might find rich soil and bear fruit like Christ’s mustard seed. A la volonté de Dieu…

  4. Dale says:

    Patrick stated the following: “Something like the Amish communities is what I’m looking for. A self-sufficient place where we grow, and make and cook our own food.” I also find this attractive, but one also needs to be honest about the reality of many of us. We are clueless on how to feed ourselves. Outside of a few rose bushes, I could not grow enough food to feed a bird; and I suspect that many of us who would be interested in such communities as Fr Anthony mention are perhaps more intellectual than peasant farmers.

    One should also mention that the Amish, they are indeed cute, are quite cut-throat businessmen farmers who are commercially very successful.

    • I have seen the film The Witness with Harrison Ford, and that gives an interesting portrait of the Amish. I have also driven a hired car through Lancaster County and thereabouts, in Pennsylvania. I didn’t invade their privacy, but I could see they were very industrious with farming and crafts. I don’t think Patrick would be up to a day’s work with them!!!

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