Category Archives: Church Conflict

Church Post-Constantine 2b: Medieval church targets

the pocket scroll

This is the second part of the second part of a series on the messy reality of Church History After Constantine. The others are: The Messy Reality of Post-Constantinian Church History and Church After Constantine 2a: The Late Antique Targets, with An Excursus on the Synod of Whitby, AD 664

This series of posts is considering those groups targeted by the official engines of the Church (be it ‘Catholic’ or ‘Orthodox’) following Constantine’s conversion in the early 300s. My main contentions, if you haven’t guessed by now, are:

  1. The church has been policing its doctrinal boundaries since long before Constantine
  2. Most of the groups targeted by the post-Constantinian Church are groups who would be considered heretical by the more doctrinally conservative Protestants who support the idea of the True Church having gone Underground in response to Constantine
  3. The use of force and encouragement of secular authorities to police the…

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A Monk’s Story Part 5

 

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pop...

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pope Paul VI during Vatican II named Mary Mother of the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

For those new to this page, I have been sharing about my life before I started working for Anne Rice.

 

Anne and I met while I was in a monastery in New Orleans.

 

I was a Benedictine monk for several years.

 

In the last post I shared with you how I made my temporary vows, received the black habit of the Benedictines, and received my monastic name, Becket.

 

Now I’d like to share with you what happened right after that…

 

In most romance stories there’s the courtship and the marriage and then the honeymoon.

 

For many, once the honeymoon ends, the story ceases to be a romance. It becomes a drama.

 

I wish that I could say the monastic life was without drama. But that would be to say that there had been no romance with it either.

 

Yes, before I became a monk, I had a romance with the monastic life. I saw the flowing robes of the black monastic habits, I heard the chanting of the choir monks, and I smelled the good incense wafting in billows throughout the cavernous church.

 

Yes, the monastic life is beautiful, in the same way any marriage or partnership can be beautiful, especially when each person sincerely desires to be united in love.

 

After I made my temporary vows, after I gained my monastic name and donned my new habit, I soon realized one important truth: The monastery wasn’t a museum of heavenly saints. It was a hospital for broken men.

 

And I was a part of them. Indeed I was broken.

 

Still am.

 

Were good men in the monastery?

 

Yes.

 

Did hurtful things happen there?

 

Yes.

 

The monastery, I soon realized, was a microcosm of the world.

 

We were perfectly imperfect men devoting ourselves to prayer and to the great struggle of loving one another with the affection of brothers.

 

After I became an official monk, I received new work.

 

Once a week I had to serve as porter, greeting guests and answering phones.

 

Or I had to ring the church bells for each prayer service.

 

Or I had to serve as waiter at lunch and supper.

 

Or I had to wash dishes.

 

Or I had to read books during meals while my brother monks ate in silence — all of which are more facets of monastic life that I hope to share with you soon.

 

But the honeymoon of monastic life didn’t end there. That was only work.

 

The drama of monastic life began when I had to learn to get along with someone I didn’t like, yet had to love.

 

Brother Simon and I did not get along, at least not at first.

 

From where I stood, he didn’t seem to have any sincere desire to be a part of the monastery.

 

As I’ve written in previous posts, the monastery has specific times for prayer. It’s our horarium. Laudes is the hour for Morning Prayer. Vespers is the hour for Evening Prayer. We have predawn prayer and nighttime prayer and mass.

 

During each of those times, I began the nasty habit of watching Brother Simon because he wasn’t paying attention to the prayers.

 

He was looking around at all the paintings in the church, and at the gorgeous architecture, and at the magnificent pipe organ, and at anything but his choir book.

 

I could not understand how anyone would want to be a monk yet at the same time seem so irreverent.

 

I brought my grievances to my spiritual director, Father Ambrose. It was supposed to be my time for spiritual direction. But I was squandering it as a chance to gripe about Brother Simon, who I thought should leave the monastery.

 

“My life would be better if he left,” I said.

 

Father Ambrose was patient and kind with me. His wise and wizened face smiled. He scratched his long white beard. He thought before he spoke. Like all sagacious men, he only needed to tell me a few words.

 

With his few words, he reminded me that I didn’t know what was in Brother Simon’s heart. My brother might be paying attention to prayer, just not in the same way that I pay attention.

 

With his few words, Father Ambrose reminded me that I might be just as guilty as my brother. Brother Simon might not be watching his choir book. But neither was I. I was watching him watch other things.

 

Here are the few words that Father Ambrose spoke to me:

 

“If you’re not bothered by Brother Simon, you’re going to be bothered by someone else.”

 

I was shaken like never before.

 

These words caused in me a cascade of thought, helping me realize that everyone is bothered by someone.

 

It’s a part of human nature.

 

But Father Ambrose continued helping me see that human nature also has a surprising capacity to transcend brotherly hate.

 

At that moment I understood: That’s what it meant to be a monk.

 

Being a monk wasn’t only about the work of prayer. I was supposed to be working what I’d learned in prayer.

 

I had been unjustly judging Brother Simon. I was looking at the outside of the man, yet I wasn’t searching for the interior life of the monk.

 

You see, not all monks are the same. We were simply men who had one important common bond: We have a deep interior life that searches for an existential truth by means of work and prayer.

 

We worked together. We prayed together.

 

Yet sometimes we struggled to be in the same church together.

 

The thing that kept us working together and praying together was our long-term goal of discovering truth along the pathway of self-discovery and self-sacrifice.

 

The more we discovered about ourselves, the more we were challenged to sacrifice.

 

Father Ambrose had handed to me a profound helping of self-discovery. Now it was time for self-sacrifice.

 

So, Brother Simon and I talked.

 

That’s all.

 

It was all that needed to happen.

 

Brother Simon and I communicated our struggles. We shared our fears and our hopes and the things that confused us. Most importantly, we listened to one another.

 

Today Brother Simon heads the media department at the monastery.

 

It took some time, but I have come to admire him greatly. He has excellent taste in the visual arts. He’s a wonder with Photoshop.

 

And today, if I’m in insufferable traffic, or if I’m behind a penitentially slow person in the supermarket checkout, or if I’m struggling to like the person sitting next to me, I recall Brother Simon, and Father Ambrose’s lesson…

 

If I’m not bothered by this person, I’m going to be bothered by someone else.

 

I can’t rid myself of temptations to hate. That would be impossible. Temptations are natural. Hate is natural.

 

But sacrificing my “self” is also a natural action.

 

In the same way I chose to start seeing the inside of Brother Simon, I try to see the heart of the brother or sister beside me.

 

Does it expunge the temptation to hate?

 

No. But it does diminish it enough for me to work with kindness and patience.

 

Do I always succeed?

 

Certainly not.

 

But the purpose of my life isn’t to be pure perfection. It’s to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect person, struggling to surrender.

 

What am I surrendering to?

 

A truth that I’m still trying to accept: I don’t know everything.

 

But I know enough to be kind.

 

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Hope in Exile

 

It happened one day that one of the brethren in the monastery of Abba Elias was tempted.   Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Abba Anthony. The brother lived near him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled. When the brothers saw him they cast him out yet again, and he went back to Abba Anthony saying, ‘My Father, they will not receive me.’ Then the old man sent them a message saying, ‘A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with great difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbor on the shore. ‘When the brothers understood that it was Abba Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.

—-Sayings of the Desert

This saying deals with a very difficult dilemma. I am going to assume that the brothers who expelled the monk had a legitimate reason to do so. When people live in community, or attend the same church, there are times that personalities clash, mistakes are made, and the boredom of sameness hits. In all these situations there is usually a more guilty party that pays the price of the conflict, but there should be a desire for reconciliation. Abba Anthony reminds us in this saying that we are all potential victims of a personal or spiritual shipwreck. Further he tells us we would never turn our backs on the victims of a true shipwreck that comes to our shores. The real key to the saying is this; when someone asks to be reconciled with the community, we must give them a chance at redemption. Permanent exile, or expulsion, is not the way of the Christian.

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Authority and Control

Controversy

Heavy work, such as I should never choose; but sometimes it must be done. Well might the ancient say, ‘God made practical divinity necessary, the devil controversial. But it is necessary: we must “resist the devil,” or he will not “flee from us.” Those are the words of John Wesley in a letter to the Bishop of Exeter. Mr. Wesley was in the midst of a dispute with the Bishop over authority.

It is uncanny how many of the arguments we have in our day are over authority. The tricky issue of “who gets to decide,”causes many good things to go undone, because we hold on tightly to that which we claim as our own. The devil’s oldest trick is to have us busy resisting each other instead of resisting him. As we journey into Lent today, we must look deeply inside of ourselves and try to discern that path that we must take. God created us for good works and we must find those works . Let us not be thrown off the path by disputes over the issue of “who gets to decide,” but rather push to accomplish the task of being God’s hands and voice to the world.

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The Good of the Gospel

From:George Whitefield: a biography,

From:George Whitefield: a biography, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stripped image of John Wesley

Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although George Whitefield disagreed with John Wesley on some theological matters, he was careful not to create problems in public that could be used to hinder the preaching of the gospel. When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”

Every day I pray that God might get me to George Whitefield’s point and really mean it. This point of is commitment to the good of the mission and totally suppresses my ego and allows me to rejoice with all who disagree with me so we may strive together as we offer the world hope. This worthy goal is my daily prayer. Our world desperately needs the type of peace that can only come from a total commitment to the Good News of Christ. This week there have been two instances of violence that have made the news in a big way. The shootings at the MLK parade in New Orleans and the Lone Star Community College in Houston. Both undoubtedly were connected to disagreements that certainly were not bad enough to end in such violence. They were rooted in ego and the need to have things “my way”. May our God guide us to respect and cherish one another even in the midst of our differences.

 

 The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen

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