The Sabbatarian Option for the Benedictines

Noah Millman legitimately wants specifics about the Benedictine Option (and here I thought it was an after dinner cocktail):

Ok, then: monasteries were communities of celibates who held property in common. Anyone from the outside could join the community by taking the necessary vows, and non-votaries could visit, even dwell with the community for a time. But the monastic community was constituted by rules of considerable complexity, and it played a unique economic role in the larger society by virtue of its distinctive legal status. So I’d expect discussion of the Benedict Option to center on what such communities such look like, how they should relate to the larger, less-tethered community of co-religionists and the larger society as a whole. Should Benedict-Option Christians found communities outside of major cities, so as to be able to fully express their ethos, and encourage non-Benedict-Option Christians to visit them there? What should the economic relationship be between communal organs and individual adherents? What should the rules be for joining – or leaving? What kinds of legal protections would such communities need as corporate bodies? And how should adherents behave when they are among “gentiles?”

These are the kinds of questions that actual ethical communities – groups like the Amish and Mennonites, yes, but also Orthodox Jews, Mormons, American Sikhs, utopian Socialists, kibbutzniks, all kinds of groups – have wrestled with at their founding. Communal organization for a self-conscious ethical group within a foreign society – not necessarily hostile nor necessarily friendly, but foreign – is not a new problem. I’d expect advocates of the Benedict Option to be particularly interested in such forerunning models, and to be discussing how they might or might not be applied to the specific challenges of small-o orthodox Christianity in a society that still retains the trappings of Christianity but, from their perspective, can no longer be called Christian in any meaningful sense.

That, however, doesn’t seem to be the center of the discussion about the Benedict Option, at least not so far as I have seen. Instead, most of what I’ve seen is discussion of how corrupt and threatening to Christianity the surrounding culture is becoming, and how small-o orthodox Christians need to recognize that fact and prepare for it, combined with repeated assurance that the Benedict Option does not mean withdrawing from the world or compromising the Christian obligation to witness, spread the gospel, be in the world while not of it, etc. In other words, I hear a lot about why the Benedict Option is important, and a lot about what the Benedict Option isn’t, but very little that I can grasp with any kind of firmness about what the blasted thing is in the first place.

Protestants were not (and still aren’t) big on monasticism. Protestantism was a piety for life in the world and the doctrine that undergirded that real life was vocation.

But Protestants were also big on sanctifying the Lord’s Day, as in setting it apart:

This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Confession of Faith, 21.8)

You could argue, then, that every Sunday is a kind of monastic retreat from the world and that’s certainly how many Protestants practiced it. Even my Baptist parents knew this and so when the prospects of Little League came, I had to decline because I would be compelled to play baseball on Sundays. Why my brother and I could watch the Phillies on Sundays thanks to the television was a question we didn’t ask. We wanted to watch. We weren’t in charge.

What if the wider Christian world (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant) treated Sunday as a day for a kind of monastic existence? No work, no inappropriate reading, no sex, lots of bread, even more beer. Couldn’t this be a way to set Christians apart without having to become celibate and so see Christianity go the way of the Shakers?

43 thoughts on “The Sabbatarian Option for the Benedictines

  1. No sex? I seem to recall from Ryken’s ‘Worldy Saints’ that some Puritans thought Sunday afternoon was a great time for it. Maybe we should ask Pastor Mark.


  2. DGH…

    WHAT???? Little League played baseball on Sundays back in your day?

    I thought the whole world went to church twice on Sundays and never walked more than 50 paces away from the path of home to church right up to where it all fell apart around 1980 (or so I recall.)


  3. Speaking of Pastor Mark, he’s right we can’t lose our justification. Not a bad post <——-there about 10 words back, it seemed to me on my first pass. Anyone else, thoughts? Comments here are open after all, TVD knows full well.



  4. There’s a lot of marks around these days, got confused my purtain mark with your strawberry man. but i always enjoy a comment my way, so what they hey..


  5. What if the wider Christian world (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant) treated Sunday as a day for a kind of monastic existence? No work, no inappropriate reading, no sex, lots of bread, even more beer. Couldn’t this be a way to set Christians apart without having to become celibate and so see Christianity go the way of the Shakers?

    Elegant. Baseball, though. Dispensations must be given to baseball players. They’re doing the Lord’s work.


  6. kent, I can only do so much.

    tvd, baseball, never forget.



  7. No thanks–im not up for a Sunday monastic life, ill leave that to others. cw- I am sure Mark Driscoll wouldn’t be either if you’ve ever heard his sermon from Edinburgh a few years back. His poor poor wife.. insert annoying emoticon. I am for cutting baseball at all times though. Its my babtist roots– i like to pick and choose. ‘duties of necessity and mercy’ can mean many things in many households. Jus sayin. Sry I try to leave this as a man cave for you guys–just thought I’d weigh in a bit.


  8. no comment needed

    Urban Dictionary
    Shawnie. The most amazing girlfriend you will ever have in your life


  9. I’m glad urban dictionary got my note… now back to yall’s convo before it gets awkward-er lol


  10. dude with all due respect just stop trust me . please I shouldn’t have posted. I get its urban dictionary and you’re not meaning offense but uhhhh yeah im gonna need you to not try and find me. yall have a good day. Sry Mr. Hart I didn’t mean this to happen


  11. shawnie, blame

    cw l’unificateur
    Posted May 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
    I meant Driscoll, pony person.

    He started it:

    Cherry Valance describes Ponyboy as sweet and dreamy. He is more compassionate than some of the other greasers, piting the socs several times in the novel and questioning the purpose of fighting between the two social classes. He is also willing to help others, as shown when he runs into the burning church to save the schoolchildren, or when he picks up broken glass bottle pieces off the ground so that a car doesn’t get a flat tire.

    Darryl’s cool, don’t sweat. I just always wonder who’s next to post, never in a million years would I have guessed a shawnie and pony boy on the same thread. God help us.

    Who’s next?


  12. Sean, we must be doing something right. More and more she-males keep appearing. Are they attracted to that OLTS mojo? Don’t know..


  13. I would think that Sunday conjugality might well fall under mercy.

    Or necessity in some cases?

    Following AB out.


  14. You missed out. Shawnie is the most interesting olts interlocutor I’ve yet met.


  15. D4, it depends on how much it resembles pulling an ox out of a ditch. Or maybe if it was incorporated into walking through fields of grain – wait until mid-Summer on that one.


  16. AB, try pre-deleting all your comments.

    Please don’t respond to this, as you will then make me guilty of enabling you.


  17. Please don’t respond to this

    But Muddy, sean says, don’t tell me what to do.

    That said, tell me what to do. I hear you, and I understand.

    It’s your world. I’m just living in it.

    Grace and peace.

    Who’s next?


  18. Muddy, I don’t think it matters. And here’s the problem with the interweb, and work, and life….. we aren’t all created equal.


  19. “lots of bread, even more beer.”

    I don’t get that part. Because no one will be cooking?


  20. Been there, Luther did that — or Father Dwight finds his inner Protestant:

    The Benedict Option requires a radical shift away from the easygoing, open-ended, cafeteria Catholicism prevalent in much of suburban America to an intentionally informed and aware Catholicism. All will be welcome, but they will be welcomed to join what will be more like an elite fighting force than a religiously themed country club.

    If Dreher is right, then the Benedict Option will not be imposed from the hierarchy. Instead, it will emerge from below. Such a movement would be strongly traditional, while at the same time living out many of the principles of the Second Vatican Council.
    A “Benedict Option” would undermine clericalism in a positive and creative way. There would be natural renewal of worship, religious education and service based on the needs of the local community rather than top-down “good ideas” by diocesan bureaucrats.

    What might a “Benedict Option” parish look like? The pastor and people would decide priorities based on the immediate needs of the parish members. As hostility grows from those outside the Church, relationships of trust would be developed within the family and parish. If an aggressive secular agenda is promoted in public schools, the parish school and religious-education program will become a main priority. As classical education disappears, the parish school will become a repository for the ancient learning. As such, a “Benedict Option” parish would see itself as countering, rather than accommodating, the surrounding culture. Such a community would be distinctive and clear in its purposes and principles — even odd. Members might be distrusted by those outside the community — including other Catholics who have compromised with the prevailing culture.

    Is the Benedict Option the way of the future? I believe it is already here.


  21. Father Dwight’s other plan for renewal — Roman Catholic Promise Keepers:

    The local efforts often bear fruit for the parish and the wider Church. The men go on to form other groups, form mentorship programs for boys, sponsor parish retreats, and roll up their sleeves to assist with religious education, poverty justice programs, evangelism efforts, and parish administration.

    For example, the Diocese of St. Cloud Catholic Men’s Conference, held in February at St. John’s University, featured workshops on topics ranging from the spiritual (Bringing Mary into Your Life, Making Prayer a Priority, Pope Francis and the Ten Things You Must Do to be Happy) to the practical (Advance Care Planning, Strengthening Marriage, Healing Depression).

    But much of the talk within the Catholic men’s ministry is militant. Speakers enthuse about spiritual warfare and call men to be soldiers of Christ and his cross. Ex-Marine Thomas Sullivan has devised a “Warrior’s Rosary” that features medals of five saints known for battling the devil, while author Paul Thigpen has produced an instant bestseller, A Manual for Spiritual Warfare.

    Meanwhile, Catholic catechist and body builder Jared Zimmerer has written “Man Up!“, which delivers a Catholic version of muscular Christianity, while football coaches Joe Hyland and Joe Lombardi headline as conference speakers linking the battle on the gridiron with their Catholic faith.

    Men’s conferences and parish groups are not the only growth point. The King’s Men is a Catholic apostolate with a mission to men. With the motto “Leader. Protector. Provider.” their website points followers to their blog, radio show, seminars, and wilderness retreats with titles like “Unleashing the Warrior Within” and “Samson Healing Retreat”. With sudden growth since 2008, The King’s Men speak across the country to promote chastity, challenge the predominance of pornography, and help Catholic men “grow up into the full stature of Christ Jesus.”

    Some might see a danger in a new Catholic male militancy. Are these guys all gun-toting conservatives? Are they wild warriors for Jesus or old-fashioned male chauvinists? Why are their groups exclusively for men? Are they secret anti-feminist misogynists? Are they meathead jocks trying to flex spiritual muscle by engaging in “spiritual warfare”?

    Such labels are laughable. I’ve spoken at men’s conferences, helped organize our own parish men’s group, joined the Knights of Columbus, and learned about the new apostolates. What I’ve found are groups of ordinary men of all ages, from every social and ethnic group, who simply want more out of their Catholic faith, and they’re prepared to join up and make it happen.

    The new Catholic men’s movement taps into a few key elements that makes men what they are. It connects with a guy’s innocent need to join a gang, a team, a regiment, a fraternity, or a club. It also connects with a man’s need to be on a mission from God. Men need a vocation, not a vacation. They need a calling, and the Catholic men’s movement builds on that instinct in a positive way.

    Men also need support from other men and mentors. Catholic conferences, retreats, seminars, and parish groups provide a non-threatening, supportive, and prayerful context for the emotional and spiritual support men need, but usually won’t ask for on a personal level.

    Finally, the Catholic men’s movement connects with a deeper sense in our society that men and boys are neglected and underserved. Men have needs, too, and those needs are being met as the Catholic men’s movement continues to expand across America.

    The encouraging thing about the Catholic men’s movement in America is that it is a perfect expression of some of the goals of the Second Vatican Council. With its emphasis on the universal call to holiness and its call for the laity to be involved and engaged, the Catholic Men’s Movement is a grassroots phenomenon.

    Supported by the bishops, but not started or controlled by them, the men’s movement is an example of an authentic movement of the Spirit in the Church. It is local and vigorous. It is real religion run with enthusiasm by the people, of the people, and for the people.

    Where does he find time to do the exegesis for his sermons?


  22. Darryl,

    Where does he find time to do the exegesis for his sermons?

    RC parish priests don’t do exegesis, at least none of the ones I’ve known. Fits well with a religion that is not really about dogma, no matter what the RCs here think.


  23. I’ve dipped in and out of several of the threads here that touch on the neo-Benedictine angst that has apparently reached critical mass among the right wing chattering class of late. Maybe this point has been made here and I have missed it, but isn’t the feasibility of the kinds of communities Dreher and other advocates envision parasitic on the continued existence of a larger pluralistic community that will let them exist? Maybe the declinists ought to put down their copies of “After Virtue” and read “A Secular Faith.”


  24. Benedictines warming up to sanctification of the Lord’s Day:

    This is part of the de-Christianization of America. People will tell themselves, “Well, I don’t go to church on Sunday, but I can experience God in other ways.” And maybe that’s true. But Sabbath observance, including gathering for prayer and worship, has been at the core of Christianity since the beginning. You begin by neglecting the Sabbath, and you end by losing your faith (or your kids do).


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