The Monastery: A Study in Freedom, Love, and Community

The Monastery: A Study in Freedom, Love, and Community

The Monastery: A Study in Freedom, Love, and Community

The Monastery: A Study in Freedom, Love, and Community


Monasteries are one of the few types of communities that have been able to exist without the family. In this intimate, first-hand study of the daily life in a Trappist monastery, Hillery concludes that what binds this unusual and highly successful community together is its emphases on freedom and agape love. The Monastery reintegrates sociology with its allied disciplines in an attempt to understand the monastery on its own terms, and at the same time link that with sociology. Hillery delves into the history, the importance of the Rule of Benedict, the strictness of the Trappist interpretation, and the significance of the Second Vatican Council.


Ten years ago there were two different attitudes about the future of Cistercian monasteries in the Catholic Church. A prominent priest psychologist told me in a tone of voice that tolerated no dissent, "They're finished, and they should be finished. We have no room for masochism in the New Church."

A layman, president of a Benedictine college and a distinguished historian, presented the opposite opinion: "It is absurd to think that a social institution which has responded to human needs for the past millennium and a half will disappear overnight."

The priest, by the way, later left the active ministry and married.

I think that by now the issue is settled. The community Professor Hillery has so gently studied will survive. And flourish. Eventually. The historian was right and the psychologist was wrong, a not infrequent event in contemporary Roman Catholicism, which, alas, is much more likely to listen to the psychologist than to the historian.

Professor Hillery has had the great good fortune to capture his monastery on the rebound from the traumas of the era after the Vatican Council, a time when everything from the past was called into question, often with little depth and no wisdom. Clearly the monastic life (like much else in Catholicism) needed to be reevaluated. It was time and past time to sort out that which was essential from that which was medieval. Unfortunately the baby was often thrown out with the bath water (and as I have remarked elsewhere, the Baby's Mother too).

Many of those who were the most diligent reformers inside the monastic orders seemed to have been the first to leave after the reforms were accomplished--as if they needed for their own emotional stability the rigid rules they had overturned.

The emphasis in the New Church was on relevance--which often meant . . .

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