Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Treatise on Monastic Studies, 1691

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Treatise on Monastic Studies, 1691

Article excerpt

Treatise on Monastic Studies, 1691. By Dom Jean Mabillon. Translated with an introduction by John Paul McDonald. (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc. 2004. Pp. xxii, 340. $45.00 paperback.)

Into the arena of large personalities that populated the French Church during the reign of Louis XIV stepped Dom Jean Mabillon, the father of the field of palaeography. Unlike some of his contemporaries, this Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur did not make his mark upon the Church and the era with firebrand sermons or a puritanical rejection of the worldly. Rather, his humble dedication to the fulfillment of the command labora through scholarship, especially the critical assessment of ancient texts and sources, earned him renown among clergy and laity alike. Not all of his ecclesiastical peers approved of cenobitic erudition though. While Mabillon meticulously annotated the works of St. Bernard and composed his treatise on diplomatics, Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé advocated a back-to-basics monastic movement. Claiming that only through intense physical labor and extreme corporal mo`rtification could a monk truly satisfy his vows, Ranee denounced intellectual advancement as unsuitable for contemplative orders.

Few among the regular clergy were better qualified to respond to this invective than the middle-aged Maurist. In his Treatise on Monastic Studies, which John Paul McDonald has translated into English, Mabillon not only defended the appropriateness of scholastic achievement for monks. He also described how greater knowledge of religious and secular topics, of Christian and non-Christian-and sometimes heretical-authors, could foster the virtues of humility and charity, at the very core of the monastic ideal. In fact, when examined through the lenses of faith and obedience to one's superiors, these works could effect the transformation into "that new man for whom Our Savior gave us the model. …

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