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Qualifications of The Monastery Cellarer

Monday, July 8, 2024
Chapter 31

As cellarer of the monastery, there should be chosen from the community someone who is wise, mature in conduct, temperate, not an excessive eater, not proud, excitable, offensive, dilatory or wasteful, but God-fearing, and like a parent to the whole community. The cellarer will take care of everything, but will do nothing without an order from the prioress or abbot. Let the cellarer keep to those orders.

Benedictine spirituality refuses to glorify a life of false frugality or fabricated irritations. The person who handles the supplies of the monastery, the cellarer, is to distribute the goods of the monastery calmly, kindly, without favoritism and under the guidance of the abbot or prioress, not to put people under obligation to them or to wreak vengeance on those who rebuff them.

The cellarer does more than distribute goods. The cellarer becomes a model for the community, a person who is to be "temperate," not a person who is "an excessive eater," not someone in other words with rich tastes and a limitless appetite for material things. Benedict wants the cellarer to be someone who knows the difference between needs and desires, who will see that the community has what is necessary but does not begin the long, slippery road into excess and creature comforts and indolence and soft-souledness. In the house of Benedict, the principles of the life live in ways no words can convey, in the people who carry them out. The call to be what we say we believe becomes a measure of authenticity for teachers, parents and administrators everywhere.

The cellarer should not annoy the members. If anyone happens to make an unreasonable demand, the cellarer should not reject that person with disdain and cause distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request. Let cellarers keep watch over their own souls, ever mindful of that saying of the apostle:"They who serve well secure a good standing for themselves (1 Tm 3:13)." The cellarer must show every care and concern for the sick, young, guests and the poor, knowing for certain that they will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment. The cellarer will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected. Cellarers should not be prone to greed, not be wasteful and extravagant with the goods of the monastery, but should do everything with moderation and according to the order of the prioress or abbot.

If Chapter 31 is anything at all, it is a treatment of human relationships. The one with power is not to annoy the powerless. The one with needs is not to demand. The chapter stands as stark warning to people in positions of authority and responsibility, whatever their station. They are to "keep watch of their own souls" guarding themselves against the pitfalls of any position: arrogance, disinterest, unkindness, aloofness from the very people the position is designed to serve. Then, to make the point clear, Benedict describes the people who are not to get overlooked for the sake of efficiency in the bureaucratic game of hurry up and wait. And they are everybody who cannot possibly be expected to want things when the office is open: the sick, the young, the guests and the poor. The one who has power and resources, the Rule says, must know for certain that "they will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment." As will we all who find ourselves too busy, too insensitive, too uncaring to see that the goods of the earth are given to the poor ones who have as much claim on the Garden as we but no way to get the staples of life for themselves. As will we all who use our positions to diminish the people in behalf of whom we bear responsibility by wearing them down and wearing them out while we dally with their needs. The spouse who lets the door swell to sticking before fixing it, or serves the meal an hour after its time; the employer who never buys the new file cabinet; the superior who never sees the staff personally, all fail in the Benedictine spirituality of service for the sake of the person that is taught in this chapter.

But the cellarer must do more than take care of people. A Benedictine cellarer has a responsibility to take care of things, too. Waste is not a Benedictine virtue. Planned obsolescence is not a Benedictine goal. Disposability is not a Benedictine quality. A Benedictine soul is a soul that takes care of things, that polishes wood and scrapes away rust and keeps a room clean and never puts feet on the furniture and mulches the garden and leaves trees standing and "treats all utensils and goods of the monastery like the sacred vessels of the altar." A Benedictine cares for the earth and all things well. The Benedictine heart practiced ecology before it was a word.