Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Quaerere Deum: The Monks of Norcia.

Yesterday, NLM shared a video looking at life within the Monastery of San Benedetto, a new community of Benedictine monks based in the Umbrian town of Norcia, the birthplace of Saints Benedict and Scholastica. This video is actually a trailer for Quaerere Deum ("To Seek God"), a documentary film on the Benedictines of Norcia set for release next month. Here is more on the monks and the film, courtesy of Quaerere Deum director Peter Hayden:
On December 2, 2000, a tiny band of American monks with faith and courage and not much else re-founded monastic life in Norcia, Italy at the birthplace of St. Benedict. Powerful forces hostile to the faith had expelled the monks in 1810 and almost two centuries were to pass before Providence brought them back.

Inspired by the Holy Rule, these monastic pioneers are going back to the roots of the Benedictine tradition. Chanting the Divine Office in Latin by day and by night at the very place where their holy patron was born, they are able to return to the spirit of their founder, as Vatican II urged all religious to do, in a very tangible way.

As a result, something extraordinary is happening in Norcia. Young men from around the world, leaving home and country for the love of Christ, are drawn to the new monastery and commit themselves to stability, conversion of life and obedience at the birthplace of their founder. Their goal is focused and compelling: to prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ!
I'll confess that I can't hear about the Monastery of San Benedetto without thinking of a friend's quip about the place being like "a study-abroad monastery," an English-speaking community of mostly American monks dropped into the middle of Italy. Of course, one makes a stronger commitment in opting for the monastic life than one makes in choosing to study abroad for a time, and I admire those who are able to answer the call to be missionary contemplatives of a kind. I hope and pray that the Benedictines of Norcia may grow and thrive in the fertile soil that produced the great father of Western monasticism.

Though I don't know what form the 'release' of Quaerere Deum will take, I do hope to see the entire film. The director of the film, Peter Hayden, happens to be an eighteen-year-old from Ontario; as impressed as I am by the aesthetic sensitivity and technical skill that Hayden displays in the trailer for Quaerere Deum, I am also deeply edified that this talented young filmmaker has chosen such a worthy project. To learn more about Peter Hayden's work, check out his website. AMDG.


At 11/03/2011 2:16 AM, Blogger Macrina Walker said...

Sigh. I have such mixed reactions to these sorts of things! (And I don't just mean negative but really mixed). Of course I don't know enough to be too critical, or too positive either, but I do wonder what sort of a tradition they are going back to if they are all being ordained priests and saying private daily Masses? And I am a little curious as to what Benedictine congregation they belong to as the website didn't seem to say.

More broadly, I'd be interested in reading your thoughts, Joe, on the whole reform of the reform thing. My own perspective is that I find it tragic that the liturgical renewal, at least in many places, seems to have either degenerated into banality or liturgical anarchy or else has evoked reactionary responses that seem to undermine the ecclesiological principles of that reform... and I must say that I find it very odd when Orthodox Christians side with such voices!

At 11/03/2011 1:01 PM, Blogger Joe Koczera, S.J. said...


Thank you for the comment - you raise a good point about selective approaches to tradition (of which many are guilty, of course, and on all sides). As I wrote, I do wish them well and hope that they thrive, as I think there is a value in having a Benedictine presence at Norcia, and in promoting monastic life in general. As for the details of how they approach and interpret the Benedictine tradition, I don't feel qualified to comment.

According to the website of the Benedictine Confederation, Norcia is a "monasterium monachorum extra Congregationes," so they don't belong to any congregation although they do belong to the Benedictine Confederation at large. I don't see anything wrong with that per se - places like Chevetogne and Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem have the same status - but I can appreciate the value of the congregational structure.

I'll have to think about whether I want to write on the 'whole reform of the reform thing' on this blog - this isn't the first time I've been asked about it, but there are a lot of complications that have kept me from addressing it here before. If I don't write about it here, though, perhaps we can discuss it through private correspondence.

At 11/03/2011 1:26 PM, Blogger Joe Koczera, S.J. said...


One brief addendum: I took another look at the monastery website, and I don't get the sense that all the monks are being ordained as a matter of course - the vocation page notes the teaching of St. Benedict on the matter and how the tradition developed historically afterward, then emphasizes that monastic priesthood is a call within a call and that monks are ordained for the particular needs of the monastery or the apostolate.

My impression, then, is that in principle the community at Norcia does not intend that all monks should be ordained as a matter of course. That being said, I'm not sure how many of the monks there actually are priests (the "Meet the Monks" page on the website only includes some members of the community, not all), or how many priest-monks the community would like to have; I suspect that the question of how many are "needed" introduces some interpretive latitude.

As a Jesuit, looking at this precise question reminds me of how very different the Society of Jesus is in its basic principles when compared with traditional monastic orders. From the earliest days of the Society, priesthood was assumed to be integral to the identity of the order in a way that it is not in the Benedictine tradition (or, I think, more broadly within monasticism). The first Jesuits were all ordained, and the Society was organized from the start in a way that presumed that most of its members would be ordained. The primary reasons for this were apostolic - it was presumed that the Society could offer more effective service this way - but I think it still bears mentioning as a point of difference in the founding visions of the Benedictine and Jesuit traditions. I don't have any larger point to make about this, I just find it interesting in context.

At 2/29/2012 1:54 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Hello! My name is Peter Hayden, the director of Quaerere Deum. The final documentary has be released and is available for viewing at the following link:




At 2/29/2012 3:10 PM, Blogger Joe Koczera, S.J. said...


Thank you for the update - I look forward to viewing the complete documentary. Congratulations on your great work - I hope that we'll be seeing more from you in the future!

JK sj


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