While endless economic discussions keep going on, sometimes peppered with news about some financial scandal inside the Church, at the Pontifical University of St. Anselm was held a symposium entitled “Monasticism & Economy”, which went unnoticed by the media. Initially, the event was thought of as a contribution to the debate inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Praised Be and it opened up new avenues of reflection and elaboration on the theme of poverty.
At a time when different economic conditions occur in ecclesiastical institutions, it is easy to resort to extremist hypotheses. Nonetheless, an honest analytical consideration of the most ancient tradition of the consecrated life inside the Church can teach us a lot. The evangelical radicalism of the first monks did not prevent them from being part of normal economic relations in the society of the time. Despite having received various gifts, they traded and took up different jobs (such as harvesting and grape harvesting). Thus, their participation in the society of the time was complete. They shared both daily work and concerns about the future with it. Besides, coenobitic (community) monasticism has developed new and effective forms of specialized work, which was well organized and managed. It allowed them to ensure a proper level of maintenance in large monasteries and to become an important factor for the economic development of different regions.
During the Middle Ages, this role of the monasteries laid the foundations of modern civilization. We owe them not only the invention of various foods (cheese, wine, beer, and sparkling wine), but also a certain kind of organizational and managerial culture. The practice of participative administration, respect for every person and for different rhythms of both time and space come from St. Benedict’s Rule. In St. Benedict’s teaching can be found the seeds of all the standards of quality culture. The concept of discernment – that is, knowing how to find the right measure of all things – seems to be always topical.
Monastic culture has also developed a proper attitude toward material goods: make do with what is really necessary, leaving the rest to the poor. Obviously, honest and well-organized work produced profit. But suffice it to look at the history of monasticism to find out the contribution of the monks to education, culture, and health services. Nowadays, these challenges are still topical. The model of a simple and frugal life, and social responsibility should gradually become a constant component of Western economy.
How do you achieve this goal? For the monks, the path was clear: give priority to whatever leads to salvation. If today the idea of salvation does not seem very attractive, maybe people might simply remember the criteria St. Benedict established for the candidates to monastic life: having desire to be happy and truly seek God. Many theologians and social scientists write that there are more people who are pursuing something higher than believers. It is a good reason to draw on the monastic tradition.