Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Socks in Cistercian History

Ian Jackson sent me pp. 363-367 of The Great Beginning Of Cîteaux. A Narrative of the Beginning of the Cistercian Order: The Exordium Magnum of Conrad of Eberbach, tr. Benedicta Ward and Paul Savage (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012). On these pages are Book 4, Chapters 24-25, of Conrad's narrative. Chapter 24 has the heading "How a Lay Brother Was Punished by God for Washing His Socks without Permission," and chapter 25 is "About a Monk Who Presumed to Sleep without His Socks, and How He Was Prohibited from Becoming an Abbot through a Divine Revelation."

From Book 4, Chapter 24 (p. 364):
On one of the granges of Clairvaux, a lay brother presumed to wash his socks without the permission of the master. He went alone to the side of a little stream which ran beside the grange, and, entirely concerned with the work he had begun, he, alas, gave little thought to how gravely they transgress who presume to violate the purity of the holy Order even in little ways. While he was doing his ill-advised job without the knowledge of his master, he heard a voice call out, as if one person were speaking to another, "Hit him, hit him!" And at once the lay brother felt two very hard blows, one on his head and another on his feet. Pale and trembling, he ran to the grange and told the brothers in a faltering voice what he had done, heard, and suffered. He was immediately taken to the abbey, and there, with as much humility as he could muster, he declared both his fault and the punishment for the fault. He said that the two blows he had mysteriously received little by little had spread inside him, one from his head, the other from his feet, and that, in any case, he was going to die when the blows met in his heart. And the outcome of the matter proved this to be true. A few days later the brother died, making a good confession, and we devoutly believe that he went to God more pure because his death was such a terrible one and canceled his sin.
From Book 4, Chapter 25 (pp. 366-367):
On the night of the election, however, the father abbot heard, by divine revelation, a voice saying, "Take care, lest you install as abbot that monk who dared to sleep without socks." Greatly troubled by these words, the venerable abbot only knew in his surprise that the Lord was trying to tell him something. The person mentioned above, whom he thought suitable for the dignity of such an office, had arrived the previous evening to take part in the election. In the morning he made the sign to the father abbot that he wanted to make his confession and took him into the chapter house...There, he humbly confessed that on his journey he had presumed to pull off his socks because of the intense heat and to sleep without wearing them. After that, the seniors and the more mature monks were assembled in council with the father abbot to discuss the election, and they all unanimously began to cast their vote for the man whom the confidential divine revelation had judged ineligible for such an honor. So the father abbot told them secretly about the divine order given him and advised them to elect someone else, saying that he could not go against his conscience and disobey the Lord's command.

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