Clearly, the RB and the [Rule of the Master] are in the tradition of spiritual fatherhood. We have seen that this, and the use of the title abba to designate the bearer of it, originated in Egypt, so far as our documentation permits us to judge, and first flourished among the semi-anchoritic elders. It is probably the full-blown development of the charisms of prophecy and teaching that had been exercised by holy men in Christian communities from the beginning. When cenobitism developed, the spiritual fatherhood of the abba was extended to a greater number of disciples. In the Pachomian institute, new elements were added, notably the emphasis upon the importance of the koinonia, and adjustments such as the introduction of subordinates had to be made when the number of disciples increased. But, while these differences may have altered the manner in which the abba's fatherhood was actually exercised, they did not change the essential relationship between abbot and monk-disciple. The coenobium was an extension of the elder-disciple relationship on a scale that inevitably produced alterations, but this relationship remained the very essence of the cenobitic life.
The first thing that defines an abbot, then, is not his position at the head of a community or an institution but his relationship to persons. He is a mediator between Christ and each of his monk-disciples. It is through him that Christ reaches into the life of the monk: his word and command come to the monk through the abbot's voice. In him the monk must--by faith--see Christ personified and, as it were, newly made incarnate in quasi-sacramental fashion. The entire purpose of this relationship is educative, in the sense of total spiritual formation. The monastic tradition knew by experience how difficult it is for a Christian, despite good will, to follow God's law and come to salvation unaided. The normal way of working out one's salvation is to learn from another human being who has himself made the journey and is able to guide another along the right path. The abbot is primarily the spiritual father who provides such direction--this is his chief reason for being. He is seen in terms of the biblical tradition of wisdom teacher, prophet and apostle, and of the concept of spiritual fatherhood that grew out of it in the early Church.
Since the father-analogy rests upon the transmission of teaching as primary analogue, the abbot's relationship to Christ, on the one hand, and to each monk, on the other, can also be described as doctor, 'teacher', but one who teaches a doctrine that he has himself received from Christ, the real Teacher. The abbot is only a mediator. The same may be said of the images of shepherd and steward: these biblical metaphors also underscore the abbot's position as mediator. His authority is delegated; he is functioning on another's behalf. The coenobium exists in order to lead men to salvation by showing them Christ, his teaching and his will. Any other goal it sets for itself is secondary and must remain subordinate to this supreme end. It is a school, a place where people come together for their own formation at the hands of a master, a teacher qualified to guide them. Its purpose is achieved to the extent that the ideal is realized in practice. On the one hand, the abbot must be another Christ, a man of authentic and profound Christian conviction and experience, so thoroughly molded by the Word of God that his very being as well as his speech proclaims it unceasingly; a man with a clear understanding that his essential task is the formation of his disciples. The monk, on the other hand, must not only come with this purpose in view but maintain it throughout his life, and, through all the dura et aspera, keep firm his faith that the abbot represents and functions as Christ for him.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 11, 2014 at Friday, July 11, 2014 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .