The Sword
The Cabiri Chronicles
     Life of a History
     Under the Hood

     Balancing Act

     I was just acting!
     Lucifer as a Player
     Player Types Defined
     LARP Boredom
     LARP Survival

     Economics in D&D 3.5

     Sept 11, 2002
     Columbia Disaster

     A Letter of Vocation
     Evidence of Evil
     In Defense of a Reflection

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

          Author's Comments: This was one of my favorite writing assignments in college.  The assignment was to write a Letter of Vocation, as if you were a medieval monk.  T'was a great deal of fun.

A Letter of Vocation
February 22, 1995

          The following is a rare example of a medieval Letter of Vocation originally written in English. The authorship is attributed to John Montague the Younger, of Nottingham (b. 1103? - d. 1154), while abbot of Saint Albans, northwest of London. The recipient of the letter is unkown.

          To Robert of Halifax, his dear friend under Christ, John Montague, friend under Christ.
          Word has been sent, by your father, of your decision against joining the monks of Repton. Let me counsel you in this matter of utmost importance. It is possible that the teachings of the more rural monks of Repton failed to encourage you to uplift the sword of our Lord and fight that noblest of battles; that is to say, the battle over men's souls. I shall endeavor to teach you of the vast reward promised by our Lord for service, but as Quintus Septimius Tertullianus taught us, veritas non erubescit, that is to say, truth does not blush. Therefore, I shall also direct you of the nature of our hardships that we must endure in our Lord's service. My pen writes to you in the worldly language of our parents in this letter, so that you may truly understand my humble explanations of service to God. However, I shall make all due attempt to prevent myself from overspeaking the matter. As the sainted Jerome taught, Venerationi mihi semper fuit non verbosa rusticas sed sancta simplicitas, that is to say, I have always revered not crude verbosity but holy simplicity.

          To be bound to God by holy devotion is to sit at the peak of Zion. While your brothers travel the distant and most holy land of our Savior to free it from heathenry and pagany, you must consider your place as a warrior of God in another fashion. To devote yourself to Christ is to place the eternal power of the Lord as your shield and your sword. The sword is the cross, I needn't remind you, but the shield is a more exact likeness of Christ on the cross. The sturdy wood of the shield is the wood of the cross. The leather nailed to it is placed foremost in grave peril to receive the dents and slashes of infidels to preserve the mortal body from harm. This is as Christ did for our souls; he permitted himself to suffer the dents and slashes of the Pharisees to preserve our mortal souls from damnation. What a wonderful gift this is! What better way is there to make some small reparation for this sacrifice by devoting our mortal lives to our Lord? Certainly he who is highest can provide greater kingdoms than is possessed by a hundred thousand infidels. The quote of your brothers is yet again as apt for you. Deus vult, that is, God wills it. I recall, myself, when I was considering the monastic life, wondering what reward I could receive from a trial that seemed so difficult to complete. However, when I realized what I have just said above, there was no question left in my soul as to where my purpose lay.
          There are three habits a devoted monk must observe. Our Lord directs us to keep our tongues free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. This we observe by silence always, excepting matters of importance which require the workings of the tongue. Saint Benedict directs us to the prophet in this matter. I said, I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue. I have put a guard on my mouth. I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words. Solomon the Wise says that where men talk too much sin is not far away.

          A life without possession is also a part of monastic faith. It is presumption for a monk to give, receive or retain anything as his own, without his abbot's order. Our Lord directs us that The whole body of believers was united in heart and soul. Not a man of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything was held in common . . . It was distributed to each according to his need. Such as it is in the monastic faith. It is good that no monk need concern himself with fine clothing or drink or food or home; it is the duty of the abbot to insure that all monks have what they need, but also that they do not have in excess. Saint Benedict directs us that private possession is an evil practice.
          The third tenant of monsastic faith is continence. This would include abstinence from that most ugly and reviled coupling of man and woman, but also includes self-restraint in manner. A monk does not laugh. His only unrestrained expression of emotion should occur in the presence of God in his house, and that expression is commonly blessed weeping. Though the rule given us by Saint Benedict sets down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome, the rules must be followed even should they become such. Is is not wise to put down your wordly possessions, as well as your fleshy possessions, to be more able to serve God? How can an earthly coupling with a mortal woman be greater or more fulfilling than a spiritual coupling with our Savior? Where she offers you slavery to the mortal flesh, our Lord offers you freedom of your immortal soul.

          The life of a monk is a simple one. He must divest himself from the worldly existence which leads men astray and is rife with pagany and heresy. Saint Benedict gives us the tenant of work when he said orare est laborare, laborare est orare, that is, to pray is to work, to work is to pray. Saint Jerome wrote to Paul that a monk's life is solitary. This is yet more proof that we must remove ourselves from the earthly politics of man so that we may be better able to stand before the Lord without the temptations or distractions of lesser, worldly things. A monk's time is spent in work, prayer, and study. You may wonder how one could devote his entire life to the study and understanding of one book, but in considering this you must remember that this book is no mere book, but a guide to existence, given to us through the mercy of our Lord. Besides that point, a monk's study also includes reading of the traditions of the Church fathers, and the reading of classical literature. This final point of study may strike you as unusual, as it does not, at first, directly relate itself to the worship of God. However, these ancient pagan authors were blessed, more so because they did not know what sin they committed, because they had not yet received the word of Christ. Their wisdom is great, but the wisdom of our Church fathers is greater, and the wisdom of the Holy Scripture is infinitely greater still, for it is the wisdom of the Almighty.
          A monk must beware, however, that he not fall into the pit of the theologian, who is little more than a teacher of the Scripture. Our way is to ascend to heaven based on faith for its own sake, not based solely on works or study. It is through this silent devotion that we hope to rise to sit at the feet of Christ again, as the first monks, who were the holy Apostles.

          We must remember that mere observance of the Rule without a true faith in God is deadly duplicity. Cucullus non facit monachum, that is, the cowl does not a monk make. Beware that you do not stray from that highest purpose of monestary life, that life of the cenobite. There are three other types of monks. The first, and next in devotion to God, are the hermits or anchorites, who separate themselves even from other monks so that they may be able to secure for themselves a more personal and solitary contact with God. Below them in holiness are the sarabaits, who profess themselves to be monks, but ignore the direction of our Lord through his Church. They are, as Saint Benedict tells us, liars to God. The fourth, and most detestable of monks are the gyrovagues, who wander about from monastary to monastary, remaining only as guests. They are slaves to worldly pleasures, and are barely fit to be called monks. It is the cenobite, who follow the Rule given to them by their wisest fathers.
          It is my dearest hope that you understand these words that I have humbly written for you. Your soul is of concern of your father and he requested that I write on his behalf, he being unable to do so. However, it is my duty also to converse with any individual who may forget or, worse yet, ignore his calling because of avarice or lust or pride. Not nearly all men are capable of undertaking the ultimate devotion required of a follower of the monastic faith. All who are capable of this great trial are guaranteed a place among the seraphim and cherubim, in eternal service to God.

          LeClercq, Jean, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, Fordham University Press, New York, 1961.
          Radice, Betty, ed. and trans., The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Penguin Books, London, 1974.
          Fry, Timothy, ed., The Rule of St. Benedict in English, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1982.