restricted access CHAPTER TWELVE: Parallel of Mendicant and Proprietary Monks
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c h a p t e r t w e lv e Parallel of Mendicant and Proprietary Monks “Well, cook, did you give the Capuchin fathers their supper?” “Capuchins, Dom Procurator? No Capuchins came here today.” “Liar! I could smell them: go ask Dom Coadjutor.” “You are mistaken: they are a mere itinerant camp, traveling with a donkey.” “With a donkey! That proves they must be Capuchins. Good God, they have women with them! Stubborn idiot—can’t you see they are Capuchins who have run off with girls?” Dom Hachette said no more, because he was contradicted no longer.1 My friend had such well-developed nostrils and so strong a hatred of mendicant orders that no one could have made him deny his sense of smell unless four evangelists had appeared in person to swear these travelers were not Capuchins ; and even then he would not have believed these authors of eternal truth without confronting them to make sure they were not contradicting one another . Even then, he would have had to submit his reason to his faith. On any other subject, Dom Procurator was less skeptical. You, Sir, you whom I have already let in on the secret, you know whence came the Capuchinal odor that led this venerable priest into error. What astonishes you is to see a respected Carthusian so prejudiced against monks that he can smell them a quarter-league away, as confidently as the lead dog of the pack gets the scent of an old boar in his cover. I was surprised by this just like you, and I said so to my friend one morning while he was showing me, in his gallery, a portrait of Saint Francis that he had painted himself. “Indeed,” I told Parallel of Mendicant and Proprietary Monks 87 him, “I am amazed to see you choose this particular subject, you who cannot conceal your hatred for the children of Saint Francis.” “A neat turn of phrase,” replied Dom Hachette with a smile. “You consider my aversion for mendicant priests a scandal, and you wish to discover its cause. I will not deny you this satisfaction, but you must listen to me closely, and judge my reasons with care. “Worldly people like yourself, who look at things casually, use the term ‘monks’ to include all religious orders: despite what the proverb tells us, if a man’s appearance and clothing differ from yours, you make him out as solitary, and solitary is the meaning of the word ‘monk.’* But if we need a definition to cover under one common name everyone who has adopted a rule, let us use the term religious. A ‘religious’ is a man who, besides taking the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, lives under a specific rule, under a particular regime that distinguishes him from worldly people. This rule reminds every religious that he must not follow the worldlings’ dissolute customs, but try to lead them back toward virtue by example and prayer. The difference among these ‘religious’ would therefore be unimportant, if they all took the formula of their vows in exactly the same way. In general, ‘chastity’ is something they all understand better than they observe; ‘obedience’ is something they may argue about as to extent and degree; but ‘poverty’ is a word to which they attach completely different ideas. The major division of religious orders into ‘proprietary’ and ‘mendicant’ comes from this last difference of opinions. “Proprietary religious can be divided into two classes: on one hand, a class of monks properly so-called like ourselves, the Trappist fathers, etc.; and on the other hand, a class of religious living together who also take the vow of poverty, but have a different understanding of that vow—mendicants whether gray, black, shod or barefoot. “Proprietary orders locate religious poverty within the individual members : that is the main point of the contract drawn up between the religious and his house; the house is obliged to give the regular religious everything he needs in life as defined by the rule, on condition that he renounces every kind of property. He is poor, because he possesses nothing himself: his habit does not belong to him; he may wear it, but not sell it. The religious house must provide all his needs so long as he fulfills the clauses of his engagement: to fast, pray, work with his hands: in a word, to contribute to the community’s welfare...