- Histoire littéraire des bénédictins de Saint-Maur, Tome Quatrième (1724–1787) by Philippe Lenain
This work is the fourth and final volume of Philippe Lenain’s catalog of the literary works by the Benedictines of the Congregation of Saint-Maur. The Maurists themselves and later historians have sought to create an organized account of the works of these monks, but Lenain’s monumental undertaking is the most comprehensive version yet assembled. Lenain organized the entries according to each monk’s number from the Matricula Monachorum Professorum Congregationis S. Mauri, in Gallia Ordinis Sancti Patris Benedicti, which assigned the numbers based on the monk’s profession date. (An alphabetical list with the Matricula numbers is given in volume 1.) Each entry includes a brief biography of the monastic writer, a list of his works, his known correspondence, the locations where the monk’s works can be found (published and archival sources), and bibliographic references. Entries range in size from a few lines to multiple pages.
Volume 4 covers the monastic writers from 1724 to 1787. The Age of Enlightenment brought new perspectives and challenges to these monks. Dom François Clément, one of the more prolific Maurists of the eighteenth century, lamented that the “taste for studies” among his fellow regulars had declined in the Age of Reason. That may have been true in philosophy and theology, fields that the Maurists had dominated during the previous century, but the Congregation still produced renowned scholars in history, literature, and science who responded to the changing academic environment of the Enlightenment. Nonetheless, the number of Maurist authors was cut in half during the eighteenth century. Lenain’s compilation bears testimony to this; the works of the seventeenth century comprised three volumes, whereas those of the eighteenth fit into one.
Jean de Viguerie in the preface to volume 4 attributes this lack of production to laxity in enforcement of the Rule of Saint Benedict, the eternal cause of decline [End Page 942] in the eyes of monastic writers. But, de Viguerie also notes other reasons for the decrease: namely that Maurists in the eighteenth century began to work more in the public realm as librarians and educators in private military academies and public schools. Their teaching left them little time to pursue the research and writing of their predecessors (a situation to which many professors today can relate).
De Viguerie also points to Freemasonry as a source of the decline in scholarly output. Freemasonry became very popular among the upper and middle classes in the eighteenth century, and as prominent, educated members of their secular community, Maurists sometimes joined the local lodge or even held lodge meetings within the monastery. Their membership has often been cited as one of the reasons for the decline in the order and its academic works. In fact, only two Maurists who were also freemasons appear in this volume. At the same time, this could indicate a new area for research even beyond Lenain’s current work. Monks who were freemasons did continue to write and produce scholarship, but they often did so for their lodges, not for the order. To add these works to the list of monastic writings will require combing through the archives of lodges, perhaps a new direction for scholarship on the Maurists.
This final volume in the series is more visually appealing than the previous three. Also, it contains a bibliography that is limited to only French sources. Much research still needs to be done on the history and scholarship of the Congregation of Saint-Maur. Lenain’s compilation, the result of years of extensive research, will provide a useful tool for future researchers.