April 13, August 13, December 13
Chapter 59: On the Sons of Nobles and of the Poor Who Are Offered
If anyone of the nobility
offers his son to God in the monastery
and the boy is very young,
let his parents draw up the document which we mentioned above;
and at the oblation
let them wrap the document itself and the boy’s hand in the altar cloth.
That is how they offer him.
As regards their property,
they shall promise in the same petition under oath
that they will never of themselves, or through an intermediary,
or in any way whatever,
give him anything
or provide him with the opportunity of owning anything.
if they are unwilling to do this,
and if they want to offer something as an alms to the monastery
for their advantage,
let them make a donation
of the property they wish to give to the monastery,
reserving the income to themselves if they wish.
And in this way let everything be barred,
so that the boy may have no expectations
whereby (which God forbid) he might be deceived and ruined,
as we have learned by experience.
Let those who are less well-to-do make a similar offering.
But those who have nothing at all
shall simply draw up the document
and offer their son before witnesses at the oblation.
There’s Biblical precedent for it, the young Samuel being the most obvious example, and in the Middle Ages in Europe it was quite usual for sons of well-to-do families to be sent away to be a squire to some other titled family and learn there to be a knight. Other boys would be sent off to live with the families of craftsmen while they learnt the trade first as apprentices and then as journeymen. Perhaps being offered to God and being brought up in a monastic community was very far from being a ‘short straw’. There is no historical evidence to suggest that young squires were necessarily treated kindly and the young apprentice would be totally dependent on the master craftsman to whom he was bonded, for good or ill. We know from the Rule that Benedict set down very exact and fair provision for the physical, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of the ‘boys’ in the monasteries.
It’s hard for us to understand these days, because generally speaking parents would be aghast at the idea of leaving their children to the care of monks in a community from which they could not retrieve their offspring at a later stage.
On the other hand, certainly, parents in many countries do put their children into boarding schools. This also happens to the children of missionaries serving overseas.
Clearly this is not a path that every parent would want to take – offering one’s child to God to be brought up in the community. It really is a sacrificial offering and I wonder very much what drew the parents to this decision. Was it to ensure an education for their child? Or security? Or knowing the child would never starve even though food would be simple and there would be times of
Habstinence? Or was it out of a deep faith-conviction – their own gift to God of the most precious thing He hadgiven them? The opportunity for their child to grow up among holy, dedicated men who would teach the child to know God’s presence?
These are things we all want for our children, aren’t they? A good education, enough food and safety (spiritual safety as well as physical safety)? And the exposure to the lives of people of deep faith who can have a positive influence on our children?