April 10, August 10, December 10
Chapter 57: On the Artisans of the Monastery
If there are artisans in the monastery,
let them practice their crafts with all humility,
provided the Abbot has given permission.
But if any one of them becomes conceited
over his skill in his craft,
because he seems to be conferring a benefit on the monastery,
let him be taken from his craft
and no longer exercise it unless,
after he has humbled himself,
the Abbot again gives him permission.
If any of the work of the craftsmen is to be sold,
those responsible for the sale
must not dare to practice any fraud.
Let them always remember Ananias and Saphira,
who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11),
lest they and all who perpetrate fraud
in monastery affairs
suffer spiritual death.
And in the prices let not the sin of avarice creep in,
but let the goods always be sold a little cheaper
than they can be sold by people in the world,
“that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
For those of us who practice crafts of any kind, this passage might ring some alarm bells. Humility in one’s skill is important because our skill comes to us as God’s gift. If we are proud or vain about what we produce, we are refusing to give the glory that’s due to the Lord in all that we do.
Yet God is the Creator and we are made in his image; creativity is natural to human beings. It takes many forms, not just the most desired or praised like being a Mozart, a Monet or a Milton, which most of us can’t aspire to.
What sorts of things would the monks and nuns have used their gifts to create and then sell?
Perhaps the scribes illuminated beautiful parchments; perhaps the gardeners grew excellent vegetables; perhaps the cellarers made delicious wine; perhaps the herbalists made medicines and the kitchen monks made soup? Perhaps the sisters made cloth or did fine needlework?
The monastic community was supposed to be self-supporting and would make their own soap, clothing, shoes, baskets, spun wool, wove it, and if they had extra, they could sell it.
The communities were glad, no doubt, of the extra income, even though they charged less than the ‘going price’ in the world. Perhaps conceit was a very real temptation – to think one was contributing more than the others to the community’s well-being when one’s creations sold well…
It is kind of comforting to feel one is ‘paying one’s way’, ‘doing one’s bit’, and ‘not being a burden’… but community life is inter-dependent life, neither independent nor dependent life. Quite a sobering thought really.