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VOWS AND COMMUNITY

tower of Westmalle Abbey

Monks who belong to the tradition started by the Rule for Monks of Saint Benedict take four vows, after a probationary period of at least five years, during which they formally observe these vows. These vows are: poverty, obedience, a monastic life and stability.

According to Saint Benedict, poverty comes down to every monk being able to freely use what he needs for his personal well being and for the work and responsibilities that he is given. However, he may not call these things his own property. Monks possess everything communally, and this communal possession is the material basis of their life in a fraternal community. Furthermore, with his vow of poverty the monk strives for simplicity and frugality, and gives up all the superfluous as much as possible.

With obedience the monks undertake to always be open to loyal dialogue with their abbot and their fellow brothers. If a monk does not agree with the abbot, he always complies with his decision sincerely and magnanimously. If it causes him a lot of difficulty, he considers it to be a contribution to the peace and good relations of the community and he dedicates his efforts to the honour of God, so that - according to Saint Benedict - “God is praised in everything”.

atrium of Westmalle Abbey

‘Monastic life’ means that the vow of chastity means more to the monks than life in sexual abstinence. According to an old tradition, chastity has more to do with modesty: selfishness and desire have to be restrained and refined into friendly attention and modesty. Monastic life in fact means that the monks have to behave as monks. The programme for the monastic lifestyle is contained in the Rule for Monks of Saint Benedict. Important components of this programme are humility and silence. In the community they contribute to an atmosphere of affection, piety and mutual respect.

With the vow of stability, the monk pledges himself to the community that he enters. The monk remains faithful to the place of his entry and the community that he joins as a brother. Exceptionally, monks do change monasteries: they go to another community and after a probationary period they take a new vow of stability. This is only done for serious reasons.