Valley of Our Lady

My Cistercian consœurs in Valley of Our Lady, Wisconsin are building a new monastery. The are blest with a lot of vocations, and the buildings that they are currently using are too small. The current buildings are also not really suited to monastic life. You can learn more about the project and how you can help here.

The Age of Reason

As infants are transformed into children, they learn to distinguish between, on the one hand, goods and, on the other, objects of desire. “Don’t eat, take, do that!” says the parent. “But I want it!” replies the child. “It will be bad for you,” says the parent. Or perhaps what the parent says is “Don’t eat, take, do that now. It will be better to leave it until later,” to which the reply is “But I want it now!” Why should children do what their parents take to be good for them rather than what they want? Why should a child defer the satisfaction of its wants because its parent takes it to be better to do so? Initially, it can only be because the child desires the parent’s approval and fears its disapproval, a disapproval sometimes expressed in punishment. But later the good-enough parent provides reasons for dis- criminating between objects of desire and hopes that the child will come to recognize these reasons as good reasons. How might a child do so?

One of the salient differences between young human beings and the young of other species is that the former, unlike the latter, are at a certain point treated as accountable for their actions. “What was/is the good of doing that?” they are asked, not only by parents and by other adults but also by their contemporaries, and this in a number of contexts. For as they are initiated into a variety of practices at home, at school, in the workplace, they learn to recognize goods internal to each practice, goods that they and other participants can achieve only through the exercise of virtues and skills. If and when they fail in respect of these, they will commonly be put to the question. So they find themselves having to give reasons for their actions to others and on occasion having to advance arguments in support of those reasons. They become rational agents when they first pose such questions to themselves about their own failures and act upon the answers. If they are so to act, they must of course be motivated by the prospect of achieving those goods that have provided them with what they take to be good reasons for acting. Their desires must to some large degree direct them as their reasoning directs them. Insofar as this is so, they will have begun to become accountable rational agents, accountable both to themselves and to others.

Aladair MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, pp. 37-38.

Alma Mater Rudolphina

At long last I have successfully defended my dissertation in theology at the University of Vienna. The dissertation took far too long to write, and ended up not being very good, but it is a great relief to have it finished at last.

I suppose it is natural that one doesn’t have as much affection for one’s graduate school than one does for one’s undergraduate college, but I am pleased to now have a degree from what is one of the oldest universities in central Europe. The University of Vienna was founded in 1365 by Duke Rudolph IV of Austria, and is therefore called the Alma Mater Rudolphina. The Pope initially refused to grant the new university a theological faculty, so my faculty, the queen of the faculties, wasn’t established till 1384.

Robinson Crusoe

In the latest newsletter of The Lamp, Matthew Walther points out that this year marks three hundred years since the publication of Robinson Crusoe. He promises us an essay ‘on alienation and the common good’ in Defoe’s masterpiece in next week’s newsletter. I certainly look forward to reading that. A few years ago I wrote an essay on the soul in the novel, in which I argued that Robinson Crusoe expresses some typical features of ‘modernity’—including a split between the interior and subjective (in which religion is placed), and the exterior or objective (which becomes the domain of technology).

Solemn Vows

Five of my confrères in Heiligenkreuz made their solemn profession of vows on Thursday.

The ceremony for solemn vows is one of the most beautiful of all ceremonies. Splendid, but also very simple, following the form laid down by St Benedict in the Rule. After the gospel the candidates prostrate themselves before the Abbot, who asks: Quid pétitis? They respond Misericórdiam Dei et Ordinis. The abbot then tells them to arise and preaches a sermon, sitting on the faldstool with the candidates standing in front of him. Then comes the feudal homagium, in which the candidates lay their hands in the abbot’s and promise him and his successors obedience according to the Rule of St Benedict “usque ad mortem.” Then every one kneels down and the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. Then come the actual vows, which the candidates read out from a parchment that they have written by hand:

I Frater N., layman (or: Priest), promise my stability, the conversion of my morals, and obedience according to the Rule of St. Benedict, Abbot and the Constitutions of the Austrian Congregation, in the presence of God and of His saints whose relics are kept here, in this place which is called Heiligenkreuz, constructed in honor of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the presence of the Lord Abbot Maximilian and all those standing around.

They then sign the vow charts on the altar. The charts remain on the altar and are offered to God together with the gifts of the Mass. After signing the vows they sing ‘Súscipe me, Dómine, secúndum elóquium tuum et vívam; † et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea’ (Receive me, O Lord, according to Your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope) three times. They then kneel down in front of each and every monk in the community, saying Ora pro me, Pater, to which the monks reply Dóminus custódiat intróitum tuum et éxitum tuum. While this is going on cantors sing the Miserere. Then the newly professed monks are then blessed with an extraordinary three part prayer, addressed to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity in turn. They are then clothed in the cowl and the Mass proceeds.

Mass lasts a long time. Afterwards there are refreshments.


After three years as vice-rector of the Leopoldinum Seminary, and a year as rector in Siegenfeld, my Lord Abbot has decided to propose me as parish priest in Gaaden. Cardinal Schönborn, following the Lord Abbot’s proposal, has appointed me to begin in Gaaden at the beginning of September. I will be leaving the Leopoldinum and Siegenfeld, but will still be lecturing in moral theology at the theological college (Hochschule) in Heiligenkreuz.

Gaaden has about 1,600 souls, and is about 5 kilometers from Heiligenkreuz, to which it has belonged since 1376. The beautiful parish Church is dedicated to St. James as patron of pilgrims, as it is on one of the traditional pilgrimage routes from Vienna to Mariazell. It has baroque altars. There is a parish hall called “Haus Sankt Jakob,” which was once a school. And next to the House St. Jakob is a very nice rectory, which is already making me feel like Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. The parish also has chapels-of-ease in Untergaaden and Sparbach.

Please say a prayer for me, reader, as I prepare to take up my new duties.

The Lamp

The brilliant Matthew Walther of The Week and William Borman of Incudi Reddere are starting a Catholic magazine that promises to be all that a Catholic magazine should be. As their fundraising page puts it:

The Lamp will be a magazine in the old-fashioned sense, witty, urbane, not pompous or shrill, full of serious reporting, insightful opinions, squibs, oblique parodies, bagatelles, and arts coverage that draws attention to those things that are true, good, and beautiful whether they belong formally to the Church or not, not a throwaway click-driven venture in chasing worthless trends or drumming up outrage… At The Lamp we will take marching orders from neither the discredited ideologies of the progressive left or the libertarian-conservative right nor from the neoliberal consensus of atomization, spoliation, rootlessness, and mindless entertainment into which both are rapidly being subsumed, but rather from the immutable teaching of the Church. We are not nostalgists harkening after a mythical “moment before” when it was supposedly possible to reconcile the Church to the world.

I think it is going to be wonderful.

The Roof of the Abbey Church in Heiligenkreuz

The burning of the roof of the cathedral in Paris made me want to go up and explore the inside of the roof of my abbey Church again. I hadn’t been up there in years. Like Notre Dame, our Abbey too has the original medieval wooden roof construction intact. It also has a small spire over the sanctuary, and a large tower next to the church. I went into both of them today.

Here is a video of today’s trip:

And here is a tour that I gave a guest some years ago:

Easter Monday

In Germany and Austria Easter Monday is a holiday, and the Emmaus Gospel is still read, even in the ordinary form. (The German versions of the Missal and Lectionary of Paul VI preserve a number of features of the older form that were abandoned in the typical editions— including dates of popular feasts, ember days, and, as in this case, the Gospels for some particular days). It is therefore customary to take a walk on Easter Monday. I took one with some of my confrères and some guests.