Abt Christian Feurstein, 1958-2017

Abbot Christian in his days as Prior of Heiligenkreuz

Of your charity, pray for the repose of the soul of Abbot Christian Feurstein, O.Cist., former Abbot of Stift Rein in Styria, who died last night after a long struggle with heart disease. Abbot Christian was a monk of Stift Heiligenkreuz before being postulated as abbot by the monks of Stift Rein. For many years he was prior and novice master in Heiligenkreuz. He was my novice master, and I will be eternally grateful for kindness and patience in leading me into the monastic life. Every day for a year the other novices and I had lessons on the Rule of St. Benedict and Psalms from him. I’m afraid that I may have been a somewhat trying disciple. “It befitteth a master to speak and teach,” St. Benedict teaches in the Holy Rule, “and it beseemeth a disciple to hold his peace and listen.” But I had come fresh from the disputatious atmosphere of the great books seminars of my college, and was accustomed to speak and argue, while a tutor held his peace and listened. But if Pater Christian found me trying, I never knew it; his patience with me was boundless.

The novices of ’06-’07 and ’07-’08 with Novice Master Pater Christian, Abbot Gregor, and the Subprior of Stiepel, P. Jakobus. The author of this blog is in the back row on the far left.

He was not a man of great speculative brilliance, but he had a deep experiential wisdom from a life of fidelity to Christ. He was great example of true monastic humility. I do not think that I have ever met a more humble man. “The seventh degree of humility,” St. Benedict teaches, “is not only to pronounce with his tongue, but also in his very heart to believe himself to be the most abject, and inferior to all.” I remember Pater Christian telling us about some renowned intellectual giving a talk at Heiligenkreuz’s priory in Stiepel, in the Ruhr Valley (P. Christian was one of the founding monks of that priory). The intellectual was talking about how the seventh degree of humility is terribly bad, and that a healthy person has to have self-esteem etc. P. Christian tried to defend St. Benedict, but was unable to convince the intellectual. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew that the seventh degree of humility was good. I think that he knew it con-naturally, because he had attained it in his own life. In recounting this story, P. Christian laughed. He had not, you see, attained the tenth degree of humility, for he was very prompt to laugh.

Abbot Christian (second from left) at his Abbatial Blessing in Stift Rein

He was postulated as Abbot of Stift Rein in Styria in 2010, the year that I took solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz. Once when I visited him there he was preparing to go officiate at a funeral in a nearby parish. Someone else told me that the abbot was constantly doing funerals in that parish, since the parish priest there, a monk of Stift Rein, was “too busy.” It was typical of Abbot Christian that despite the many burdens of his abbatial office he did not think himself too busy to help out in parishes. In 2015 he resigned as Abbot of Rein on account of his heart condition, and returned to Heiligenkreuz. He suffered much through his long sickness. After a stroke that followed one operation he was unable to speak. But he could still smile. He died last night in the hospital with a number of the confrères praying the commendatio animae  at his bedside. His body will first be taken to Stift Rein, where the Bishop of Graz-Sekau will sing a requiem for him on March 21st, and then his body will be taken to Stift Heiligenkreuz where the Requiem and burial will be on March 24th.

Requiescat in pace.

Solemn Profession of Vows in Heiligenkreuz

The video embedded above shows the Mass of the Assumption in Heiligenkreuz yesterday, during which four of my confrères made their solemn profession of vows. The Assumption is the patronal feast of all Cistercian churches, and it is very often the occasion of vows. During the glorious liturgy I thought back to the first time that I witnessed solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Assumption day of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. It was then that I decided to enter Heiligenkreuz myself. And, of course, I thought back to my own solemn vows on Assumption day of 2010. Each subsequent Feast of the Assumption has been for me a renewal of joy and gratitude at being a monk of this abbey. Continue reading

The New Cistercian Secretary for Liturgy

Congratulations to our master of ceremonies in Heiligenkreuz, Pater Cœlestin, who has been appointed secretary of the Liturgical Secretariat of the Cistercian Order. An excellent choice; Pater Cœlestin is a tremendously efficient, hard working, good humored fellow; a great lover of the beauty of the liturgy, but one with the practical skills to get things done. (How time flies! I remember when P. Cœlestin first came to the monastery as a guest, and asked me what Tu autem Domine means).

Pater Cœlestin’s first letter to the order as secretary has just been published in various languages, including English, and the original German. The English translation, by Fr. John of Dallas, is quite good, but it omits the most characteristic sentence of the whole text. In bewailing the fact that the Trappists of Westmalle no-longer print the beautiful books of Cistercian chant for which they were once famous, Pater Cœlestin writes, “Heute machen sie nur noch Bier” (today they only produce beer). The sentence is simply omitted in the translation.

The early Cistercians put a lot of emphasis on liturgical uniformity in the order, as witnessed by a line from the Charta Caritatis, which Pater Cœlestin put in the heading of his letter as a kind of motto: una caritate, una regula, similibus vivamus moribus. In context the line reads:

And because we receive all monks coming from other monasteries into ours, and they in like manner receive ours; it seems proper to us, that all our monasteries should have the same usage in chanting, and the same books for divine office day and night and the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as we have in the New Monastery [Cîteaux]; that there may be no discord in our daily actions, but that we may all live together in the bond of charity under one rule, and in the practice of the same observances.

The vicissitudes of history, however, and especially ill-conceived attempts at aggiornamento following the last ecumenical council, have introduced a bewildering diversity into liturgical practice of the order. Thus, for example, Pater Cœlestin notes that 75% of Cistercian monasteries now celebrate the Divine Office in the vernacular (in direct opposition to Bl. Paul VI’s Sacrificium laudis). That makes the task of the Liturgical Secretariat difficult. It is to be hoped, however, that Pater Cœlestin will be able to realize some long contemplated projects: such as a new edition of the Cistercian Gradual.

neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption

I wish to follow with all my strength the lowly Jesus ; I wish Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me, to embrace me with the arms of His love, which suffered in my stead; but I must also feed on the Paschal Lamb, for unless I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood I have no life in me. It is one thing to follow Jesus, another to hold Him, another to feed on Him. To follow Him is a life-giving purpose ; to hold and embrace Him a solemn joy ; to feed on Him a blissful life. For His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed. The bread of God is He who cometh down from Heaven and giveth life to the world (S. John vi. 56, 33). What stability is there for joy, what constancy of purpose, without life ? Surely no more than for a picture without a solid basis. Similarly neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption. (St. Bernard, Letter On the Errors of Peter Abelard)

Original:

Volo totis nisibus humilem sequi Jesum; cupio eum qui dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me, quibusdam brachiis vicariae dilectionis amplecti: sed oportet me et Agnum manducare paschalem. Nisi enim manducavero carnem ejus, et bibero ejus sanguinem, non habebo vitam in memetipso. Aliud sequi Jesum, aliud tenere, aliud manducare. Sequi, salubre consilium; tenere et amplecti, solemne gaudium; manducare, vita beata. Caro enim ejus vere est cibus, et sanguis ejus vere est potus. Panis est Dei qui de coelo descendit, et dat vitam mundo (Joan. VI, 56, 33). Quis status gaudio, sive consilio, absque vita? Nempe haud alius quam picturae absque solido. Ergo nec humilitatis exempla, nec charitatis insignia, praeter redemptionis sacramentum, sunt aliquid.

Bl. Isaac of Stella vs. St Bernard on the Crusades

Benet Oxon has posted a careful analysis of St Bernard’s theology of crusade at The Josias, showing how St Bernard applied St Augustine’s theology of just war. St Bernard’s position is sometimes dismissed with an appeal to the customary way of thinking of his time—‘everyone thought that way back then,’ it is said, ‘and so we needn’t take his arguments seriously.’ But this neglects the fact that St Bernard’s position was contested by other theologians at the time—even within the Cistercian order. Blessed Isaac of Stella, for example, mocks the ideals of the Knights Templar, in terms that sound very much like the anti-crusade clichés of our own time: Continue reading

Blessed Are They That Mourn: Stratford Caldecott and Tradition

Hilaire Belloc calls the dons that taught him at Oxford «The horizon of my memories— / Like large and comfortable trees.» I can apply that expression to the friends of my parents whom I knew as a small child. Since we moved often when I was growing up, there are many who form the horizon of my childhood memories whom I have seen only rarely since. There is something wonderful about meeting those people now (or even just reading their writings), and being able to know them in quite a different way than I did as a child. Continue reading

Solemn Vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Feast of St Bernard

Yesterday was the Feast of our Holy Father St. Bernard. Two of my confrères took final vows.

I described the rite of solemn profession of vows on an earlier occasion as follows:

The ceremony for solemn vows follows more or less the outline described by St Benedict in the Rule, and is marked by St Benedict’s Roman sobriety. 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. The candidates read out the vows of stability, conversion of morals and obedience, which they have written by hand on parchment. 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 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.

Photos: Stift Heiligenkreuz

“The man who loves God above all else and with his whole being”

 

Da mihi hominem, qui ante omnia quidem ex toto se diligat Deum; se vero et proximum, in quantum diligunt ipsum; inimicum autem, tanquam aliquando forsitan dilecturum; porro parentes carnis suae germanius, propter naturam; spirituales vero eruditores suos profusius, propter gratiam; atque in hunc modum ad caetera quaeque Dei ordinato intendat amore, despiciens terram, suspiciens coelum, utens hoc mundo tanquam non utens, et inter utenda et fruenda intimo quodam mentis sapore discernens, ut transitoria transitorie, et ad id duntaxat quod opus, et prout opus est curet, aeterna desiderio amplectatur aeterno: talem, inquam, da mihi hominem, et ego audacter illum sapientem pronuntio, cui nimirum quaeque res revera sapiunt prout sunt, et cui in veritate atque securitate competit gloriari, et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Sed ubi ille, aut quando ista? Quod flens dico, quousque odoramus, et non gustamus, prospicientes patriam, et non apprehendentes, suspirantes, et de longe salutantes? O veritas exsulum patria, exsilii finis? video te, sed intrare non sinor carne retentus, sed nec dignus admitti, peccatis sordens. O Sapientia, quae attingis a fine usque ad finem fortiter in instituendis et continendis rebus; et disponis omnia suaviter in beandis et ordinandis affectibus! dirige actus nostros, prout nostra temporalis necessitas poscit; et dispone affectus nostros, prout tua veritas aeterna requirit, ut possit unusquisque nostrum secure in te gloriari et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Tu es enim Dei virtus et A Dei sapientia, Christus sponsus Ecclesiae, Dominus noster, super omnia Deus benedictus in saecula. Amen.

(Give me the man who loves God above all else and with his whole being; who loves himself and his neighbour in the measure in which they both love God; his enemy as one who will perhaps one day love God; his natural parents tenderly as nature prompts, his spiritual parents – namely his teachers – unreservedly as gratitude requires. And in this way he reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love, looking down on the earth and up to heaven, dealing with this world as though uninvolved, and distinguishing with an inward refinement of the soul between what is to be merely employed and what enjoyed, paying passing attention to the transient, and that only as need requires, while embracing all things eternal with a desire that never flags. Give me, I say, a man like that and I dare to proclaim him wise. Such a man takes all things as they really are, and is able with truth and confidence to boast: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ But where is such a man and when shall these things be? Weeping, I ask: how long shall we have the fragrance without the savour. we who glimpse our heavenly home from an unapproachable distance and are left sighing for it and hailing it from afar? O Truth, homeland of wanderers and the end of exile! I see you, and yet, detained still in the body, I may not enter in, nor am I worthy of admittance, grimed as I am with sin. O Wisdom, you who span the universe with power, beginning and preservation of all that is,  you who order our affections without coercion, distilling your blessing, so govern our acts that our present obligations are discharged, and dispose our affections to reflect the etemal values of your truth, so that each one of us may safely glory in you and say: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ For you, O Christ, are the power and wisdom of God, the Bridegroom of the Church, our Lord and God blessed for ever more. Amen. (St Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica Canticorum, Sermo 50; trans. Pauline Matarasso))

Why He Let Me Do It

From Abbot William of St. Thierry’s fourth meditation:

I, even I, Lord, am, as your Prophet has said, a man that sees my own poverty; I am poor and beset with troubles from my youth; having been lifted up, I have been humbled and put to shame. For you have brought me through such great and dire troubles, and then you have turned and led me back to life, you have brought me again from the deep of the earth. You have multiplied your mighty acts upon me; turning toward me, you have brought me comfort. For when of old in your paradise you created me, and gave me the tree of life for my possession, as of abiding right, you willed–or at least you allowed me–to reach my hand out also for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; you did this, so that I, who had grown weary of my inward blessings, might find what sort of outward action I could do, with the consent and help of Eve, my flesh. I tasted of the fruit and saw, not your graciousness but my own shame. I saw myself as one whose infamy needed a cloak to cover it, whose nakedness trembled to meet you, whose liberty required the constraint of laws. For I was found in your sight destitute of all the inward things men thought that I possessed; I was found shameful in my inward parts and found in them no refuge from myself, nor yet from you. And I, who had received the charge of ruling others, appeared as needing to be ruled myself!