The group of believers were of one heart and one soul.


2nd Sunday of Easter: Chapter



Pentecost and Community

The group of believers were of one heart and one soul. Nobody called anything his own but everything was common to all.(Acts 4: 32) These words of the Acts of the Apostles, to be read at today's liturgy , describe in idealistic language the early Christian community. Earlier in this same inspired book, there is a more elaborate development depicting this same spirit of fraternal communion which marked the post-resurrection community.

They were persevering in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion and the breaking of bread and in the prayers. ... All the believers were of a single mind and held everything in common. They sold their property and possessions and distributed them to all according to the need of each. They continued in one spirit to pray daily in the temple, breaking bread in their homes and taking their nourishment with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God and gaining favor in the eyes of the people (Acts 2: 42- 47)
Abbot John Cassian

These descriptions were taken very much to heart by John Cassian who cites them a number of times. He refers to them in his Conference on Friendship where he puts forth the opinion that the first condition of true friendship is detachment from possessions. (Conf. 16.VI.1) He observes that one of the most frequent causes of dissension is disputing over some material good, often something paltry in nature. It is not only in renouncing possessions that one attains to such detachment; we must also hold them in contempt, considering them beneath people whose concern is the higher good of true charity and friendship. Nothing is more inimical to charity than anger, and this passion is easily aroused in those who remain attached to material things, he states. Interestingly, he considered that the chief cause of decline from the perfection of the apostolic church was precisely the leaving aside of this sharing of material goods. He understands that in fact is why it became necessary to establish the Lenten fast. Earlier, Christians with fervor practiced fasting at all times of the year, without constraint of any kind, freely. He states the case in these words.

It should certainly be known that this Lenten observance did not exist at all as long as the perfection of the primitive Church remained.... But the multitude of believers descended daily from that apostolic devotion to concern for their own wealth, and used it not for the sake of all in keeping with the apostolic practice, but for their private expenses. They not only strove to preserve their wealth but even to augment it....Then the priests seeing people so tied up in secular matters and practically ignorant of continence and compunction called them back to holy works by establishing canonically prescribed fasts. (Collatio 21. XXX PL 49: 1208-9)

Thus it was a failure of communal spirit and charity that led to the necessity of prescribing penances such as fasting, in Cassian's opinion. When fraternal concern is strong and faith is fervent, he maintains, there is no need of laws for Christians; we will spontaneously do penance, fast and share what we possess with those who are in need. His views had a broad and enduring influence. Following in his steps St. Benedict and our Cistercian Fathers also viewed the primitive community of believers as embodying the ideal of cenobitic life. Their followers have considered this description of the first Christian community as normative, defining the use of material things as well as depicting the attitudes that all Christians and more especially monks dedicated to the common life, should cultivate.

Before Cassian wrote, from the same book of Acts, we discover how difficult it proved to be, even for these holy men and women, recipients of the Holy Spirit and acquainted with the Blessed Mother and the chosen apostles of the Lord, to maintain this unity of heart and soul over a period of time. Before long the Greeks had complaints about the Jews who gave greater care to their own widows and poor and neglected those of the Greeks. The apostles responded without delay to this breach of justice and charity with a solution that proved quite successful. They instituted the deaconate in its primitive form, appointing seven competent men as deacons to assure justice was done to all.

From this example we are taught that the communion which is to characterize the community of Christ's followers is fragile, subject to the vicissitudes of human interaction. Even though it is a gift of the Spirit to the Church, yet its preservation depends upon the continuing collaboration of the men and women who constitute the believing community. For such profound unity to be maintained over time it must be carefully guarded and generously cultivated. Should this unity be threatened or infringed upon, those having authority must see that prudent measures are taken to assure it is quickly re-established. This entails listening to the aggrieved party, as the apostles did, and, having come to a well-thought-out position after prayer, communicating the measures agreed upon as an adequate response to the difficulty. Every member has an obligation be part of this process and thus to assure the unity of the local community in keeping with his specific gifts, training and position. Later on St. Benedict was to arrange in some detail for such adequate structures as would facilitate the preservation of fervor, encourage individual inner liberty and community spirit for those who live according to his Rule for Monks. He devotes an entire chapter to this question giving it the Title inspired by the text from Acts IV, which he cites in the body of his text: Whether the monks should have anything of their own.(Ch.33) The whole of this short chapter reads as follows.

Above all this vice of private ownership must be amputated from the monastery. No one is to presume to give or receive anything without the permission of the abbot, not to call anything his own, absolutely nothing: neither a book, nor writing material, nor pen, nor anything else whatsoever. For it is not permitted that monks have even their own bodies and their own wills in their own private possession. They are to look to the abbot for everything, and should possess nothing save what the abbot gives or permits. Let all things be held in common by all, as it is written "No one presumed to call anything his own "(Acts IV.32). But if anyone is found who takes satisfaction in this most evil of vices let him be admonished once and a second time. If he does not correct himself, let him undergo punishment.

When St. Benedict feels deeply about some matter he begins to use absolutes and superlatives as he repeatedly does in this chapter. He would seem to have had some painful experiences in this matter of private possessions that proved disruptive of community spirit. He clearly agrees then with Cassian that possessiveness is to be considered one of the greatest of evils and destructive of monastic life. Both believe that in practice such attachment to material things is of its nature opposed to charity. Of course, there has been considerable modification of the attitude to private property in modern times and it is evident that cultural factors contributed to the views expressed by Cassian and Benedict as regards detailed application of the principle they both defend. Still, the principle itself remains intact: material goods of all kinds are for the benefit of the community as such, not subject to the whims and greed of individuals. The social and cultural attitudes to possessions and their significance change along with other features of society as history advances in time; but the human person's propensity for graspingness, the passions of greed and ambition remain all too active in the human heart. It requires much self- denial, self-knowledge and dedication to a higher purpose to replace this divisive propensity with concern for the common good and for the well-being of our fellow human beings.

It may not be apparent at first why such a question as the use of wealth and possessions is an appropriate subject to dwell upon at this season when we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But closer attention to the issues involved demonstrates the intrinsic connection between this mystery and our relation to the things of this world. For one thing, the resurrection involves not only the person of Jesus but also his physical body.

The person has an essential relation to the body considered in its physical reality; indeed, the person is spirit in body; body is a manifestation of spirit. That does not mean it is identified wholly with the concrete material which at any one time is found in the body in the form determined by the soul. The continuity of the human body is assured not by persistence of identical matter, but by the spiritual element, the soul which is its form. The molecules which constitute the mater of the body are in constant flux. The specific molecular components are being transmuted as they fulfill their purposes. They wear down as they function and require to be replaced with the progression of time. Some are more labile than others. Vitamin C, for example, cannot be stored for any long time in the human body; it is rapidly oxidized and destroyed. Consequently, we require a regular and frequent intake of this vitamin, preferably daily, for the body to remain intact and capable of defending itself against infection and healing wounds. Even the relatively stable molecules, such as the calcium found in osseous tissue, stand in need of on-going replacement. A healthy condition of the bones can be assured only by supplemental, preferably steady intake in the form of an appropriate diet.

To be sure, while the body is not identified with its matter, then, still it does not exist, in its earthly phase, apart from the material world. It remain a part of that world in its materiality so long as it is in time. Cardinal Ratzinger has developed the concept of bodiliness as distinct from the physiological unit consisting of molecules and atoms. He maintains that matter is interiorized or integrated so as to enter into the very identity of the human spirit (cf. Bernard Prusak, Bodily Resurrection in Christian Perspective, Theological Studies 61 (2000), 96. Because of this full integration of matter into the soul it is taken up in the resurrection and thus arrives as it completeness. Thus, as the International Theological Commission affirms "the resurrection is not only an event happening to the individual but also an ecclesial and cosmic event." At the same time, it points out that the Church has never taught that the same matter is necessary for the preservation of essential bodily identity. Aquinas had already taught that the soul is the form of the body, and Ratzinger pursuing his line of thought carried it further to assert that "The physiology becomes truly ‘body' through the heart of the personality. Bodiliness is something other than a summation of corpuscles (op. cit., 95)." The identity of the body is a derivative, not of matter, but of the soul. Nor is the body an isolated unit, independent of the rest of creation and existing apart from society; rather, it functions intrinsically bound up with the components of nature and continually interacts, directly or indirectly, with others. This is so basic that it can adequately unfold and develop its capacities only in relation to other persons.

We cannot know the precise nature of the risen body, according to some of the best known modern theologians such as Cardinal Ratzinger and Karl Rahner. That there remains an intrinsic and permanent relationship to the created world is certain. There is an essential continuity between the resurrected person, including the body, and the time-bound person which is assured by personal history as experienced in time and which enters into the concrete formation of the personality. This identity that extends through historical events and beyond into eternity is symbolized in Christ by the preservation of the marks of his wounds. His glorified body is the same as that which was crucified and underwent the experiences that brought him to that point of his history. How he used material things, how he related to people and with what purposes and intentions are all taken up into his final state, not put aside, but transformed so as to exist in a mode determined by his divine relation to the Father.

St. Benedict

The implications of this truth for the way we as believers make use of material things and relate to our community and to society in general are fundamental. Seen in relation to this question of the integration of matter into the spirit and in the perspective of the resurrection, the issues raised in the 33rd chapter of St. Benedict's Rule assume an altogether new significance. So do his words concerning the tools, clothing and other material possessions of the monastery, a subject he takes up in the preceding chapter and in his treatment of the cellarer, who, under the abbot's oversight, has the chief responsibility for these things. The monk who holds this office is "To look upon all the implements and its possessions as if there were sacred vessels of the altar. Let him consider nothing to be neglected; nor should he be avaricious, a wastrel, or cause the monastery's effects to deteriorate. All should be done in moderation and in keeping with the abbot's command." "Any monk who uses treats the property of the monastery sordidly or with neglect is to be punished", he states in the subsequent chapter.

Anyone who takes seriously these injunctions of the Rule soon discovers how exacting they are on human nature. Properly to care for things used often under circumstances when one is pressed for time, or importuned by others, and distracted by interruptions, as happens regularly to many of us, soon discovers that he must take special pains to maintain due care of the various things he handles. Properly to care for one's cell and the various books and furnishings in it requires a certain daily discipline. Properly caring for the trucks and autos one uses, leaving them in good condition and ready for the use of others entails checking on its performance, seeing that needed repairs are reported, not leaving it dirty or in disorderly condition- these and similar matters, small in themselves but repeatedly recurring make regular demands on our time and attention. They are so many reminders to take on a practical attitude of consideration and respect for those we live with. Taking on such attitudes means putting the common good ahead of our convenience and doing so every day. Such behavior translates into action some part of what fraternal charity calls for, and contributes significantly to the quality of our community life. If we are faithful in small things, we shall the more readily prove steady and reliable in greater ones. Habitually to use things as belong to the community rather than to oneself makes more interior efforts necessary. The more we find a particular thing helpful and congenial-whether a truck, a computer, a book, an office- the more we will begin to treat it as our own unless we repeatedly make the renunciation of that possessiveness which arises so spontaneously. Especially when we receive some particular gift we find to our liking and helpful, we can so easily come to feel it is ours to hold and use. We do well to take special care to assure that we turn it in for common use or get the proper permission to use it when that is appropriate. While St. Benedict enjoins the abbot to see that each monk has what he really needs, yet he is very stringent in demanding that none of us treats anything selfishly, become attached to it or to seek more than we really need or find helpful. Fidelity to this kind of poverty entails daily self-denial and honesty. It also tends to increase our trust in God for we look to Him to provide through our community and superiors what we need in order to carry out the tasks he assigns us in our vocation.

So long as we view such matters in light of the resurrection and perceive them in their relation to our own future resurrection through the effect they have on the dispositions of our spirit, we shall be able to be attentive to these daily matters without falling into pettiness of mind or narrowness of spirit. On the contrary, seeing the relation between our daily use of material things and the deeper dispositions of our soul which is to be fashioned in the image of Christ in whom all things are created, lends a grandeur to all that we do and treat with. May our celebration of the resurrection of the Lord result in our constantly orienting all things and all relations with others to him whose risen life is shared with us precisely in our efforts to serve him. Living in such a way is a pledge of our own future resurrection and of eternal life shared in common with all those whom we serve and assist as we use the things of this world to the glory of God our maker and the creator of all that is.April 30, 2000, 2nd Sunday of Easter: Chapter

The group of believers were of one heart and one soul. Nobody called anything his own but everything was common to all.(Acts 4: 32) These words of the Acts of the Apostles, to be read at today's liturgy , describe in idealistic language the early Christian community. Earlier in this same inspired book, there is a more elaborate development depicting this same spirit of fraternal communion which marked the post-resurrection community.

They were persevering in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion and the breaking of bread and in the prayers. ... All the believers were of a single mind and held everything in common. They sold their property and possessions and distributed them to all according to the need of each. They continued in one spirit to pray daily in the temple, breaking bread in their homes and taking their nourishment with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God and gaining favor in the eyes of the people (Acts 2: 42- 47)

These descriptions were taken very much to heart by John Cassian who cites them a number of times. He refers to them in his Conference on Friendship where he puts forth the opinion that the first condition of true friendship is detachment from possessions. (Conf. 16.VI.1) He observes that one of the most frequent causes of dissension is disputing over some material good, often something paltry in nature. It is not only in renouncing possessions that one attains to such detachment; we must also hold them in contempt, considering them beneath people whose concern is the higher good of true charity and friendship. Nothing is more inimical to charity than anger, and this passion is easily aroused in those who remain attached to material things, he states. Interestingly, he considered that the chief cause of decline from the perfection of the apostolic church was precisely the leaving aside of this sharing of material goods. He understands that in fact is why it became necessary to establish the Lenten fast. Earlier, Christians with fervor practiced fasting at all times of the year, without constraint of any kind, freely. He states the case in these words.

It should certainly be known that this Lenten observance did not exist at all as long as the perfection of the primitive Church remained.... But the multitude of believers descended daily from that apostolic devotion to concern for their own wealth, and used it not for the sake of all in keeping with the apostolic practice, but for their private expenses. They not only strove to preserve their wealth but even to augment it....Then the priests seeing people so tied up in secular matters and practically ignorant of continence and compunction called them back to holy works by establishing canonically prescribed fasts. (Collatio 21. XXX PL 49: 1208-9)

Thus it was a failure of communal spirit and charity that led to the necessity of prescribing penances such as fasting, in Cassian's opinion. When fraternal concern is strong and faith is fervent, he maintains, there is no need of laws for Christians; we will spontaneously do penance, fast and share what we possess with those who are in need. His views had a broad and enduring influence. Following in his steps St. Benedict and our Cistercian Fathers also viewed the primitive community of believers as embodying the ideal of cenobitic life. Their followers have considered this description of the first Christian community as normative, defining the use of material things as well as depicting the attitudes that all Christians and more especially monks dedicated to the common life, should cultivate.

Before Cassian wrote, from the same book of Acts, we discover how difficult it proved to be, even for these holy men and women, recipients of the Holy Spirit and acquainted with the Blessed Mother and the chosen apostles of the Lord, to maintain this unity of heart and soul over a period of time. Before long the Greeks had complaints about the Jews who gave greater care to their own widows and poor and neglected those of the Greeks. The apostles responded without delay to this breach of justice and charity with a solution that proved quite successful. They instituted the deaconate in its primitive form, appointing seven competent men as deacons to assure justice was done to all.

From this example we are taught that the communion which is to characterize the community of Christ's followers is fragile, subject to the vicissitudes of human interaction. Even though it is a gift of the Spirit to the Church, yet its preservation depends upon the continuing collaboration of the men and women who constitute the believing community. For such profound unity to be maintained over time it must be carefully guarded and generously cultivated. Should this unity be threatened or infringed upon, those having authority must see that prudent measures are taken to assure it is quickly re-established. This entails listening to the aggrieved party, as the apostles did, and, having come to a well thought out position after prayer, communicating the measures agreed upon as an adequate response to the difficulty. Every member has an obligation be part of this process and thus to assure the unity of the local community in keeping with his specific gifts, training and position. Later on St. Benedict was to arrange in some detail for such adequate structures as would facilitate the preservation of fervor, encourage individual inner liberty and community spirit for those who live according to his Rule for Monks. He devotes an entire chapter to this question giving it the Title inspired by the text from Acts IV, which he cites in the body of his text: Whether the monks should have anything of their own.(Ch.33) The whole of this short chapter reads as follows.

Above all this vice of private ownership must be amputated from the monastery. No one is to presume to give or receive anything without the permission of the abbot, not to call anything his own, absolutely nothing: neither a book, nor writing material, nor pen, nor anything else whatsoever. For it is not permitted that monks have even their own bodies and their own wills in their own private possession. They are to look to the abbot for everything, and should possess nothing save what the abbot gives or permits. Let all things be held in common by all, as it is written "No one presumed to call anything his own (Acts IV.32). But if anyone is found who takes satisfaction in this most evil of vices let him be admonished once and a second time. If he does not correct himself, let him undergo punishment.

When St. Benedict feels deeply about some matter he begins to use absolutes and superlatives as he repeatedly does in this chapter. He would seem to have had some painful experiences in this matter of private possessions that proved disruptive of community spirit. He clearly agrees then with Cassian that possessiveness is to be considered one of the greatest of evils and destructive of monastic life. Both believe that in practice such attachment to material things is of its nature opposed to charity. Of course, there has been considerable modification of the attitude to private property in modern times and it is evident that cultural factors contributed to the views expressed by Cassian and Benedict as regards detailed application of the principle they both defend. Still, the principle itself remains intact: material goods of all kinds are for the benefit of the community as such, not subject to the whims and greed of individuals. The social and cultural attitudes to possessions and their significance change along with other features of society as history advances in time; but the human person's propensity for graspingness, the passions of greed and ambition remain all too active in the human heart. It requires much self- denial, self-knowledge and dedication to a higher purpose to replace this divisive propensity with concern for the common good and for the well-being of our fellow human beings.

It may not be apparent at first why such a question as the use of wealth and possessions is an appropriate subject to dwell upon at this season when we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But closer attention to the issues involved demonstrates the intrinsic connection between this mystery and our relation to the things of this world. For one thing, the resurrection involves not only the person of Jesus but also his physical body.

The person has an essential relation to the body considered in its physical reality; indeed, the person is spirit in body; body is a manifestation of spirit. That does not mean it is identified wholly with the concrete material which at any one time is found in the body in the form determined by the soul. The continuity of the human body is assured not by persistence of identical matter, but by the spiritual element, the soul which is its form. The molecules which constitute the mater of the body are in constant flux. The specific molecular components are being transmuted as they fulfill their purposes. They wear down as they function and require to be replaced with the progression of time. Some are more labile than others. Vitamin C, for example, cannot be stored for any long time in the human body; it is rapidly oxidized and destroyed. Consequently, we require a regular and frequent intake of this vitamin, preferably daily, for the body to remain intact and capable of defending itself against infection and healing wounds. Even the relatively stable molecules, such as the calcium found in osseous tissue, stand in need of on-going replacement. A healthy condition of the bones can be assured only by supplemental, preferably steady intake in the form of an appropriate diet.

To be sure, while the body is not identified with its matter, then, still it does not exist, in its earthly phase, apart from the material world. It remain a part of that world in its materiality so long as it is in time. Cardinal Ratzinger has developed the concept of bodiliness as distinct from the physiological unit consisting of molecules and atoms. He maintains that matter is interiorized or integrated so as to enter into the very identity of the human spirit (cf. Bernard Prusak, Bodily Resurrection in Christian Perspective, Theological Studies 61 (2000), 96. Because of this full integration of matter into the soul it is taken up in the resurrection and thus arrives as it completeness. Thus, as the International Theological Commission affirms "the resurrection is not only an event happening to the individual but also an ecclesial and cosmic event." At the same time, it points out that the Church has never taught that the same matter is necessary for the preservation of essential bodily identity. Aquinas had already taught that the soul is the form of the body, and Ratzinger pursuing his line of thought carried it further to assert that "The physiology becomes truly ‘body' through the heart of the personality. Bodiliness is something other than a summation of corpuscles (op. cit., 95)." The identity of the body is a derivative, not of matter, but of the soul. Nor is the body an isolated unit, independent of the rest of creation and existing apart from society; rather, it functions intrinsically bound up with the components of nature and continually interacts, directly or indirectly, with others. This is so basic that it can adequately unfold and develop its capacities only in relation to other persons.

We cannot know the precise nature of the risen body, according to some of the best known modern theologians such as Cardinal Ratzinger and Karl Rahner. That there remains an intrinsic and permanent relationship to the created world is certain. There is an essential continuity between the resurrected person, including the body, and the time-bound person which is assured by personal history as experienced in time and which enters into the concrete formation of the personality. This identity that extends through historical events and beyond into eternity is symbolized in Christ by the preservation of the marks of his wounds. His glorified body is the same as that which was crucified and underwent the experiences that brought him to that point of his history. How he used material things, how he related to people and with what purposes and intentions are all taken up into his final state, not put aside, but transformed so as to exist in a mode determined by his divine relation to the Father.

The implications of this truth for the way we as believers make use of material things and relate to our community and to society in general are fundamental. Seen in relation to this question of the integration of matter into the spirit and in the perspective of the resurrection, the issues raised in the 33rd chapter of St. Benedict's Rule assume an altogether new significance. So do his words concerning the tools, clothing and other material possessions of the monastery, a subject he takes up in the preceding chapter and in his treatment of the cellarer, who, under the abbot's oversight, has the chief responsibility for these things. The monk who holds this office is "To look upon all the implements f the monastery and its possessions as if they were sacred vessels of the altar. Let him consider nothing to be neglected; nor should he be avaricious, a wastrel, or cause the monastery's effects to deteriorate. All should be done in moderation and in keeping with the abbot's command." He states in the subsequent chapter that "Any monk who treats the property of the monastery sordidly or with neglect is to be punished",.

The monk who takes seriously these injunctions of the Rule soon discovers how exacting they are on human nature. Properly to care for things used often under circumstances when one is pressed for time, or importuned by others, and distracted by interruptions, as happens regularly to many of us, soon discovers that he must take special pains to maintain due care of the various things he handles. Properly to care for one's cell and the various books and furnishings in it requires a certain daily discipline. Properly caring for the trucks and autos one uses, leaving them in good condition and ready for the use of others entails checking on their performance, seeing that needed repairs are reported, not leaving themn dirty or in disorderly condition- these and similar matters, small in themselves but repeatedly recurring, make regular demands on our time and attention. They are so many reminders to take on a practical attitude of consideration and respect for those we live with. Taking on such attitudes means putting the common good ahead of our convenience and doing so every day. Such behavior translates into action some part of what fraternal charity calls for, and contributes significantly to the quality of our community life. If we are faithful in small things, we shall the more readily prove steady and reliable in greater ones. Habitually to use things as belong to the community rather than to oneself makes more interior efforts necessary. The more we find a particular thing helpful and congenial-whether a truck, a computer, a book, an office- the more we will begin to treat it as our own unless we repeatedly make the renunciation of that possessiveness which arises so spontaneously. Especially when we receive some particular gift we find to our liking and helpful, we can so easily come to feel it is ours to hold and use. We do well to take special care to assure that we turn it in for common use or get the proper permission to use it when that is appropriate. While St. Benedict enjoins the abbot to see that each monk has what he really needs, yet he is very stringent in demanding that none of us treats anything selfishly, become attached to it or to seek more than we really need or find helpful. Fidelity to this kind of poverty entails daily self-denial and honesty. It also tends to increase our trust in God for we look to Him to provide through our community and superiors what we need in order to carry out the tasks he assigns us in our vocation.

So long as we view such matters in light of the resurrection and perceive them in their relation to our own future resurrection through the effect they have on the dispositions of our spirit, we shall be able to be attentive to these daily matters without falling into pettiness of mind or narrowness of spirit. On the contrary, seeing the relation between our daily use of material things and the deeper dispositions of our soul which is to be fashioned in the image of Christ in whom all things are created, lends a grandeur to all that we do and treat with. May our celebration of the resurrection of the Lord result in our constantly orienting all things and all relations with others to him whose risen life is shared with us precisely in our efforts to serve him. Living in such a way is a pledge of our own future resurrection and of eternal life shared in common with all those whom we serve and assist as we use the things of this world to the glory of God our maker and the creator of all that is.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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