ROME, JULY 12, 2002 (Zenit.org).- At a time when the historical role of Christianity in European civilization is being debated, the importance of monasticism and the figure of St. Benedict are again coming into focus.
In an interview with the Religious Information Service of the Italian bishops’ conference, Abbot Primate Notker Wolf of the Benedictine Confederation spoke about the role of monasticism in Europe.
Q: What does monasticism represent for European history?
Abbot Wolf: The monasteries have contributed much to European history. At the time, of course, they did not think of developing an idea of Europe. Their activity consisted of work, prayer and preaching. In order to dedicate themselves correctly to the Divine Office, the monks learned to read and write, creating a network of schools open to all. In this way, they united the Greco-Roman tradition with Christianity. And this was a fundamental step for Europe.
A common language was spoken in monasteries, and a common faith was professed. Let us think, for example, of St. Anselm. Of Piedmontese origin, a monk in France, he was later a bishop of England. Monks have always been more European than we are.
Q: There is much talk of the Christian roots of Europe that must be recognized in the future European Constitution. What is monasticism’s commitment in this respect?
Abbot Wolf: It is certainly not political. Monasticism does not have influence of this type. Its importance and also its contribution to the making of Europe are attested by history. They are the proof of what Christianity has given to Europe: the base of democracy.
The concepts of equality, fraternity and liberty, proposed again by the French Revolution, are concepts of a Christian vein. But I also add respect for the person, for his dignity, not only of the rights. Benedictine thought develops a vision of free men, available and welcoming. The Rule of St. Benedict speaks clearly in this respect.
Q: Europe looks toward the East, land of great cenobitic traditions. Do you think that its expansion can also favor ecumenical dialogue?
Abbot Wolf: I hope so, although one must not omit the difficulties. We have two monasteries that, by tradition, are concerned with ecumenism — one in Belgium and another in Germany. These two great monastic traditions can do much to reawaken the religious sensibilities of peoples.
I am certain that we are only at the beginning of this dialogue, which will give much fruit, especially after an endeavor of reciprocal knowledge. The fact of praying to the one God is the guarantee of results. Moreover, there is an illuminating example.
Q: Who is it?
Abbot Wolf: St. Benedict. The feast of the “Transit” of the saint, on March 21, is one of the few shared with the monks of the East. In our monasteries, we seek the experience of this reciprocal knowledge. For example, in the community of St. Anselm in Rome, there are several Orthodox and also a student of the Moscow Patriarchate. Only in this way can there be a rapprochement free of mistrust — a lesson for European integration.
Q: Does European integration include culture, both secular and Catholic?
Abbot Wolf: Of course. What is more, I can say that for a long time European monks have been experiencing a “Union” of the Benedictine schools in England, Germany, Hungary and other European countries.
It is a way of crowning the dream of unity of the human family, beginning, precisely, with the monasteries, not only places of spirituality but also of culture, with an absolutely new perspective that contemplates the unity of prayer, work and the “book.”