Possessing nothing

Daily Reading for March 1 • David, Bishop of Menevia, Wales, c. 544

Whoever seeks to be received into the discipline of the cenobium is never admitted until, by lying outside for ten days or more, he has given an indication of his perseverance and desire, as well as of his humility and patience. And when he has embraced the knees of all the brothers passing by . . . and when the ardor of his intention has been proven and he has thus been received, he is asked with the utmost earnestness if, from his former possessions, the contamination of even a single copper coin clings to him. For they know that he could not remain subject to the discipline of the monastery for any length of time, nor indeed grasp hold of the virtue of humility and obedience or be content with the poverty and strictness of the cenobium, if some amount of money, however small, lay hidden on his conscience; rather, when the first disturbance arose for any reason whatsoever, he would be encouraged by the security of that sum and would flee the monastery as fast as a whirring slingstone. . . .

When someone has been received, all his former possessions are removed from him, such that he is not even permitted to have the clothing that he wore. He is brought to the council of the brothers, stripped of what is his in their midst, and clothed in the garb of the monastery at the hands of the abba. Thus he may know not only that he has put off all worldly pride and has stooped to the poverty and want of Christ, and that now he is to be supported not by wealth obtained in worldly fashion or stored up by his former lack of faith but that he will receive the pay for his soldiering from the holy and gracious supplies of the monastery. Thenceforth, knowing that he will be clothed and fed from there, he will learn both to possess nothing and never to be worried about the morrow, according to the words of the Gospel, and he will not be ashamed in to be on a par with the poor—that is, with the body of the brotherhood—among whom Christ was not ashamed to be numbered and whose brother he did not blush to call himself; rather he will glory in having become the companion of his servants.

From the “Fourth Book: The Institutes of the Renunciants” in John Cassian: The Institutes, translated and annotated by Boniface Ramsey, O.P. (Mahwah, N.J.: The Newman Press, 2000).

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