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Duty incumbent on religious orders

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Hospitality —The Council of Trent in its twenty-fifth session, cap. viii, De Ref., enjoins “all who hold any ecclesiastical benefices, whether secular or regular, to accustom themselves, as far as their revenues will allow, to exercise with alacrity and kindness the office of hospitality, so frequently commended by the holy Fathers; being mindful that those who cherish hospitality receive Christ in the person of their guests”. This sums up the teaching and tradition of the Church with regard to hospitality. The onus of this duty falls especially on two classes of persons—upon bishops as being in the fullest sense the pastors (i.e. shepherds) of the people and as being primarily vested, according to the ancient canons, with the administration of the contributions of the faithful (see Collections); and secondly upon religious, and in particular the monastic orders, as having made their renunciation of the goods of this world the better to perform the works of mercy towards others.

With regard to the hospitality of bishops, we may note that St. Gregory writing to St. Augustine in England and directing that the offerings of the faithful should be subjected to a fourfold division, assigns the first portion `to the bishop and his household on account of hospitality and entertainment”. It seems from this and other passages that in the earliest period bishops commonly maintained a sort of hospice. No doubt the functionaries known as bishops’ deacons had some connection with this, and the original institution of canons regular may be regarded as a development of this bishop’s household, the canons sharing a common table which was provided and presided over by the bishop. In the “Didascalia Apostolorum” (ii, 3-4), a work of the second half of the third century, much stress is laid upon generous and hospitable instincts as desirable qualities in a bishop-elect. But the details of episcopal duty and practice will best be studied in the pages of Thomassin.

In the religious orders the duty of hospitality was insisted upon from the beginning both in East and West. Even among the communities of Nitria in Egypt, as we learn from Palladius (Lausiac Hist., cap. vii; ed. Butler, ii, 25), we find that a Eevo5oxe7ov, or hospice, was wont to be erected for their visitors in these remote regions. There the traveller might remain for a week, but if his stay exceeded that limit he was supposed to return some sort of equivalent in the form of work. No doubt the duty of hospitality so strongly insisted upon both in the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Judges, xix, 20; Gen., xviii, 4; xix, 7 sq., etc.; Matt., x, 40 sqq.; Rom., xii, 13, etc.) was felt to be specially incumbent on those who aspired to perfection, and the narratives of the early pilgrims to the Holy Land (for example that of Aetheria) reveal how widely it was practiced throughout the East. For Western monachism, the most striking evidence is to be found in chap. liii of the Rule of St. Benedict: “Let all guests that come”, it directs, “be received like Christ Himself, for He will say `I was a stranger and ye took Me in.’ And let fitting honor be shown to all, especially such as are of the household of the faith and to wayfarers (peregrinis). When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met (occurratur ei) by the superior or the brethren, with all due charity. Let them first pray together, and thus associate with one another in peace. At the arrival or departure of all guests, let Christ, Who indeed is received in their persons, be adored in them by bowing the head or even prostrating on the ground… Let the abbot pour water on the hands of the guests, and himself as well as the whole community wash their feet… Let special care be taken in the reception of the poor and of wayfarers (peregrinorum) because in these Christ is more truly welcomed.” So important was the duty of hospitality that it was always to be considered in the construction of the monastery. “Let the kitchen for the abbot and guests be apart by itself, so that strangers (hospites), who are never wanting in a monastery, may not disturb the brethren by coming at unlooked for hours.” This primitive text has left its stamp upon all the subsequent developments of the monastic rule, from Benedict of Aniane downwards, while the prominence of the guest-house in all monastic buildings, beginning with the famous plan of St. Gall in the ninth century, attests indirectly how scrupulously this tradition was respected. (See Lenoir, “Architecture Monastique”, II, 396-402.)

It would be impossible to go into details here, but we may notice how this aspect of religious life was emphasized among the Cistercians, the most important of the Benedictine reforms. Giraldus Cambrensis, the enemy of the monks, admits that if their establishments had departed from primitive Cistercian simplicity, by great expenditure and extravagance, it was their generous hospitality which was to blame. The very arrangement of their houses seemed designed primarily for the entertainment of pilgrims and the poor. The lodging of both the abbot and the porter was near the main entrance, apart from the rest of the monks. The monastery gate being always kept shut, the porter lived near “that the guest on his first arriving might find someone to welcome him”. The “Liber Usuum” directs that the porter should open the door saying Deo gratias, and, after a Benedicite as a salutation, should ask the stranger who he is and what he requires. “If he wishes to be admitted, the porter kneels to him and bids him enter and sit down near the porter’s cell while he goes to fetch the abbot.” It was the abbot’s duty to dine with his guests rather than with his monks. The same traditions obtained in the older Benedictine and Cluniac houses; and at all periods a wonderful example has been set by the monasteries during times of famine, pestilence, etc. For the charity of the Cluniacs, e.g. in the great famine of 1029, see Sackur, “Die Cluniacenser”, II, 213-216. To this ideal the monks seem to have remained faithful to the last. In that remarkable record of monastic life at the Reformation period known as the “Rites of Durham” we find a glowing account of the splendor of their guest-house and of the hospitality they practiced. The usual period during which hospitality was freely provided was two complete days; and some similar restriction upon the abuse of hospitality seems to have been prescribed by most of the orders, friars as well as monks. There were of course certain orders, e.g. the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, which were largely given up to works of charity and hospitality. But the duty of harboring pilgrims was secondary to that of nursing the sick.


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