Monastic Ireland.








Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Council of Abbots (Letter 22)

Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982


Letter 22

Council of Abbots,

When the venerable man, the abbot of Stanley, came to the region of Ireland with the authority of the General Chapter, he undertook to summon us together and very firmly engage us there under oath on the authority of the same Chapter and the Order to determine carefully how the Order there could recover and be restored to its proper state. Therefore, having taken into consideration all the circumstances of the monasteries and of the persons living in them, and the bestial habits of the same region, and having also pondered on the advantage and benefit of the Order on the one hand, and on the other the wrongs and dangers which modest respect as much as tedious prolixity compel us to pass over in silence, we have been unable to discover any other means of bringing an end to the horrible conspiracies and inveterate disorders, and of reviving religious life, except that some monasteries be taken away from obedience to undisciplined houses and be subjected by perpetual law to mother-houses, which are ready and able quickly to restore the ruin of the Order in spiritualties and temporalities; each mother-house has at least two daughter-houses in the aforesaid land, so that should one of the two attempt to shake her neck from beneath the yoke of the Rule and the Order with contumacious and evil conspiracies and create detestable schisms, then the mother can at least find refuge and acceptance in at least one daughter-house while she strives to curb the insolence of the second; in this way, in accordance with the differences of conditions or times, she will conveniently and effectually remove the oppression and subdue the pride of the one through the other.
Further, and since it is to be feared that the enemy has free entry and reaps the fruits when anyone applies himself unwillingly and slowly to heavy tasks and to expensive and especially to dangerous labours, with the authority of the General Chapter and Order we have each and all decided to impose perpetual silence in every way on everyone, abbots, monks and lay-brothers, no matter where they are from, so that they are not permitted to protest in any way against the following decree or to make any attempt to interfere with it; moreover, it is decreed that whatever is claimed or attempted to the contrary at any time and in any way whatever is null and void.
Therefore, all the council came to one and only one decision as to what was most necessary for the restoration of Order and the preservation of the same in its proper state, and it was this: that the monastery of Clairvaux should have as daughter-houses the houses of Boyle, Bective and Knockmoy, together with Mellifont; the monastery of Fountains the houses of Baltinglass, Jerpoint and Monasterevin; the monastery of Margam the houses of Maigue, Holy Cross, Chore and Odorney; the monastery of Furness the houses of Owney, Suir, Fermoy, and Corcomroe; the monastery of Buildwas the house of Kilbeggan together with Dublin. Further, because the small monastery of Glanewydan is extremely poor and completely lacking in movable and immovable possessions, and also has a great shortage of personnel, it is to be joined in perpetuity with all its granges and appendages and with all its legal rights to the monastery of Dunbrody, by reason of its proximity and on account of the many advantages which will accrue to the aforesaid house and to the Order; the major reason for this is that in the same small monastery there are no more than eight monks and nine lay-brothers, and it does not have three plough-lands of land intact, all of its moveable and immoveable possessions having been almost completely wasted or wholly alienated.
In addition to other innumerable reasons for a decree of this nature, there is one which should be especially noted, and it is that in this way that pernicious unity which provided the opportunity for the unheard-of conspiracies and disorders in this realm on many occasions will certainly be dissolved. For while scale presses on scale there is never an opening which is left between them. Further, the proud rebellion and the very ferocious threats of Mellifont would never be suppressed while darkness protects darkness itself. Also, the small monastery of Shrule, formerly a daughter-house of Mellifont, which does not have more than five plough-lands of land, is given as a daughter-house to the monastery of Bective, which is in a very strongly fortified position to which visitors can have safe entry and secure abode so that it will be of great help in assisting its mother, Clairvaux, in subduing and reforming both Mellifont and Boyle. For it is no more than fifteen leagues distant from Mellifont. Therefore, strong in the faith that there is no other way more advantageous and more fruitful or as convenient for the restoration of the Order, and indeed it should strive most strenuously for renovation, for as soon as the opportunity is lost it will certainly denegrate into its old ways unless the matter is thoroughly carried through in accordance with the procedure stated above; if any other decision is reached, then it is useless to send visitors in future, whether ourselves or others, unless it be for our death and the perpetual shame of our Order. Also, it is very strictly enjoined upon the father-abbots named above that they, together with the visitor of the General Chapter, strive energetically and effectively for the reformation of their aforesaid daughter-houses immediately after the aforesaid meeting. Further, be it known for certain to all men that unless what the before-mentioned meeting has undertaken in this regard is prosecuted with the greatest constancy, then like a malignant cancer this sickness will also infect other peoples with its pestilential example, and gradually, which may the Most High prevent, it will weaken the authority of the General Chapter and will destroy the reputation of the whole order. In witness of which matter etc.

Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229, translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer (Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan) pp. 47 - 50
These extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Liturgical Press: www.cistercianpublications.org

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