Monastic Ireland.

Letter from Stephen of Lexington concerning the new affiliation of houses involved in the Conspiracy of Mellifont (Letter 78)

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 78

To all the faithful in Christ, etc.

If novel and exceptional issues in our Order concerning the state of the houses of the Order bring about certain alterations and changes, this is absurd or at odds with fairness, especially when goodness persuades, necessity impels, clear advantage and the salvation of souls determines. Therefore, inasmuch as lamentable charges made by God-fearing and religious men, with numerous accounts of the many disorders of the monasteries of Ireland, rise up to the hearing of the General Chapter and the word has spread even to the scandal of all religious life among both clerics and people everywhere, the aforesaid Chapter, desiring to apply a remedy to such a crisis and shape of the Order, and to meet, if it can in some way, such a danger to souls which is very earnestly deplored by everyone, decreed to send us with fullness of powers to all the monasteries of Ireland of the reformation of the Order there, so that together with other powers entrusted to us by the authority of the mentioned Chapter, we can freely assemble numerous monasteries into one unit without being obstructed by any opposition, even without seeking the consent of the father-abbots, and give them as daughter-houses in perpetuity to other monasteries of the same derivation for the reformation of the Order, and likewise impose interdicts upon opponents, suspend, excommunicate, regulate and administer everything in the light of what we consider to be advantageous.
As, therefore, placing the reward of obedience before our eyes, and because of the requirement of the enjoined office, not without great and frequent moral dangers going personally to the aforesaid houses of Ireland, together with other men of authority and discernment, both abbots and monks, and having reflected everywhere on the circumstances of the houses and of the persons living there and on the customs of the realm, we have been unable to arrive at any other solution by which the horrendous conspiracies and inveterate disorders could be brought to an end and religious life be restored, except that some monasteries, being taken away from subjection to disordered houses, be placed by perpetual law under monasteries of other lands as their mother-houses, who would be ready and willing effectively to restore the ruin of the Order both in spiritualties and temporalities, so that each mother house has at least two daughter-hoses in the before-mentioned land in order that whenever one of them attempts to shake its neck from beneath the yoke of the Rule with contumacious and malicious conspiracies against the Order or to format schism, then the mother can at least find sanctuary and safe retreat in the other daughter-house while she attempts to curb the insolence of the other; in this way, on account of the differences of cases or times, she will more conveniently and advantageously remove the oppression and subdue the pride of the one through the other on accordance with what Ecclesiastes says: ‘Better to be in partnership with another than alone; for they will have the advantage of the partnership. If one will fall, he will be supported by the other. Woe to the lonely, because when he shall fall he will have no-one to raise him. And if two sleep together, they will warm one another; but for the lonely, how will he find warmth?’. And so on in this manner.
Therefore, in the light of this principle and also many others of the same kind, and also having taken into account on the one hand the costs and dangers and on the other the many advantages and benefits to the Order, which if written down would exceed the proper and usual brevity of a charter with their excessive prolixity and would produce weariness in the hearers, and in addition having had lengthy deliberations with men of authority and of the greatest experience and having carefully gained the unanimous consent of them all, we subject the monastery of Holy Cross, formerly a daughter-house of Maigue, to the house of Margam as mother-house in future, and with the authority of the General Chapter committed to us with fullness of power we give possession in perpetuity as a daughter-house, that in this way an easier access and a freer path will be open to the house of Maigue as well as to that of Holy Cross for the quicker reformation and preservation in their proper state forever and every possible avenue will be shut which in the monasteries of Ireland has so provided human audacity with the right situations and has given the necessary incentives for rebelling against the Order and causing detestable schisms in their pride and contempt. But, as it is to be feared that the outsider will freely admit himself unwillingly and slowly to heavy tasks and to costly and especially dangerous labours, so with the authority of the above-mentioned Chapter we impose perpetual silence on all, abbots as well as monks and lay-brothers from wherever they may be, lest they be permitted to protest in any way against the aforesaid decree or disturb it in whatever way they dare, and we decree that whatever is claimed or attempted to the contrary at any time or in any way whatever is null and void.
Therefore, the abbot and community of Margam are to strive in perpetuity to attend with such care and energy to the reformation of spiritualties and temporalities of their aforesaid daughter-houses that souls may be saved and lest on account of the clearly established transgressions and negligence of the aforesaid house of Margam in this regard, intolerable before God and men, may it never happen, the often-mentioned General Chapter be compelled sometime to change the mentioned affiliation.
In confirmation and witness of which matter we have placed our seal on the present writing together with the signatures of the venerable men who are witnesses of the above-stated matters: Lords J. of Margam, S. of Buildwas, A. of St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, W. of Maigue, …of Tintern Minor, M. of Baltinglass, Ph. of Jerpoint, R. of Dunbrody, R. of Holy Cross, …of Monasterevin, H. of Bective, T. of Duiske, the abbots (1). Given in the year of grace 1228.
1 – Note in text – Letters 77, 78 and 79 are the last official acts of Abbot Stephen’s visitation, and were drawn up at Tintern Minor very early in November; the abbots who witnessed this charter were there present with Abbot Stephen in a council to conclude the visitation; the notary omits to give the place of the meeting and does not include the names of the abbots of Tracton, Owney, Abbeylara, and Kilcooly.

Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229, translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer (Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan) pp. 151 - 154
These extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Liturgical Press:

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