Stephen of Lexington to the Abbot of Clairvaux (Letter 24)
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
To the Abbot of Clairvaux, Greetings.
We are unable to write with a pen or fully to express in words how many labours and sorrows we have borne in Ireland for the laws of our fathers and out of respectful obedience to your command, walking over this realm in a spirit of great desolation, with frequent shedding of tears and sowing the seed of the Lord that somehow the aforesaid land, so long dry and barren, might receive rain on itself and might at least grow grass in season from these seeds with which it is sown, which in time will come to fructify into a harvest. And may the Father of mercies be blessed in all respects, for having himself opened his hand, the animals (for this is a bestial people, I do not say wholly but to a great extent) are sprinkled with goodness in so far as it is possible among such a rough and hardened material; for the Most High has rained down his justice a little over them – not that his virtues have yet rained in abundance, not that the cataract of heaven has yet opened – but whatever has begun to come to life through his grace has happened with the wonderful co-operation of the Lord and by means of great diligence and cautious discretion. For we have devoted ourselves to acting at one time with fear, at other times with love, with prayer, with threats, with blandishments, with harshness; on other occasions we threatened them very severely, calling heaven and earth against them – that is, divine chastisement and the secular power in accordance with the power given to us, for they must be judged in future as being not just disorderly people, or even conspirators, but rather as disgraceful schismatics, so should proceedings be rightly taken against them by the sons of the Church, that is, by the Cistercian Order; and this is correct, both clergy and people declare and demand it be so. Those people who think that they can be freed from the office of spiritual authority never fear to be masters of the errors of those who are subject to them.
Further, while the scales adhere to scales there was never an opening which was left between them, and they were indomitable while darkness protected darkness. For while Behemoth as a strong man fully armed, with a multitude and with cunning iniquity mounts guard over his own palace, his goods are left in peace. Therefore, it is necessary for us in the first place to divide his kingdom cautiously so that it can be laid waste. Therefore, we came to the conclusion that the daughter-houses should be separated from mother-houses, and daughter-in-law from mother-in-law, to use an expression of the evangelist, that in this way those who formerly belonged to our enemies rather than to us might begin to strive for the Lord. We also decided carefully to assign more daughter-houses to each assigned mother-house so that it could conveniently and in perpetuity freely control the one through the other, and keep subdued in humility that one which raised the head so insolently in unheard-of pride and abuse. Therefore, the small monastery of Bective and the monasteries of Boyle and Knockmoy were allotted to Your Paternity, and to the house of Clairvaux, the house of Holy Cross together with Maigue to the monastery of Margam, Kilbeggan to the monastery of Buildwas, because it has a very observant daughter, that is, the monastery of St. Mary’s, Dublin. Two were assigned to the monastery of Fountains in the previous year, that is, Baltinglass and Jerpoint; one to the monastery of Furness, that is, Suir and also of Owney, which it formerly held. In addition, we have joined and united the small house of Glanewydan, which does not have in all three plough-lands, to the nearby monastery of Dunbrody.
We have ordained to say nothing concerning Mellifont because the abbot has not come to us, and neither has he sent anyone to us as yet, but we are quite hopeful that it is subdued and fully under control. For they were fearful, seeing that we have the royal power with us as well as the ecclesiastical censure should the matter have to come to the stage of judgement. But we consider it necessary that the lands be exchanged and the monastery transferred, even if the same amount of property acquired by the exchange cannot be easily found. For half the land in a safe place and in a land of peace would be better than the whole complement in the area where it is now. For it is in a bad and dangerous marchland between the English and the Irish. Because of this, though there may be peace by the hour there, there is however no constant peace, no secure peace; and because only punishment wipes off the dust of pride and removes the beam of obstinacy, it presents itself in future, prompt and subdued to obey our council in all respects. We have left it only two daughter-houses and one grand-daughter-house, and we have threatened to pluck it completely if it attempts at any time to take off on former flights of pride.
Therefore, the experienced diligence of Your Holiness can determine in part with what careful consideration and moderation of counsel our whole programme of ordinances has been carried out; we have done nothing improper in this regard, nothing unconsulted, nothing in haste, nothing in arrogance, God knows, but we cannot convey this in dead letters or explain it in someone else’s voice. Therefore, prostrate at the feet of Your Paternity, we humbly beg with tears that you not permit either of us or yourself whose office we bear, or our mother Clairvaux and all our filiation, to be exposed to perpetual confusion on account of negligence or faint-heartedness in this matter; may it never happen, but rather, my father, Israel’s chariot and charioteer, stand up firmly for your interest because piety praises it, necessity requires it, and the benefit of the Order and the salvation of souls commends it. We are also concerned to some extent about the lord bishop of Cashel, who is delaying at Citeaux; you know him to be a respecter of the nation and not of strict religious life, an acceptor of his people rather than the well-ordered mind of a stranger.
Further, that perverse and wily fox Malachy, formerly abbot of Baltinglass, having received advice and support from some of the Irish, so they say, is making a journey to Citeaux or to the Roman Curia in order to create disturbance and confusion with his lying stories at a time when there is no-one present to oppose him and to speak the truth about those who are absent. He was excommunicated and publicly denounced by the visitors last year because he refused to return the seal with which he made on the aforesaid house many false claims, which were very much to its detriment. He was absolved by us, and reconciled to the Order on account of the most earnest entreaty of the lord archbishop of Cashel, being sent to the house of Fountains on condition that he keep himself under the judgement of the Order, and return the seal and charters of Kilkenny which had been removed in secret and which he had publically confessed to have with him, along with many of the charters of Baltinglass. He was in a position to do so, because he was the harborer of some conspirators and malefactors together with the goods of that house which they had taken in the last of the recently formed conspiracies against the new abbot appointed by the aforesaid visitors. We transmit his wretched career to Your Holiness, although it is not the full story.
The first, third, fourth, fifth day was given to him but he did nothing. For he had not returned to his Lord God with his whole heart but with falsehood, as the result shows. Finally, having been deservedly restored to his former sentence by the council of abbots on the day of Blessed John the Baptist, he was solemnly excommunicated by all at Dublin on account of his manifest contumacy and his enormous and great sacrilege, as was previously mentioned; consequently, if it please you, hold this opinion of him and have him denounced in chapter at Citeaux and Clairvaux, so that he does not seduce the simple-minded through his craftiness. In addition, there is need to take precaution and to make careful provision that there is someone to oppose him in Rome, if he reaches there, for we have carried out the whole of this aforesaid matter diligently and devoutly, in the midst of great and continuous mortal danger, not looking to rewards or seeking repayments, keeping in mind that gifts blind the eyes of judgement and bend the strength of authority. When we were at houses or granges, we accepted not a cow, not an ass, not a piece of cloth, not a penny, indeed nothing apart food and drink alone. Consequently, Holy Father, it is up to you to provide for our small house over which we preside in one way or another, and from which alone we received sustenance, for neither honour not any advantage has accrued to it from the allocation, lest we let our labours sink to the depths or by impunity let some stain sully the praise of God and our ministry, of whatever kind it may be.
Kindly, study with diligence and care the letter which we send on this matter to the lord abbot of Citeaux and to the General Chapter and, if it please you, cause it to be read out clearly in the hearing of the Chapter, or of those inquiring into misuses, just as your holy and esteemed prudence will know to be most advantageous. Nor should your sincere and devout humility attribute it to arrogance if for once we speak to our Lord and Father, not presuming to teach but to advise a wise man concerning the way in which confirmation should be phrased in the statutes, because it would perhaps be tedious to go into the involved reasons for our ordinance. If it please you and you see it to be advantageous, the confirmation could be made quite effective in this manner:
The ordinations and also the changes concerning the houses of Ireland made for the reformation of the Order by Brother S., Abbot of Stanley, Visitor with full power in the year of grace 1228, are approved and are confirmed in perpetuity with the authority of the General Chapter. In addition, it is decreed that whatever is claimed or attempted to the contrary at any time and in any way whatever is null and void.
Further, we have entrusted whatever the above-stated matter involves and is not included in the present writing to the bearers of this letter, to be very faithfully reported in your pious hearing. We desire our sub-prior, whom we have enjoined to go to you on this matter, to find favour in your eyes. Arrange for him, if it please you, that he can be present in the holy General Chapter to provide information on matters of obscurity and to dissolve doubts if any dispute is stirred up concerning the matter referred to; as for himself, he has laboured bravely and fervently at our side throughout Ireland, always near us as a faithful helper and tireless companion. May Your Holiness prevail in the Lord, one with our mother Clairvaux, which I pray will never abandon the ancient paths of our most blessed patron, Most Blessed Bernard, but, as she has done so far, will enkindle herself with the odour of his esteem, both in seasoned love and in the fervent spirit of religious life, and with the cup of spiritual grace with inebriate the whole Order, which, oh what a sorrow! – already shows laxity on all sides, or, rather to put it more clearly, is almost emptied out, the whole Order having become not just carnal but the flesh itself, not just the terrestrial but engrossed in the things of the earth, not Israel but rather Idumea. Therefore, Venerable Father, may the spirit of the Lord and the disposition of Bernard pour into you; for on you in the principal seat there is concentrated such dishonest cupidity, such indecent impurity, such negligent laxity in regard to religious life, such eager activity in trading, which day by day attacks and dishonours all that is becoming in our Order before God and men. It is on you, I say, who is so pure and distinguished before all other members of our Order, that there is no-one through all the ends of the earth who doubts that you should occupy the position of our celebrated patron. May he himself preserve you in holiness and health to the praise and honour of his Order and the grace and glory of his house.
Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229, translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer (Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan) pp. 55 - 61
These extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Liturgical Press: www.cistercianpublications.org
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