Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

22 March 2008

The Way We Were, Part I

According to Blogspot, this is my 100th post so I feel an obligation to make it an especially good one. Fortunately for me (not so much for you), I've been trained to ignore my feelings.

However, I will take advantage of this "postversary" to launch a new series entitled, "The Way We Were." These posts will focus on monastic practices that have gone the way of civilized public discourse. I hope you enjoy them. Today's topic is The Discipline.

What is the Discipline? A young man being initiated into our Order once posed that question to an older brother. In terms of succinctness, there is no better answer than the one he gave: "Hehee. You beat your ass, brother. You beat your ass!"

The Discipline was both the practice of beating your ass and the instrument with which you did it. The instrument was a leather strap about nine inches long (or about 23 cm for those who use that godless metric system). Four or five metal chains about 10 inches long were attached to one end of the strap. At a certain time each day, usually just after supper, all the brothers would line up along the walls in a large room. The shades were drawn and the lights turned out so the room was in complete darkness. At that point, the brothers lifted their robes and lowered their drawers to expose their bare buttocks. Then each brother would swing his Discipline back and forth so that the metal chains would strike his buttocks--not hard enough to draw blood, but presumably hard enough to cause some red welts.* This was done for a prescribed period of time then, at a signal, the drawers came back up and the robes back down.

The purpose of this exercise was to "mortify the flesh." That is, it was supposed to train the brothers to be able to ignore fleshly temptations and worldly allurements. Since the practice was stopped in the late 60's or early 70's, before I joined, I cannot vouch for the effectiveness of the method. However, having taken both Psychology 101 AND Psychology 102, I feel highly qualified to give an opinion on the matter. I suspect the process would have worked something like the following: as the brothers beat their asses, they would have been reminded that they should ignore fleshly temptations, such as thoughts of naked women, and thoughts of naked women in the shower, and thoughts of naked women wrestling with each other, and thoughts of naked women ... well, you get the point. All these thoughts about the naked women that they were supposed to be ignoring would arouse them. Finally, the impressionable young minds of the brothers would have associated ass beatings with getting to think about naked women, leading to generations of sado-masochist monks. If B.F. Skinner hadn't come along to explain all that stuff about positive and negative reinforcement, we might still be doing this crap today.

When things in the Church and the world began to change in the 60's, the younger brothers began to lose respect for this venerable old tradition, which, by the way, was practiced by many religious orders besides the one to which I belong. In one story I heard, a certain brother would sneak a pillow into the room under his robe. When the lights went down, he pulled out the pillow and loosed his fury on it with his Discipline. It made such an impression on the others that the Superior felt compelled to call out, "Moderatio, frater! Moderatio!" Such tomfoolery was the beginning of the end for this practice. So far, I have heard no talk about bringing this one back.

*Children, do not try this at home.


Blogger Open Grove Claudia said...

Hurray for a new series! Yippee....

But BroLo, are you saying that if you were beaten every single day with a belt or chains you wouldn't have those thoughts?? ;)

24 March, 2008 19:52  

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