Danièle Hervieu-Léger

«Living outside the world»: various meanings attributed to monastic other-worldliness

  • Abstract

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Keywords: Fuga mundi, 19th-century Benedictine refoundation, contemporary Benedictine monasteries

The aim of this paper is to analyse the meanings implicit in fuga mundi, mainly in the French Benedictine landscape from the 19th-century refoundation until today. It demonstrates how the monastic imperative of flight from the world in order to seek God - to the exclusion of everything else - becomes the object of two typical constructions of meaning. Historical analysis reveals that in the model established by the reformers of Benedictine life in France - after the total disappearance of the order during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire - retreating from the world assumes the significance of rejecting modernity. The monastery is not only a place where those who seek God find the material and spiritual conditions conducive to an exclusive search for Christian perfection, but it is also the image of an ideal Christian society: autarky and hierarchy based on divine law. Fieldwork research in contemporary Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries shows the gap - not only theological and spiritual but also cultural and political - between today's monasticism and that of the 19th-century reformers. Flight from the world becomes a sign indicating eschatological witness and the art of living.

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