Chapter 31: Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer

1 As cellarer of the monastery, there should be chosen from the community someone who is wise, mature in conduct, temperate, not an excessive eater, not proud, excitable, offensive, dilatory or wasteful, 2 but God-fearing, and like a father to the whole community. 3 He will take care of everything, 4 but will do nothing without an order from the abbot. 5 Let him keep to his orders. 6 He should not annoy the brothers. 7 If any brother happens to make an unreasonable demand of him, he should not reject him with disdain and cause him distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request. 8 Let him keep watch over his own soul, ever mindful of that saying of the Apostle: He who serves well secures a good standing for himself (1 Tim 3:13). 9 He must show every care and concern for the sick, children, guests and the poor, knowing for certain that he will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment. 10 He will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, 11 aware that nothing is to be neglected. 12 He should not be prone to greed, nor be wasteful and extravagant with the goods of the monastery, but should do everything with moderation and according to the abbot’s orders.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

Our attention now turns to the role of the monastery cellarer. For Saint Benedict, the cellarer is not equal to the abbot but he is probably the most important official in the community after the abbot. Historically, the prior usually becomes the most important official after the abbot, but Saint Benedict prefers not to have a prior. In many communities, the prior and the cellarer are both on the Council of Deans by right of their office. This shows immediately the importance of this official in the community.

We also see that Saint Benedict gives a list of qualities that the cellarer should have. Again, we see this comparison with the list of qualities that the abbot should have. We don’t have anything quite this strong for the prior!

The role of the cellarer is basically to run the physical side of the monastery so that the abbot can be free to attend to the spiritual aspects of monastic life.

One of the challenges for any Cellarer is to maintain gentleness and charity at all times with each of the brothers in the community. We hear this very strongly in this chapter. And not only must be care for the brothers this way, Saint Benedict also tells him to have this same care for the sick, for children, for guests and for the poor.

Finally, the cellarer must be responsible for all of the utensils and goods of the monastery, without exception. This is an enormous challenge in our day!

For our spirituality, it is important that the monastery have a good cellarer and that the monks and the abbot allow him actually to be the cellarer described here. All the monks must give their respect to the cellarer and cooperate with him in the running of the monastery. The cellarer has an enormous responsibility and without the support and love of the brothers, his task is impossible. If the cellarer lacks some of the qualities described in the Rule (and this is inevitable), then the monks can pray for him.

13 Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, 14 for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17). 15 He should take care of all that the abbot entrusts to him, and not presume to do what the abbot has forbidden. 16 He will provide the brothers their allotted amount of food without any pride or delay, lest they be led astray. For he must remember what the Scripture says that person deserves who leads one of the little ones astray (Matt 18:6). 17 If the community is rather large, he should be given helpers, that with their assistance he may calmly perform the duties of his office. 18 Necessary items are to be requested and given at the proper times, 19 so that no one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

We have the last half of the Chapter on the Cellarer today and it speaks to us of a whole theology of how to relate to one another in the monastery.

It is never easy to just give a good word to a brother, especially if the brother is insistent. But Saint Benedict expects the monks really to be following Jesus. The monastery officials have to set that example for the others. It is not easy to be in a community that does not have a large group of older monks, but when that happens, it is all the more important that good example be given by those who are able to give it.

The cellarer’s job is very clear: do what the abbot tells you to do and don’t do what he does not want done! The cellarer is perhaps not always directly in charge of the “food service” in the monastery, but it is clear that all of the physical plant of the monastery falls under his direction. Thus it is important that monks have good food on time. Saint Benedict understood all those many centuries ago that food can affect the good will of the monks.

One aspect in normal life in a monastery that affects all of the major monastic officials is treated in the last sentence of this Chapter: “Necessary items are to be requested and given at the proper times so that no one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God.” This is a profound teaching which points on the need for orderliness in the monastery. It is never good that an official be on-call 24 hours a day. There must be times when the brother respect the need of solitude of the cellarer and of the other officials of the monastery. The officials themselves have an obligation to put limits to their availability. The officials need a human and a monastic life, just like any other monk. So there are two lessons here: monks should know that there are times when they are free to approach the cellarer; the cellarer should know that there are times when the monks will leave him in peace!

May the Lord help us be good monks whose deepest desire is to know the Lord and do His will.