Discipline, Compassion And Monastic Ideals Of Community, C.950–1250

Katherine Allen Smith, University of Puget Sound


Abstract: Those who are not flogged here on earth are not received as sons there in heaven …] and will be flogged alongside the devil for eternity. Ambrose of Milan 1 1] De interpellatione Iob et David, 3.3.9, Patrologiae cursus completus, series latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 221 vols (Paris, 1841–64) hereafter PL], vol. 14, 841: qui autem hic non flagellantur, ibi non suscipiuntur ut filii …] ut in perpetuum cum diabolo flagellentur. This essay examines the intersections of discipline, compassion and community in a selection of monastic texts from the late tenth through to the mid-thirteenth centuries, focusing on disciplinary rituals involving punitive flogging or flagellation. Although members of all of the major religious orders viewed flogging as a necessary method of correction needing little or no justification, as evidenced by customaries, letters, and even miracle collections, few scholars have examined the role of this practice in the shaping of monastic culture. This essay suggests that disciplinary rituals served a number of related functions within coenobitic monasticism: they reinforced hierarchies within communities, tested individuals'' mastery of the virtues of humility and obedience, expressed superiors'' compassion and love for their subordinates, and reminded penitents and spectators alike of Christ''s bodily suffering. These conclusions are further supported by a close reading of Peter the Venerable''s vita of the Cluniac prior Matthew of Albano, a text which depicts disciplinary violence as a synthetic element of monastic life, as well as a ritual means of promoting the spiritual growth of individuals and entire communities.