At this point we cannot evade a crucial question: is this monastic ‘school’ a part of the Church, or is it distinguished from it? The Master’s expressions we have analysed thus far give the impression that the two societies are certainly analogous and connected, but when all is said and done, outside each other. Whether we regard them as two successive moments in the same work or as two institutions of the same type, it is not clear that the monastery is in the Church. The same sentiment is felt when we see the Master having direct recourse to Scripture for the foundation of the monastic institution as for the Church itself. According to him, the scola of the monks has its proper foundation in the words of the Gospel ‘Learn of me’, just as baptism and the motherhood of the Church have theirs in the preceding words, ‘Come to me’. Similarly abbots seem to enjoy the charism of ‘teacher’ by the same title as bishops, and the most solemn words of Christ to his apostles are applied equally to both. All this seems to make the monastery and the Church two independent entities of the same rank, equally rooted in the soil of revelation.
Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 20-21.
Having pointed to the near identification between monasticism and Christian life in general, Father de Vogüé continues to probe the ambiguity in the Master’s view of the relationship between the monastery and the Church. Despite his tendency to see the monastery as independent from the broader Church, this is tempered by the liturgical role that he assigns to the bishop in the “ordination” of the abbot so that
abbots do not constitute an order perfectly symmetrical to the teaching-authority of the Church and independent of it. Only the episcopate inherits the apostolic succession in direct line. The hierarchy of the monasteries is grafted onto that of the Church at each generation. This crucial fact indicates a real subordination of the scola to the ecclesia. From the latter the monastic school receives not only its pupils, the baptized, but also its master, the abbot. (21)
Moreover, despite the Master’s apparent dismissal of those Christians who do not enter the monastery, in other places admits the existence of an “ecclesia in the world” as his recognition of the bishop’s authority also indicates. De Vogüé concludes:
If the monastery defines itself [as a school of Christ], it is not because it has an exclusive right to this title, or because it owes this quality only to itself. Rather, it holds its nature as a school from the Church and shares it with her. In the monastery, ecclesia mater develops and shows to the highest degree one of her essential attributes; the power to educate souls according to the teaching of Christ and to lead them to salvation. The monastery is therefore a ‘school’ only in the Church, by the Church, and for the Church. (22)