This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, March 4, 2013

March 4 -- Feast of Saint Apianus of Comacchio

I've been thinking again about the monastic impulse and its disreputable cousin, the high-control cult.  In one of the classes I teach, we have been reading Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer's portrait of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the FLDS).  This has helped me to recall the reading I did years ago when contemplating the Branch Davidians, the Unification Church, the People's Temple, and many other high control religious organizations.

Monasteries are for getting away from it all
The critically important difference between the Christian monastic movement and the most other high-control communities is the opportunity / risk of being born into it.  Virtually no one is born into a monastery.  Yes, pregnant women have sought refuge in convents, and yes orphans were placed into the care of monks and nuns.  But monks and nuns did not seek to have children, did not recruit children, and mainly were not interested in acquiring children.  Theirs was a calling to leave the secular world, to develop their spirituality free from the temporal distractions.  I do not contend that they did not sometimes lose their way, fall into temptation, exploit their fellow men, wallow in (relative) luxury, and shield their indulgence in the very sins they sought to escape.  They did.  But they did not (pro)create children who would be subjected to the austere and narrow life they had embraced.

Good old NaCl
Okay, it's already the third paragraph and I haven't told you a thing about Apianus yet.  He was an eighth century Italian Benedictine who became the provisioner for the monastery of Saint Peter of Ciel d’Oro in Pavia.  His abbot sent him to Comacchio to arrange for the monastery's continuing supply of salt.  If this seems like an odd shopping trip, you probably ought to know more about the significance of salt in world history.  I haven't read this book, but two facts stand out.  First, prior to refrigeration, salt was the preservative of choice for many civilizations; preservatives stabilize the food supply, which helps to prevent famine.  Second, salt was so valuable that some parts of the Roman Empire used it as currency, leading to the evolution of the word salary

Okay, back to Apianus, and this requires imagination.  Consider the impulse that draws one to a monastery, a life locked down within walls, where one lives in poverty, chastity, and obedience.  One is expected to work hard six days a week, eat (gruel) in silence, pray frequently, and sleep (only very little) on a bare cot or even floor.  One must really desire to escape the temptations and complications of the world to accept that life.  Then consider the fear with which one might hear that one had to rejoin the secular world and negotiate a business contract, or perhaps contracts, so that the other brothers could remain insulated within the monastic community.  That was effectively what Father Abbot told Apianus.

Cadfael: Ellis Peter and Sir Derek Jacobi
In her detective series depicting Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peters imagines the monk eager to occasionally get outside the enclosure.  Complines, vespers, matins... the prayers are a drag and if he can skip them to help the local sheriff, he will.  I suspect that Peters chose to overlook the monastic impulse, the desire to escape the secular distractions, and the need for a high-control environment in order to make an entertaining story.  But I don't imagine that Apianus was unaware of the dangers of negotiating business for the community.

He did well.  He built himself a cell in Comacchio so that he could supervise the regular transactions between his monastery and the local merchants.  He even evangelized the area.  No whisper of temptation or distraction was heard.  So many miracles were reported as his grave that robbers tried to steal his relics -- the trade was brisk at the time, but has since been mostly suppressed.  Their cart seized up at the Church of Saint Maurus and since it would go no further, there he rests. 

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