One thing that “everyone” knows about nuns and monks is that they take three vows, and that those vows are a vow of poverty, a vow of chastity and a vow of obedience.
That’s not true of all Orders. The Rule of St Benedict has three vows, but they’re a little bit different. Obedience, yes. But the other two vows are Stability, and Convertio Morum which translates (approximately) as conversion of life.
Inspired by the interviews with the 10 novices in the book “New Habits” (published in 1998 or 1999 by Hodder & Stoughton, now out of print), I’m going to look at each vow in turn. So this post is a sort of introduction to the vows, before I look at the three vows taken in OHP.
In Benedict’s rule, Stability is what sort of but not quite takes the place of Poverty and Chastity/Celibacy. Benedict chose “stability” to mean quite literally staying put. Part of this is to include Poverty and Chastity, but it’s also to protect his monks against what he called “gyrovagues”, which were men (or women) who would travel from community to community, from monastery to monastery, not because of the work that was required of them, but because they didn’t like where they had been, and instead of working out why they didn’t like it and adjusting to the situation, they’d just up sticks and move on.
Generally, someone moving around like that wasn’t in one place long enough to be able to look at themselves and realise that the problem wasn’t necessarily with where they were but was with who they were, and how they were reacting to the place and the people around them.
Now, that’s not to mean that someone can’t transfer to another community (usually while a Novice) if it becomes apparent that this particular way of being Religious isn’t their vocation. Someone may join an active order, but after a period of time, realise that they’re drawn more to being a contemplative, so arrangements will be made for them to stay with an appropriate contemplative community to test if that is indeed the case, and then further arrangements if a transfer is to take place. If someone is in an Anglican order, and feels drawn to becoming Roman Catholic, they have to be officially admitted to the Roman Catholic Church before they can then continue with their vocational journey.
One of the advantages to the Inter-Noviciate Study Days & Residentials organised by the Novice Guardians is that it allows the Novices to meet up and to stay with different communities and get a feel for the different ways that Religious Life is lived. If a Novice then feels drawn to a particular way of living the Religious Life, it may be that there is already a contact for the Novice with a community which is suitable as a result of the study programme.
Conversatio morum, conversion of life, is about being turned towards God, and about working with God to change from within and to become the person whom God wants you to be. That’s probably a very simplistic view of it, but OHP don’t take this vow and consequently I’ve not studied it in any particular detail.