IT IS INDEED NOW A LONG TIME since the brethren of the English Benedictines first aroused
our interest and concern and from that time we have lovingly striven to look at the
situation and think about what could be helpful to the development of their standards of
discipline and common life. In doing so we are responding not only to our own
personal inclination but also to the imperatives of our office. This is so because all types
of religious Order lie under the protection of the Apostolic See; and for that reason it is
Our obligation to take care of their good standing and their growth in strength. That
was our intention and desire when quite recently, without going back to earlier
examples, we promulgated a law for the various branches of the Order of Minors to
bring them together in one body in which they might live in a common life now
restored to their original principles: the outcome of this action has shown how fruitful
it will be for the whole Order. It was the same reason that urged us to give to those
sons of the great Benedict, whom we have mentioned, no insignificant share in Our
concern; although, in their case, We were greatly moved also by the fame and glory and
record of their past history. Briefly but with willing heart we have treated elsewhere of
their outstanding achievements among the English in maintaining the reputation of
Catholicism and the humane standards of Christianity, as has been their habit not just
for a few years but during long centuries of time. However that native vigour of these
monks, which was for so long zealously fostered by their predecessors and which proved
to be a source of their individual virtues and at the same time a powerful and efficacious
help towards the eternal salvation of mankind, has not indeed grown feeble with age;
nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that it will produce even greater fruit, if those
standards of discipline are introduced which are urgently called for by the needs of the
time and original principles of the Order.
We have conscientiously taken account of all this and have overlooked nothing which is
called for by prudence in coming to a correct judgement and wise provision for the future.
In the light of this we have decided that the English Benedictine Congregation ought
not to continue any longer in its present state. It was for this reason that in the
Apostolic Letter Religiosus Ordo We rescinded that part of the Constitution of Pope
Urban Plantata which concerned the government of the Congregation. By abolishing
the offices and duties of the two Provincials and terminating the two missionary
Provinces, We introduced a new legal provision for the form and operation of
congregational government. In the same document We gave very full reasons for this
Without any delay the monks proceeded to carry into effect our decisions and orders.
They did so with just that readiness in obedience which it is reasonable to expect from
religious men for whom no duty is preferred nor anything considered more sacred than
the wish of the Roman Pontiff. There was only one item in which expectations were
disappointed in the outcome. It was clearly necessary to remodel in great part the old
legislation and to introduce new provisions to conform to the instructions We had
given. And so, when We decided on a course which was once followed by our
predecessor Paul V in a situation not much different from this, namely, that certain
monks from the Congregation itself should be chosen to consider and draw up in their
own words a new set of Constitutions, things did not turn out according to Our wishes.
In fact to this day the work has not been done. The reason is not that any of the monks
is lacking in sincere faith and honourable intentions but that they have various different
interpretations of Our intentions, so that on the question of what new laws they should
formulate and what established ones they should preserve, not only are they in
disagreement among themselves but there appears to be no likelihood of future
agreement. The first consequence of this is that the principle purpose of Our letter and
what is especially important for the proper organisation of the Congregation in the light
of the times we live in and the traditions handed down from their predecessors, has
clearly not been carried into effect. In the second place there is a danger that this sort of
conflict of opinion, if it continues any longer, may be detrimental to mutual charity
which is in every community of religious men the first and strongest bond ensuring
THEREFORE, CONSIDERING IT ESSENTIAL TO MEET THESE PROBLEMS, WE have recalled the whole question into Our authority. It is our wish and decision that in the formulation of the Constitutions for the use of the English Benedictines these principle items of law, which are written below, should be drawn up and preserved inviolate for ever. Let there be two types of manstery, Abbies and Priories:
- There should be at least twenty monks for each of the Abbacies and at least twelve of
them should live within the enclosure of the monastery.
- An Abbot, who has been elected by the monks, should rule an Abbacy with authority
for life. The following rules must govern the elections.
- When a vacancy occurs, the President of the Congregation should within a month
summon the electors to vote at a specified place.
- The law must require all the electors to be present. If anyone is prevented from
attending, he must tender his excuse in writing stating the reason. At the same time he
must state that he will abstain from voting or else he must adopt a proctor to follow his
instruction on voting within the prescriptions of the law.
- The candidate who gets two thirds of the votes should be considered elected. If no-one
obtains that number of votes, then at the sixth scrutiny anyone who gets one more than
half the votes is elected.
- If there is no agreement even then, let them repeat the sixth scrutiny. If there is still no
agreement, let the President appoint the Abbot.
- Let the law require that the President should preside in the Chapter for recording votes.
But, if he is prevented, it should require the first Assistent to take his place. The
President should not have a vote himself. He should confirm the election of the Abbot
in the name of the Apostolic See and arrange that within six months that the new Abbot
should present himself to the local Bishop or, if he is prevented, to some other Bishop
to be blessed with the authority of the Holy See.
- Each Priory should number at least six monks. A Prior should be appointed by the
founding Abbot at his discretion ad nutum to rule the Priory.
- In both kinds of monastery the monks should lead the common life as the law lays down
and they should be faithful in the celebration of the monastic Office.
Let there be two forms of Council for the Superiors of monasteries: a large one
consisting of the whole monastic family, and a smaller one of the Seniors.
- Let the Abbot convene the whole community at least once a year. Let the law require
all the monks to be present. If anyone is prevented, he should excuse himself in writing.
Any matters which are considered the concern of the whole community should be on
the agenda for consideration, such as the admission of novices to simple vows, the
acceptance of long-term work for the monks, the alienation of funds or revenues, loans
and borrowings, the opening of any new community house, the election of Councillors
and any to be sent as delegates to the General Chapter.
- Half the Council of seniors should be appointed by the Superior and half chosen by the
- There should be two Councillors for ten monks, four for sixteen and not more than
twenty. Where there are more than twenty one more Councillor should be added for
each decade. In this calculation six monks should be accounted as a decade.
- Where the number of Councillors is uneven, let the Abbot appoint the extra Councillor.
In the election of Councillors especial consideration should be given to those monks
who are engaged in the duties of the Missions.
- The Superior of the monastery should convene the Council of Seniors at least once
every month and matters for their consideration should be stipulated in the
Constitutions. The Superior, although he is not bound by the vote of the Councillors,
should not, nevertheless, reject it hastily especially when it is unanimous. He should
accept their vote where extraordinary expenditure is involved exceeding a total of one
hundred and twenty British pounds.
Let the President of the Congregation be elected from the number of those who are
currently ruling monasteries or, when the Congregation has grown so as to have at least
six Abbeys, from those who have at any time ruled monasteries.
- Let the rule be that the following should have a vote: ruling Abbots, the Cathedral Prior
of the Cathedral Church of Newport, Delegates from each of the monastic families and
the Procurator in Curia.
- Let the President hold office for a quadriennium, visit monasteries officially every other
year and missions as often as he thinks necessary, preside over the General Chapter and
the election of Abbots, receive appeals, settle disputes, and he should deal with the
duties stipulated in the Apostolic Letter Religiosus Ordo together with others which are
to be defined in the Constitutions.
- The President is to govern at all times the whole Congregation, with the proviso that
the authority of Abbots over their own monasteries should not be diminished. He
ranks first on all occasions.
The following should have the right to attend General Chapter:
- The President of the Congregation
- The ruling Abbots
- The Cathedral Prior of the Cathedral of Newport
- The Delegates from each monastic family
- The Procurator in Curia
- The Magister Scholarum
- The Assessor in rebus iudiciariis
- The Inspector rei familiaris
- Whatever is properly ordained and decreed about the course of studies must be faithfully
carried out by the Magister Scholarum.
The Magister should visit the schools for teaching monks frequently. He should
examine personally the students for their understanding and what they have learnt and,
if he considers that any changes or innovations should be made, he should advise the
Superior of the monastery or the President of the Congregation. He should take no
new initiative on his own authority.
- The Assessor should act as personal assistant to the President in legal and court cases.
- The Inspector should in conformity with law look into the property of each of the
Monasteries and each of the Missions and require them to submit to him accounts of
their expenses and revenues.
- The President should decide on the time and place for holding General Chapters. The
agenda should be dealt with by those attending in such a way that in deciding issues
everyone should have an equal opportunity of registering a vote.
- When business is completed the Magister Scholarum, Assessor and Inspector rei
familiaris retire elsewhere because they do not have a right to vote on appointments.
Then a Magister Scholarum, an Assessor and an Inspector rei familiaris are to be elected.
Then a President should be elected. After that Assistants are appointed from the
Superiors of the monasteries. Of these Assistants one should be chosen by the President
and the other is to be created by the vote of General Chapter. This latter Assistant,
when the President dies or resigns, succeeds to his position and holds his authority until
the next General Chapter.
- At the end of the Chapter a Procurator in Curia should be elected chosen from three
names put forward by the President. But, if the President is not present, then after the
Chapter has dispersed, each member of Chapter may advise the President in writing
about whom he thinks suitable.
The following only should form the President's Council: the Assistants, the Procurator
in Curia, the Magister Scholarum, the Assessor, the Inspector rei familiaris.
- The Assistants are to help the President both by advice and by being ready to act for
him over the whole range of Congregational administration; each of the other members
should confine himself to those matters which concern his own individual office and
- Let the Constitutions state in what questions the President is obliged to seek an
expression of opinion from his Consultors.
If any Abbot should resign from his office for a good reason he should take the title of
one of the ancient Abbeys. The same principle should obtain if the President is elected
from among those who are Superiors of monasteries with full jurisdiction but without
What has already been approved about the single novitiate house is to be accepted as a
duly promulgated decision for eight years.
Now that the taking of the missionary oath has been abolished, in the actual form of
profession after the words 'according to the rule of our holy father Benedict' the
following should be added: 'and the Constitutions of the English Congregation. I
further promise, with the approval of the apostolic See, that I, if ordered by my
Superior, will undertake or relinquish pastoral ministry, under the Right Reverend Lord
Those monks who have recently made their simple profession are to study in the
monastery of Saint Michael at Belmont literature, philosophy and other courses helpful
to theology. After that, in their own monasteries they are to study for three years
dogmatic theology, moral and pastoral theology and also canon law and sacred
scripture. Permission should not be given to Students of sacred theology, unless it is
absolutely necessary, to teach boys in the school; if it is granted, this assignment should
never be for more than eight hours in the week. Superiors should arrange for young
monks of good intelligence to be sent to Rome to the College of S. Anselmo.
- The Mission fathers' annual retreat to strengthen their prayer life, which was to be
extended to a month on the instructions of the apostolic Letter Religiosus Ordo, is to be
concluded in fifteen days.
- Wherever more than one of the Mission fathers are sharing accommodation, a common
fund should be established from which each one can draw whatever is needed.
The Superior of a monastic house should once every week give a conference to
encourage the pursuit of perfection. If he does not give the conference himself, he
should arrange for someone else to do it. He must conscientiously make sure that there
is always someone to address the brethren on holy scripture and the standards of
- Once every week a chapter of faults, as it is called, should be held.
ON THE BASIS OF THESE DECISIONS WE DESIRE and prescribe that our beloved sons
should consult together among themselves and then draw up a document of the
Constitutions. In doing so they are to bring together in the Constitutions all that We
have decreed whether in this present or in former apostolic Letters, accommodating
everything else in the Constitutions to these decisions. In their final form they should
be presented as declarations on the Holy Rule.
- Francis Aidan Gasquet
- Edmund Ford Prior of St Gregory's at Downside
- Oswald Smith Prior of St Laurence's at Ampleforth
- Oswald O'Neill Prior of St Edmund's at Douai
- Wilfrid Raynal Prior of the Cathedral Church of Newport
- Benedict Mackey Procurator in Curia
- Before, however, they put pen to paper We order that the following should be
summoned to a General Chapter: the President of the Congregation, the Priors now in
office, the Procurator in Curia, the delegates of each individual community. The
purpose of this Chapter and its role should be as follows: to expedite the business of the
Congregation and to discuss the matters to be introduced into the Constitutions while
remembering that decisions about questions arising and the whole task of putting the
Constitutions in writing is exclusively reserved to those whom we have already named.
- We order that the draft of the new Constitutions should be sent to Us so that We may
be able to examine them and approve them, if We so decide.
- Finally, in order that Our exceptional support and good will towards a Congregation
which is distinguished by such outstanding achievements and so many fine qualities
should be more fully recognised we by Our apostolic authority grant and assign to the
monasteries of St Gregory at Downside, St Laurence at Ampleforth and St Edmund at
Douai the rank and dignity of Abbeys, which means that they may assume and enjoy the
rights and privileges which both law and custom attaches to that title, so that they may
in future have as their superiors Abbots whom the monks themselves have elected, as
has been established above. However, when they first come to hold an election, once
the new Constitutions have been approved, we freely permit them to elect for eight
- Therefore it is Our wish and instruction that everything which is decreed, published and
approved in this Letter should be observed by all who are concerned, and that there
should be no possibility of it being criticised, infringed or called in question for any
reason, pretext or by any authority. On the contrary they are to have the full and complete
effects intended in spite of any principles formerly established or, if the question should
arise, provisions of Our own or of the apostolic Chancery, and in spite of Acts of Urban
VIII or other apostolic instruments published even in provincial or general Councils, in
spite also of any statutes, customs and prescriptions backed by the authority of apostolic
confirmation or any other guarantee; all these, in order that what we have set out above
may have its effect, We individually and expressly revoke and wish to be considered
revoked, in spite of any action to the contrary.
Given at Rome in Saint Peter's in the year of the Lord's incarnation one thousand eight
hundred and ninety nine, on the twenty ninth of June in the twenty second year of Our
C. Card. Aloisii Masella Pro Dat
A. Card Macchi
Visa de Curia I. de Aquila e Vicecomitibus
Reg. N Secret. Brevium I. Cugnonius