St Peter's, painted by John Gainsford c1823 from 
		an Italian engraving c.1760
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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 decision.


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 their preservation.

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 other monks.

  • 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:
    1. The President of the Congregation
    2. The ruling Abbots
    3. The Cathedral Prior of the Cathedral of Newport
    4. The Delegates from each monastic family
    5. The Procurator in Curia
    6. The Magister Scholarum
    7. The Assessor in rebus iudiciariis
    8. 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 duties.

  • 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 Abbatial rank.


  • 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 N.N.....etc.


  • 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 christian life.

  • 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
  • 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
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.

  • 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 years.

  • 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 Pontificate.

C. Card. Aloisii Masella Pro Dat
A. Card Macchi
Visa de Curia I. de Aquila e Vicecomitibus
Reg. N Secret. Brevium I. Cugnonius

Translation: Abbot Patrick Barry February 1999
Updated: 8 March 2006       [Adjusted 9 Nov 2014]     Contact Editor