Non similitudinem monachi, sed monachum ipsum! An Investigation into the Monastic Category of the Person – the Case of St Gall

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 Non similitudinem monachi, sed monachum ipsum! An Investigation into the Monastic Category of the Person – the Case of St Gall

By Wojtek Jezierski

Scandia, Vol.74:1 (2008)

Introduction: One day, most likely in the early 880s, the noblest monks of the St Gall monastery assembled to deliberate over an outrageous incident that had occurred the previous night. Salomo, the Bishop of Constance, as well as being a former apprentice and a friend of the monastery, secretly crept into its facilities causing a great confusion especially among the younger monks unaccustomed to people in lay clothes within the walls. Even worse, this was just one of his illegitimate nocturnal break-ins, each one aggravating the perplexity in the convent and forcing the abbot and the senatores to regulate the presence of their mighty acquaintance. This time, the bishop asked Abbot Hartmut (872- 883) if he should be allowed to enter St Gall’s closure in monk’s habit even though he was only a secular cleric. The abbot, looking for a broader support for his decision, turned to his venerable advisers: ”and so they were asked to speak out. Hartmann said: ‘Our rule does not look for a resemblance of a monk, but for the monk himself.’ Notker [Balbulus ~840-912] added: ‘This toga praetexta that he wants to cover himself with would not entirely displease me if it had only been possible to recognize the actual toga.’”




This short fictional dialogue, whose basic elements were taken from the oral tradition but which was considerably improved thanks to its author’s vivid imagination, was noted down nearly two hundred years later, ca. 1050, by a monk of the name Ekkehard (IV). For us today this quoted fragment, despite its brevity, abounds with quite serious and interesting philosophical implications. What was the difference between toga praetexta and the genuine toga, that here stands for a monk’s habit? What did it mean to be a monk, and what were the descriptive limits of this being? Was acting and behaving like a monk sufficient to count as such? In short, what was the relationship between the essence, existence and appearance of persons in the early medieval monastic world?

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Sharan Newman