The Pauline Monks – yesterday and today
Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Izydor Matuszewski, General of the Pauline Order.
Fr Ireneusz Skubis: – The year 2008 is a special time since the Order of St Paul the First Hermit celebrates the 700th anniversary of its official approval by the Apostolic See. But the history of the Pauline Monks is longer because it goes back to the year 1225 when Bishop Bartholomew of Pécs founded the first religious community, gathering the dispersed monks. Could you present the readers of ‘Niedziela’ that period of the Pauline Monks’ history?
Fr Izydor Matuszewski, OSPPE: – The Order of St Paul the First Hermit originated in the 13th century in Hungary as a new religious community in the Church. In 1225 Bishop Bartholomew of Pécs created a community, gathering the hermits in the church, which he founded himself on the hill called Ürög in the Patacs forest. He also wrote their religious rules. Soon another Hungarian monastery was founded on the hill of Pilis. Its founder was Blessed Eusebius, Canon of Esztergom. The Holy Cross Monastery that he founded in 1250 became the model for other Pauline monasteries. Euzebius of Esztergom accepted the rules of Bishop Bartholomew and then he was unanimously elected superior of both communities. In the document issued in 1252 we can see the official name of the members of both communities ‘Brothers of the Order of St Paul the First Hermit’. After many attempts to approve the new order by the Apostolic See, supported by St Thomas Aquinas, almost one hundred years of the communal life of the Pauline Monks, the legate ‘a latere’ of Pope Clement V, Cardinal Gentilis de Monte Florido gave the order the Rule of St Augustine on the virtue of the decree ‘Qui saecularia’, issued in Buda on 13 December 1308. The 700th anniversary of the official approval of the Pauline Order by the Apostolic See falls on this year. The Order developed in a dynamic way and spread all over Europe. It reached Hungary, the Balkans, Poland, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. It was even known in South America. The heyday was the 16th century when there were 300 monasteries in eight provinces in the European countries and even in Palestine and Egypt. However, the defeat of the Hungarian army in Mohacs in 1526 brought great havoc in the order. The Turks destroyed several dozen monasteries, burnt the archives and libraries, the monks died martyrs’ deaths. The Reformation finished the destruction. The Hungarian monasteries practically ceased to exist. The centre of the monastic life was directed to Jasna Gora. The Jasna Gora foundation initiated new monasteries in the Polish lands. Here the Order of St Paul the First Hermit experienced its great growth, mainly in the 17th century, having the wide support of the nation. In the period of Poland’s partitions the Pauline Order, which experienced the peak of its growth, was dissolved. It was in the year 1786. Finally, the Pauline Order survived only in Poland. In the early 1930s the Pauline Monks returned to Hungary, to the cradle of the order. During the communist times the Order officially existed only in Poland, and from there in the 1970s the Paulines went to Croatia, the second oldest province. After the fall of communism the monks returned to Hungary. The dissolution of the Order in various countries resulted in survival of only two monasteries at the beginning of the 20th century, namely Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa and the Monastery on Skalka in Krakow. The Pauline Order is constantly developing. Currently, the Pauline Fathers and Brothers minister in ca. 70 monasteries in Poland and other parts of the world: Southern Africa, England, Australia, Belarus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Cameroon, Lithuania, Germany, Slovakia, the United States, Ukraine, Italy and Hungary. Today the biggest cradle of vocations is Poland and from here the Pauline monks go to the whole world. Only the Hungarian and Croatian provinces grow on the basis of their own vocations.
– The 700th Jubilee of the Order’s approval is certainly an occasion to reflect on the spiritual heritage of the sons of St Paul the First Hermit and encourages referring to the source from which all hermits drew. Can the charisma of the Pauline Order be valid in our modern times when monks usually live among crowds? Where do the present day monks have their desert?
– The very rich history of the Pauline Order is not commonly known, even among the Pauline monks themselves. The dissolution of the Order caused that as a rule the works of the Pauline authors survived in manuscripts, mainly in Latin. The renewal of the order and its expansion in the second half of the 20th century made us desire to get to know our own roots. This year, when our order celebrates the 700th anniversary of its approval by the Apostolic See, we publish the history of the Pauline Order in Polish. It is written in three volumes of ‘Roczniki Paulinskie’ [The Pauline Annals] by Fr Andrzej Eggerer, Fr Mikolaj Benger and Fr Marcin Stroska. These volumes show us a panorama of the Order from its beginning to the dissolution in 1786.
Speaking about the Pauline spirituality, one should know that one of the organisers of the communal life of the Pauline monks was Blessed Euzebius. When he was praying during the night he had a revelation – he saw flames as sparkles running through the stubble (cf. Wisdom 3:7). At some moment those flames came together as one fire and dispersed the darkness of the hermitage by their powerful light. During the night there shone a day that was brighter than noon. Euzebius asked God to help him discern the sign. He could hear a voice from the highest speaking that those flames meant the hermits that were dispersed in the woods and that lived separately in their lonely hermitages. They were to yield greater spiritual fruit if they gave up their solitude and gathered in one monastic community. For Euzebius the revelation was a sign to gather the dispersed hermits in one community. Since the Pauline hermitage constitutes a connection of contemplation and pastoral ministry. The Church made it possible by the decisions of Blessed Bartholomew and Canon Eusebius of Esztergom. Today bishops from various countries ask us to transfer the charisma of the desert into the contemporary secularised world. Our rich heritage is inscribed in the charisma of our hermits’ order. The Pauline monks face concrete tasks nowadays. These include cherishing the contemplation of God in solitude and love for liturgical prayer; laborious and poor life and practicing penance as participation in the salvific emptying of Christ; special worship of the Mother of God, mainly expressed in following Mary in the work of our sanctification and apostolic activities as well as apostolic zeal in the service for the Church and for your neighbours, directed by the Holy Spirit, sensitive to the signs of the times.
– On 15 January 2008, the Pauline monks asked the faithful to their own desert and we could participate in the solemn opening of the Pauline Year. What is the programme of the celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the approval of the Pauline Order?
– The opening of the Pauline Year, held on 15 January, on the liturgical feast of our Patriarch, was preceded by a uniquely solemn Novena to St Paul the First Hermit, during which various Pauline monks, including Fr Jerzy Tomzinski, our oldest father, delivered sermons. On 16 January, the feast of Our Lady Queen of Hermits, the monks in all Pauline monasteries made the Jubilee Act of Dedication to the Mother of God. On 20 January, there was an external ceremony to worship St Paul the First Hermit. We were greatly honoured by the presence of the Primate of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp who presided over the Mass at Jasna Gora. Within the framework of the Pauline Year there will be a peregrination of the relics of St Paul the First Hermit and the icon of Blessed Euzebius of Esztergom. We will have a prayer vigil on 10 February in the intention of the Pauline Order and the General Chapter, which begins on 18 February. I wholeheartedly invite all those who are spiritually united with the Pauline monks. The main celebration of the Pauline Year, with the Polish Bishops’ Conference, will be held on 26 August at Jasna Gora. We are organizing an international scientific symposium with representatives of the monastic communities of St Paul the First Hermit from Spain and delegates of the Coptic monks from the monastery of St Paul the First Hermit from Egypt. The symposium is to be held at Jasna Gora on 16-18 October. Within the framework of the Pauline Year we plan to have a didactic exhibition about the Pauline monks, prepared in several languages, and are going to publish a jubilee album. Jasna Gora is also organizing an exhibition entitled ‘700 years of the Pauline Order’, which will show the most important works of the Pauline artistic activities, writing and music. It is worth knowing that a concert of the Pauline music will be held in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. On 13 December 2008, i.e. the day of the anniversary of the approval of the Pauline Order, Masses will be celebrated in all Pauline churches and the hymn of thanksgiving ‘Te Deum’ will be solemnly sung. The Pauline Year will end on 15 January 2009.
– Thank you very much for the conversation and I wish that the Pauline Order would dynamically grow and carry its hermit-pastoral charisma to the ends of the world. God bless you!
Jasna Gora is a place, especially prominent place for pastoral ministry in the Polish land, especially with regard to the penitential sacrament. (John Paul II)
An exemplary order in Europe
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the Primate of Poland:
Faithfulness and trust, which exist between the Bishops’ Conference and the Order of the Pauline Monks, are models for the whole of Europe since nowhere will we find such a collaboration, such understanding, such a dedication for the cause of God, only here, at the place of the Most Blessed Mother and with the guardians who are the Pauline fathers. (Jasna Gora, 20 January 2008)
This is a jubilee in the whole of Poland
Archbishop Stanislaw Nowak of Czestochowa:
We have begun the jubilee of the 700th anniversary of the approval of the Pauline Order. May God bless you for this most spiritually fruitful and most beautiful experience. We are experiencing this important time with the fathers. They are ours; they work here, at this place, which is so important to Poland. This is our order, very much dedicated to Poles, and therefore, the jubilee is ours as well. It belongs to the whole of Poland. (Jasna Gora, 15 January 2008)