|Carthusian monks, by Vincenzo Carducci, c.1630|
However, in lieu of that, I've developed my own order, which has already reached the dizzying heights of a single enrolled member (myself). This is perhaps not a surprise, since it was created largely to give a disciplined structure to my own particular eccentricities, and until now it's been operating in the manner of a secret society. But today I bring it out of the shadows, not in order to open enrollment to all the other diffident introverts out there who are longing for carefully-structured forms of communal identity, but to encourage an ancient and too-often-ignored practice: the following of a rule of life.
|Benedict Presents the Monks with His Rule, by Il Sodoma, c.1505|
In order to provide some motivation and inspiration in my order and rule of life, I organized it along the basis of a "Cursus Honorum" (an idea borrowed from the Roman Republic)--an ascending ladder of offices within the order, through which the ordinand may advance if he faithfully keeps the rule of life throughout a given year. The ordinand begins by taking the traditional three vows of a monastic vocation--obedience, chastity, and poverty. For a person like myself, though, who has obligations to my family, I can't keep these vows in quite the same way that a monk would. However, they do provide the broad outlines of how I try to live my life: (1) obedience to God and to the authority figures that he sets over me; (2) chastity, in keeping my heart and marriage free of immorality; and (3) poverty, in the sense of trying to pursue a course of simplicity and moderation in the many areas of personal consumption that I have to deal with in my day-to-day life (so, moderation in purchases, food, and using various forms of media).
Each stage of the order's Cursus Honorum is given a name inspired by offices in the traditions of classical Christendom, developed so that the attaining of a new rank gives the ordinand a sense of identity, confidence, and encouragement. There are twelve stages in the Cursus Honorum, divided into three sections: Monk (of which the stages are Novice, Acolyte, Ostiary, and Lector), Knight (of which the stages are Squire, Cavalier, Paladin, and Master), and Noble (of which the stages are Tribune, Prefect, Praetor, and Consul). If an ordinand has climbed through all these stages, he ascends to the final rank, the Prester. For each of the twelve stages, the ordinand is assigned a theme virtue for the year and chooses a theme verse of Scripture to go along with it. (And additionally, if desired, an exemplar "hero of the faith" from Christian history can be chosen to represent each stage, whose example may serve as an inspiration. Because the voice of church history is particularly important to me, I have both an exemplar for each yearlong stage, and a rotating set of exemplar heroes for every 40-day stretch within a given stage. The 40-day cycle, not outlined here, is an optional overlay to the Cursus Honorum, which enables the intentional practice of focusing on a 40-day rotation of prayer concerns and spiritual disciplines).
Now, to some readers, this inventing of made-up offices with fanciful names might seem a little silly, a trifle puerile; and I suspect that I probably can't help them in that, since I've never suffered the tragic fate of facing life without an imagination. No, in all seriousness, I choose these names and ranks as a way to inspire myself, to make a challenge and a game of my deep desire to advance in virtue and to chasten my passions with careful habits of godly discipline.
|I'm not the only one who enjoys complicated schemes of self-discipline.|
The basic idea is that I keep these weekly checklists throughout each stage of the Cursus Honorum (with each stage lasting a year), and I'm permitted to gain a new rank if a majority of my checklists for the year have a score of 70 or higher. (It's a moderate system rather than a strict one, because my checklists aim for an idealistic high-bar: the inclusion of all possible good habits that I'd like to practice in a perfect week, such that I've never yet scored a full 100, and usually average in the 70s; besides, the monastic tradition has always recognized that it does no one any good to be too hard on oneself.) I'll be posting my weekly checklists in a link on the blog's sidebar (an example from earlier this year can be seen here), in case anyone is interested in checking out the process and working on developing a rule of life for themselves. Mine is probably unnecessarily complicated, but it works well for me, encouraging me toward more healthy and productive pursuits in my struggle for virtue and discipline.