Monastic Vows ~ Stability

I have changed the subject of this article from the Evangelical Counsels to Monastic Vows. The Evangelical Counsels consist of poverty, chastity, and obedience. A forth vow is somewhat unique to monastic life. All Orthodox Monks take this, but I believe that Benedictines are the only Western Monastics who take the vow of stability.

Stability is not an easy thing now a days. I read once, that a person can plan to change jobs more than 10 times in their life and will move at least 3 times if not more. Stability is not something that our world teaches us. We are far too fast to pick up and move rather than stay where we are.

Monastic life is counter to everything that life could throw at us. From the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience now to this fourth one of stability. Through this vow we say that we will stay in the monastery for life. We will dwell with this community that God has brought together through thick and thin. I believe it is the hardest of the vows to deal with and to keep.

We live in a society that is disposable. When something breaks, rather than fix it if it can be fixed, we throw it away and buy something new. If our marriage is not working, rather than do the hard work necessary to fix it, we get divorced, unwanted pregnancy, same thing throw it away. And the story continues. The action of stability forces us to remain where we are for as long as we live.

When I entered the Benedictine monastery all those years ago, I made this vow of stability. Again, I believe this is hardest of the vows to keep. Imagine living with a group of people that you would not necessarily choose on your own. We strive in the monastic life to be there for each other and that requires getting along. Just like any family or any relationship it does not always work. Sometimes people are such a disruption to the normal operation of things. Some how you need to stay there and work it out. I left the community not because of the community but for other reasons. There were times during my monastic journey that it would have been easy to leave because of the community but it was the community the kept me there. Stability will imply that the monastic is content with the place God has brought them. It is also a sharing of ones life with another, or with many as is the case in larger communities.

Writing on stability in his book Monastic Practices, Charles Cummings has this to say about the role of stability in the monastery. “Monks and nun stay where they are for the sake of Christ, and not because of iron chains, bars, grilles, or high walls and not even because of socio-psychological chains that might be stringer than iron and stone. Fear is the strongest chain, but St. Benedict wanted monastic stability to depend on no chains but the love of Christ.” He continues, “This promise can be seen as the monastic way of saying yes to God’s will for me in the place where I believe he has placed me and with the task I believe he has laid on my shoulders…”

The bottom line to all of this, if there is one, is that the monastic life is not something we ever complete. Monasticism is a life long journey, as is our Christian life, if we rush we will stumble and fall. We must take our time and dwell with God and sit in his presence where we can soak Him in and He can begin to make that change in us that we desire. That’s what brings us to the monastery in the first place. If conversion is not what brings us then we need to find it in another place.


  1. Stablity is a daily choice,be it because we're married or monastic.
    We are adult enough to understand that the choice we made is the choice we need.
    To many people are not mature enough to make these choices and they leave because they are not truly fully dedicated to the way of life they have pick for themselves.
    As with all things,life always seems greener then were we are at present and the yearning to move on comes and goes.
    A true follower of a choosen life style understands the greater good of their decision and through thick or thin follows it to the end.
    We are all imperfect people who try to do the best we can in a world filled with temtations and constant choices.linda

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog. The idea of stability continues to grow in my admiration as a main characteristic of the Benedictine way. As a motto, stability might even be more Benedictine than the often seen "ora et labora." And stability has the added advantage of actually being included in the Rule. 🙂

  3. You're almost completely correct, Fr. Peter: Benedictines do take the vow of stability. It also known by the Latin term Conversatio Morum, which refers to the continuing fidelity to Monastic life. The reference to this can be found in Chapter 58 of the Rule of St. Benedict.

    In addition to "hard-core" Benedictine communities, Common Cistercians and Trappists as well as Camadolese hermits take the vow as well.

    I'm not sure whether or not Carthusians take a vow of stability, but their traditions are quite similar.

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