Office of Hermits

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Texts for an Office of Hermits

Levate in caelum oculos vestros et videte sub terra deorsum; quia caeli sicut fumus liquescent et terra sicut vestimentum atteretur, et habitatores eius sicut haec interibunt, salus autem mea in sempiternum erit et justitia mea non deficiet.

Lift up your eyes to heaven, and look down to the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish like smoke, and the earth shall be worn away like a garment, and the inhabitants thereof shall perish in like manner: but my salvation shall be forever, and my justice shall not fail.

Isa. 51:6
Posui verba mea in ore tuo et in umbra manus meae protexi te, ut plantes caelos et fundes ierram et dicas ad Sion: populus meus es tu.

I have put my words in thy mouth, and have protected thee in the shadow of my hand, that thou mightest plant the heavens, and found the earth: and mightest say to Sion: Thou art my people.

Isa. 51:16
* Merton is inconsistent in his use of consonantals in Latin: sometimes he retains the classical and sometimes he uses the medieval.

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X (46)

Non in tumultu exibitis nec in fuga properabitis, praecedet enim vos Dominus et congregabit vos Deus Israel.

You shall not go out in a tumult, neither shall you make haste by flight: for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will gather you together.

Isa. 52:12 Isaac of Neneveh
Sweep your cell clean of everything superfluous for this will lead you to abstinence, however unwillingly. Scarcity of all things teaches a man to be abstinent.
( Early Fathers from Philokalia p. 235)
Kadloubovsky, E. and Palmer, G.E.H., translators. Early Fathers from the Philokalia . London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1954
If you do not strive you will not find & if you do not knock at he door with ardor & constantly keep vigil before it, you will not be heard.
EFP. 235

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X (47)

("office" - contd)

"Sermon" from Isaac of N.
Is there any need to say anything about men engaged in spiritual endeavor, strangers to the world, & about hermits? They have made the wilderness a city & transformed it into the home & the abode of the angels. For the righteousness of their life the angels always come to them & as warriors of the same King they have often fought side by side. All their life have they loved the wilderness & from love of God had their dwelling in the mountains, caves & precipices of the earth. Since they have abandoned the earthly & conceived of love for the heavenly, imitating the angels, the
* text continues on X (48).

In a journal entry for January 11, 1965 Merton notes Isaac of Nineveh as a favorite:
A little Nietzsche is stimulating, no doubt, but what I really like to read is Isaac of Neneveh in the hermitage or Zen Masters in the fields.
A Vow of Conversation , p. 133.

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X (48)

holy angels themselves have deemed it right not to conceal from them their countenance & have fulfilled their every wish, giving them all possible help.
EFP . p 237. ( Isaac . contd)
He is a monk who stays outside the world & is ever praying to God so that he may gain future blesshings. A monk's wealth is the comfort he finds in mourning, & the joy of faith which shines in the secret places of his mind.
EFP . 240
Blessed are those who from love of God have girded their loins with unquestioningsimplicity for this sea of suffering & who do not turn back.
EFP 244

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X (49)

When hope embarks on this passage it crosses the sea with its first ardour, having no care at all for the body nor deliberating in itself as to whether or no its labour begun will in any wise succeed.
( Isaac . EFP. 244)
God commands that we should undertake the work with readiness to die for the sake of pleasing Him, & He promises to crown the faithful laborer with the honour of martyrdom.
EFP . 246

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X (50)

"office" of hermits

Haec dicit Dominus: quomodo si inveniatur granum in botro et dicatur: ne dissipes illud quoniam benedictio est; Sic faciam propter servos meos ut non disperdam totum.

Thus saith the Lord: As if a grain be found in a cluster, and it be said: Destroy it not, because it is a blessing: so will I do for the sake of my servants, that I may not destroy the whole.

Isa. 65:8
Ad quem autem respiciam nisi ad pauperculum et contritum spiritu et trementem sermones meos.

But to whom shall I look but to him that is poor and little, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?

Isa. 66:2

Intrans in domum meam conquiescam cum sapientia: non enim habet amaritudinem conversatio illius, nec taedium convictus illius, sed laetitiam et gaudium.

When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with wisdom: for her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness.

Sap 8:16

(Jan 31, 1965)*

* See note on following page. Addendum Merton's selection of texts under the title, "Office of Hermits", begins in this notebook after November, 1964 and continues through and beyond his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965. Since there were many indications he would soon be allowed to live in the hermitage permanently, the annual retreat of January 18-26 was especially important. Merton's "Office for Hermits" may well have been conceived and begun during this annual retreat. [See Mott, pp. 410-412 for events preceding Merton's birthday.] How much of Merton's "office" was gathered on his birthday is impossible to accurately gauge. Was it more than page 50? Was it limited only to the quotation of Sap 8:16 marked by Merton's marginalia which signals its importance? Merton's birth date at this place may well have been added later by him, though this does not lessen the significance of either the entire page or the one passage. In any case, the passages of Merton's "office" can be allowed to "sing" with journal entries marked as written on the vigil of his birthday and the anniversary itself (Jan. 30-31, 1965):
What I find most in my whole life is illusion, wanting to be something of which I have formed a concept. I hope I will get free of all that now, because that is going to be the struggle and yet I have to be something that I ought to be. I have to meet a certain demand for order and inner light and tranquillity, God's demand, that is, that I remove obstacles to His giving me all these. Snow, silence, the talking fire, the watch on the table, sorrow. What would be the use of going over all this? I will just get cleaned up (my hands are dirty) and say the Psalms of my birthday:
'Yet you drew me out of the womb you entrusted me to my mother's breast placed on your lap from my birth from my mother's womb you have been my God'
(Jan 30) I can imagine no greater cause for gratitude on my fiftieth birthday than: that, on it, I woke up in a hermitage. Fierce cold all night, ... . Inside the house, it almost froze, though embers still glowed under the ashes in the fireplace. The cold woke me up at one point, but I adjusted the blankets and went back to sleep. What more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this living together with wisdom ? For me, there is nothing else...
[emphasis added] (Jan 31) A Vow of Conversation , pp. 141-142.

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X (51)

The Lord suffers all human weaknesses but abhors a man who is always complaining, & does not leave him without a lesson.
Isaac of N. EFP . p. 269
A man who remembering God respects every man, by a sudden move-ment of God's hand himself receives help from every man.
Praecordia fatui quasi rota carri, et quasi axis versatilis cogitatus illius.

The heart of a fool is as a wheel of a cart, and his thoughts are like a rolling axletree.

Eccli. [Ecclesiasticus] 33:5

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X (52)

( office )

A cella quippe in caelum saepe ascenditur; vix autem aut numquam a cella in infernum descenditur, nisi cogitando de pravis inferni. Moriens autem vix umquam aliquis a cella in infernum descendit, quia vix umquam aliquis nisi caelo praedestinatus in ea usque ad mortem persistit: quoniam filium gratiae cella tanquam fructum ventris sui foret [feret?].

From the cell (cella) one can often go up to heaven (caelum); but hardly ever or never does one go from the cell down to hell, except by dwelling on the depraved things of hell. At the moment of death, hardly ever does anyone go down from the cell to hell, because hardly ever does anyone persevere in it until death unless he is predestined for heaven: because the cell bears[?] a son of grace like the fruit of its womb.

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X (53)


Haec dicit Dns exercituum: Ponite corda vestra super vias vestras. Seminastis multum et intulistis parum, comedistis et non estis satiati, bibistis et non estis inebriati, operuistis vos et non estis calefacti, et qui mercedes congreagavist misit eas in sacculum pertusum.

Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Set your hearts to consider your ways. You have sowed much, and brought in little: you have eaten, but have not been sated: you have drunk, but have not been inebriated: you have clothed yourselves, but have not been warmed: and he that hath earned wages, put them into a bag with holes.

Aggaeus 1:5-6

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X (54)


Ne despicias narrationem presbyterorum sapientium, et in proverbiis eorum conversare; ab ipsis enim disces sapientiam et doctrinam intellectus et servire magnatis sine querela. Non te praetereat narratio seniorum, ipsi enim didicerunt a patribus suis; quoniam ab ipsis disces intellectum et in tempore necessitatis dare responsum.

Despise not the discourse of them that are ancient and wise, but acquaint thyself with their proverbs. For of them thou shalt learn wisdom, and instruction of understanding, and to serve great men without quarrel. Let not the discourse of the ancients escape thee, for they have learned of their fathers: for of them thou shalt learn understanding, and to given an answer in time of need.

Ecclus. VIII. 9-12.

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X (55)

"No-Thing" you love must be
And from "Thing" you must flee.
You must stand alone
with no man make your home.
From all striving cease,
From all beings find release.
Loose what you captive find
And what is free fast bind.
Bring comfort to the sick
For yourself nothing seek.
Drink from the spring of bitterness.
To light love's fire bring
Fuel of goodness.
So will your dwelling
Be wilderness.

Mccha, A. of Mazt.

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X (56)


O Domina et Mater misericordiae quae mundo edidisti Salvatorem, oratrix pro me dignanter assiste. Ad tuum gloriosissimum et singulare praesidium confugio, et tu, piissima, meis precibus aures tuae pietatis inclina. Vehementer expavesco ne vita mea tuo dis-pliceat filio, et illo [sic] deprecor ut sicut per te se mundo mani-festavit, propter te, quaeso, absque dilatione miseratur mei. Qui vivit et regnat.

O Lady and Mother of mercy who gave the world the Savior, consent to be my intercessor. I flee to your most gracious and singular protection, and you, O most faithful one, incline the ears of your fidelity to my prayers. I strongly fear that my life may not be pleasing to your son, and I entreat him that, just as he manifested himself to the world through you, so too, I beg, may he have pity on me without delay for your sake. Who lives and reigns.

( St. Odo )

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X (57)

Fili in mansuetudine serva animam tuam et da illi honorem secundum meritum tuum.

My son, keep thy soul in meekness, and give it honor according to its desert.

Eccli. 10:31

(Stability in solitude.)

Sta in testamento tuo et in illo colloquere, et in opere mandatorum tuorum veterasce. Ne manseris in operibus peccatorum, confide autem in Deo et in mane in loco tuo.

Be steadfast in thy covenant, and be conversant therein, and grow old in the work of thy commandments. Abide not in the works of sinners, but trust in God and stay in thy place.

Eccli. 11:21-22.

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X (58)


Prayer of Fulbert of Chartres (excerpt)
Impetra michi sancta Virgo Maria spatium et locum penitentiae ut non sinar in vacuum ducere dies huic mortali vitae concessos. Sancta Dei Genitrix perpetua Virgo Maria, intercede pro me, ut omnipotens Deus aperire dignetur michi voluntatem suam, qualiter anima mea possit slava fieri. Dancta Dei Genitrix perpetua Virgo Maria, impetra michi compunctionis lacrimas, ut innumerabilia peccata mea incessanter defleam, ut sicut fuit michi dulce peccare ita michi sit dulce paenitere et lugere, non solum propria sed et aliena commissa.

O Holy Virgin Mary, obtain for me a space and a place of repentence that I may not be allowed to spend vainly the days granted to this mortal life. Holy Mother of God, ever Virgin Mary, obtain for me the tears of compunction that I may weep incessantly for my numberless sins, so that, just as sinning was sweet to me, so too I may find it sweet to do penance and mourn, not only for my own sins but also for those committed by others.

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X (59)

From Psalter of Robert of Molesme
O intemerata et in aeternum benedicta, specialis et incomparabilis Dei Genitrix Virgo Maria, gratissimum Dei templum, Spiritus Sancti sacrarium, ianua caelorum, per quam post Deum totus vivit orbis terrarum, inclina aures tuae sanctae virginalis humilitatis et pietatis indignis supplicationibus meis, et esto michi miserrimo peccatori pia et propitia in omnibus auxiliatrix.

O Mother of God, Virgin Mary, fearless and forever blessed, singular and incomparable, most pleasing temple of God, tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, gate of heaven, through whom--after God--all on earth have their life: incline the ears of your holy virginal humility and fidelity to my unworthy prayers, and in all things be for me, a most wretched sinner, a faithful and well-disposed helper.

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X (60)


Fugite de medio Babylonis et salvet unusquisque animam suam; nolitetacere super iniquitatem eius,quoniam tempus ultionis est a Domino, vicissitudinem ipse retribuetei. Calix aureus Babylon in manu Domini inebrians omnem terram; de vino eius biberunt gentes et ido commotae sunt. Subito cecidit Babylon et contrita est. Ulutate super eam; tol[l]ite resinam ad dolorem eius si forte sanetur.Curavimus Babylonem et non est sanata, derelinquamus eam et eamus unusquisque in terram suam, quoniam pervenit usque ad caelos judicium eius, et elevatum est usque ad numbes.

Flee yet from the midst of Babylon, and let every one save his own life: be not silent upon her iniquity: for it is the time of revenge from the Lord, he will render unto her what she hath deserved. Babylon hath been a golden cup in the hand of the Lord, that made all the earth drunk: the nations have drunk of her wine, and therefore they have staggered. Babylon is suddenly fallen, and destroyed: howl for her, take balm for her pain, if so she may be healed. We would have cured Babylon, but she is not healed: let us forsake her, and let us go every man to his own land: because her judgment hath reached even to the heavens, and is lifted up to the clouds.

Jerem. 51. [69]

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X (61)

Cur per multa vagaris homuncio, quaerendo bona animae tuae et corporis tui? Ama unum bonum in quo sunt omnia bona, et sufficit.

Why, little man, do you run from one thing to another, searching for the goods of your soul and of your body? Love the one good in which are all goods, and that will suffice.

Anselm . Proslogion XXV

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X (62)

Deficient pueri et laborabunt, et iuvenes in infirmitate cadent; qui autem sperant in Domino mutabunt fortitudinem, adsument pennas sicut aquilae, current et non laborabunt, ambulabunt et non deficient.

Youths shall faint and labor, and young men shall fall by infirmity. But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Isa. 40:30-31
Et exspectabo Dominum qui abscondit faciem suam a domo Jacob et praestolabor eum.

And I will wait for the Lord, who hath hid his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.

Isa. 8:17
That Isaias be included in the "office of hermits" is not accidental. Isaias as an important source for Merton in understanding his monastic and hermit aspirations has had a long history in Merton's writing. In 1951 Merton writes:
Do you suppose I have a spiritual life? I have none, I am indigence, I am silence, I am poverty, I am solitude, for I have renounced spirituality to find God, and He it is Who preaches loud in the depths of my indigence, saying:
I will pour out my spirit upon thy children and they shall spring up among the herbs as willows beside the running waters
(Isaias, 55:3-4).
The children of thy barrenness shall say in thy ears: The place is too strait for me, make me room to dwell in
(Isaias, 49:20). I die of love for you, Compassion: I take you for my Lady, as Francis married poverty I marry you, the Queen of hermits and the Mother of the poor.
The Sign of Jonas . New York: Image Books edition, 1956. pp. 323-324.

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X (63)

(Christus) luctatus est eum et vicit: erat enim homo pro patribus certans, et per obedientiam, inobedientiam persolvens: alligavit enim fortem, et solvit infirmos, et salutem donavit plasmati suo, destruens peccatum. Est enim piissimus et misericors Dominus et amans humanum genus.

(Christ) laid hold of him and defeated him: for he was a man combatting for his ancestors, and undoing (their) disobedience by (his) obedience: he fettered the strong one and he released the weak, and he gave salvation to his creation, destroying sin. Thus, he is a most faithful and merciful Lord, one who loves the human race.

t. Irenaeus Adv. III.xix.5 (_____ p. 47n.)

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X (64)

Insuper et sabbata mea dedi eis ut essent signum inter me et eos et scirent quia ego Dominus sanctificans eos.

Moreover I gave them also my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them: and that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.

Ezech. XX. 12
Dixi autem ad filios eorum in solitudine: In praeceptis patrum vestrorum nolite incedere, ne judicia eorum custodiatis, nec in idolis eorum polluamini. Ego Dominus Deus vester, in praeceptis meis ambulate, judicia mea custodite et facite eas et sabbata mea sanctificate ut sint signum inter me et vos et sciatis quia ego sum Dominus Deus vester.

And I said to their children in the wilderness: Walk not in the statutes of your fathers, and observe not their judgments, nor be ye defiled with their idols: I am the Lord your God: walk ye in my statutes and observe my judgments, and do them. And sanctify my sabbaths, that they may be a sign between me and you: and that you may know that I am the Lord your God.

Ezech. XX. 18-20

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X (65)

Inter sanctum et profanum non habuerunt distantiam et inter pollutum et mundum non intellexerunt et a sabbatis meis averterunt oculos meos et conqui-nabar in medio eorum.... Et quaesivi de eis virum qui interponeret sepem et staret oppositus contra me pro terra ne dissiparem eam, et non inveni.

They have put no difference between holy and profane nor have distinguished between the polluted and the clean and they have turned away their eyes from my sabbaths and I was profaned in the midst of them.... And I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land, that I might not destroy it: and I found none.

Ezech. XXII. [26b, 30]

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X (66)

Ephraim pascit ventum et sequitur aestum tota die. Mendacium et vastitatem multiplicat... Et tu ad Deum tuum converteris, misericordiam et judicium custodi et spera in Deo tuo semper.

Ephraim feedeth on the wind and followeth the heat all the day long. He multiplies lies and desolation... Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment and hope in thy God always.

Osee. 12:2,7.
[in standard editions, verses are 1 and 6.]