Session 4

OBEDIENCE (Scholasticate)
Constitutions 238-391 (Rule of Life 34-50)

Brief Summary:

The pursuit of charity is our constant vocation, but charity must express itself in practical works of mercy which can be as universal as the needs of our brothers and sisters. Hence, at the end of their novitiate, all members must be trained in learning and in other ministries of charity and exercised in them.

Superiors will decide the type of ministry for each member, after extensive consultation, on the basis of “individual capacities and endowments”, and other criteria.

Those found unsuitable for the Institute will be dismissed by Fr. General in consultation with the other Superiors. Decisions to dismiss must be made with great reluctance and with great love, as the very last resort and in spirit of fraternal charity for all involved.

At the discretion of Superiors, a person who has already completed his studies or training could be promoted immediately to the Third Probation after taking his scholastic vows (but see changes brought about by Canon 665 that stipulates that temporary vows have to be for a minimum of three years). In some cases, a novice may be asked by Superiors to extend further the period of his novitiate.

Approved scholastics are those who take simple vows at the end of their novitiate and promise to enter the Institute as coadjutors “to live and die in it for the service of God” (Note that there is no reference now in Canon Law and Rule of Life to simple vows). They are assigned by Superiors to learning and training for specific future ministries in the spiritual, intellectual, temporal works of charity.

Scholastics must remain in perfect indifference as Superiors try to identify the will of God for each. Superiors, on their part, will maintain a degree of flexibility in their decisions and they will “weigh carefully the natural inclinations of each member”, looking for the gifts and propensities the Lord has given to each of them.

Superiors will direct scholastics for studies or training according to: 1- the needs of the houses in which we live, 2- the need arising from work of charity which we already have or are going to assume shortly, 3- the inclinations and propensities of the scholastics, 4- the occupations which are most useful to the local communities in which we happen to be. Superiors will also keep in mind the importance of consolidating the works we already have, without spreading the brethren too thinly on the ground.

Formators in charge of Scholastics should be persons “noted for piety and doctrine”. They should preside over the spiritual life of the scholastics, which should not differ in substance from life in the novitiate, and they should take a real and constant interest in the progress of scholastics in their studies or training.

The scholasticate is a period of hard and sustained work both in the spiritual field and in the academic or technical training. Formators should, therefore, be very vigilant about the health of scholastics, making sure that the workload is not excessive and that sufficient time is given to physical recreation and vacation.

Studies, normally, should be taken in public schools and public certificates obtained. Scholastics should complete all basic education before beginning their specialised courses. Scholastics trained for the priesthood should acquire a solid knowledge of Scripture, of the Fathers of the Church, of liturgical documents, of philosophy, and of all theological matters.

Formators must be vigilant and make inquiries about the content of all studies, making sure that it is in accordance with sound doctrine and truth. If necessary, they must complement courses with private tuitions and lessons at home. All scholastics should be taught “the art of study”, or methodology.

The rule of life in the scholasticate should not differ in substance from life in the novitiate, with spiritual exercises and the practice of virtues given special attention. The commitment to studying, however, must be whole-hearted, meticulous, and thorough.

The “first Obedience”

During the Novitiate candidates are tested in many ways in the virtue of obedience, but the first real test comes at the beginning and during the period of the Scholasticate. Just before or soon after taking religious vows the scholastic is given his “first obedience”, is told by Superiors what kind of studies, or academic training, or technical courses he is asked by obedience to pursue in view of the possible future ministry.

It is true that Superiors are asked to exercise a degree of flexibility throughout the period of the scholasticate so that the first obedience cannot be taken as a definitive decision, whether one is directed, for example, to be a priest or a brother, to pursue academic professions or manual and technical work. But, on the part of the scholastic, there should be perfect indifference and a desire to embrace fully the Will of God manifested by his Superiors: “Whatever is decided and commanded in the Lord for these candidates shall be done” (C250). Even if in recent times the Institute has destined nearly every scholastic for the ordained ministry, it is clear that for Fr. Founder the call to the Institute is a call to religious life first and foremost. He had envisaged a strong group of brothers dedicated to teaching, to hospitals, to manual works, in accordance to the indications of Divine Providence. This openness of scholastics to perfect indifference and to holiness through it should be the very mark of the Rosminian vocation.

We have already seen that in the Institute obedience is as universal as charity, but it is also reasonable. It is precisely this reasonableness that should guarantee no great surprises for scholastics with regard to the obedience given them. It is true that Fr. Founder uses the famous three images of the unfinished alphabetical letter, of the corpse, and of the old man’s staff to stress the perfect interior disposition of the religious towards obedience (C534-535), but on the part of the Superior there must be every effort to follow the light of reason scrupulously in making decisions about each of the brethren in his care.

Although Superiors must weigh carefully natural gifts and propensities, as well as experiences gained before entering the religious life, and all knowledge accumulated through regular disclosure of conscience (recommended but no longer obligatory according to Canon Law), there remains always an element of unpredictability in obedience originating from its universality.

Fr. Founder mentions this unpredictability when he says, “After we have endeavoured in the probation to perfect in some way the will of the candidates so that for the sake of charity it may not reject self-denial and suffering it is necessary to instruct them in the different studies and professional activities needed by mankind” (C238).

But even this unpredictability is very “reasonable”, because Superiors have to consider that religious have, of their own free will, consecrated themselves to perfect charity even to the point of giving up one’s life for the sake of love of God and neighbour. Superiors should be in a better position to judge the needs of all the works of charity that God has manifested as His Will for the Institute, and should, therefore, rely on the perfect indifference of all members in order to achieve the greatest charity the Institute can produce.

Superiors must do all in their power to know each scholastic well: “Superiors to whom novices have been entrusted will note their individual capacities and endowments, and note the activities for which each of the novices seems suited” (C241); and again, “The Superiors must indeed weigh carefully the natural inclinations of each member, and as far as possible distribute duties to the individuals accordingly” (C286E); “It is left to the prudence of the Provost General or diocesan to decide the different occupations on the individuals on the basis of their knowledge and information concerning them” (C290).

However, there are other criteria that will direct the decisions of Superiors, and these criteria must be considered in their proper order:

  1. The Institute has Houses that need spiritual care and expert administration, therefore some scholastics may be asked by obedience to study or to train in matters that deal with such future occupations;
  2. The Institute has already various works of spiritual, intellectual, temporal charity and Providence may have indicated new ones to be assumed shortly, therefore some scholastics will be asked by obedience to prepare for them;
  3. Thirdly, the inclinations and talents of each individual must also be taken into account, as stated above.
  4. Some scholastics may be asked by obedience to prepare for some works which happen to become more necessary and urgent because of particular times and circumstances.


It is not true to say, therefore, that a scholastic has a right to receive the obedience that is in accordance with his aspirations, propensities and talents; these must be taken into account by Superiors, but it is expected that the scholastic will maintain universal indifference, trusting in Divine Providence and only longing to do God’s Will, whatever it may be, through obedience.

Fr. Founder insists that “holy obedience” must be perfect in our outward action, in the will, and in the understanding. Obedience is perfect in the “outward action” when what is commanded is carried out well; in the “will” when he who obeys wills the very same as he who commands; in the “understanding” when the subject holds the very same as the Superior, and considers what is ordered to be well ordered. The last of the three elements can be the most troublesome, either because what is being commanded does not seem evident to us and perhaps contrary to our way of thinking, or because we do hold a judgment contrary to that contained in a superior’s command.

But even in such cases, “holy obedience” is the safest means for our perfection, either because humility and prudence in dubious matters should prompt us to agree intellectually with the superior who has a greater authority and overall responsibility than ourselves, or, if we do hold firmly and reasonably a contrary opinion, because the Providence of God desires our obedience for His greater glory, for purposes which are totally beyond our human way of thinking. “In this case – writes Fr. Founder – let us consider the superior as the minister of Providence, and revere him as such. What has been ordered (provided it is not certainly sinful) should be considered in harmony not with human reason, but with divine reason which constantly considers all things together” (C535E).

There can be little doubt that Fr. Rosmini himself put this into practice during the difficult days of the examination and condemnation of his two books, dwelling even more profoundly into the mysterious ways and reasons of Divine Providence. His prompt and absolute submission to the Pope and the Congregation is a beautiful manifestation of his perfect obedience to the Church. He wrote to Molinari:

Do not be upset by the prohibition of my two works, because the only thing that ought to upset us is sin. I wrote with an upright intention, as my conscience bears witness”; and to Michele Parma: “Thank you for your kindness in wanting to share the nearly incredible vicissitudes directed by the Providence of God. When I think of it all, I am lost in admiration, admiring I love, loving I want to sing; as I sing I give thanks; as I thank God, my heart is filled with joy”; and to Fradelizio, “Do not be sad about the prohibition of these two books: God has allowed it: sit nomen Domini benedictum. I am glad because it is the will of God, where alone is our treasure and where our heart should be” (Rosmini, C. Leetham, p.402).


For discussion:

Schools and Colleges have often very sophisticated Career tutors that help students make their mind up reasonably quickly with regard to the studies or training they should pursue, without passing aimlessly from course to course wasting their time.

Given the four criteria stated above and the depth of knowledge of scholastics that they have, should Superiors become far more confident and decisive in directing them to courses and training suitable for their future ministries?


Persons responsible for the care of scholastics

The master in charge of scholastics should be “noted for his piety and doctrine”. He will have assistants with whom he will preside over scholastics and their training. Fr. Founder expects very high standards from Formators, not only in guiding and strengthening the spiritual life of the scholastics but also in their active involvement and detailed interest over progress with studies or training. A scholasticate, for Fr. Founder, should be a place not dissimilar to the novitiate with regard to the essential spiritual exercises (daily one hour meditation, Mass, examinations of conscience, Rosary, weekly Confession) but it should also be a workshop full of intellectual activities:

 “Care should be taken that love of religious life and solid virtue does not grow cold amongst the academics in the heat of study. At the same time, there should not be too much insistence on mortifications, prayers and lengthy meditations. Study requires the whole man, and when it is undertaken with the sincere intention of serving God it is not less, but rather more pleasing to God and our Lord than spending study-time in these other works… For the same purpose of avoiding distractions, the students should not be given responsibilities and occupations entailed by domestic duties or other works towards their neighbour” (C351.E1-2).

Formators must have a real interest in the courses that have been chosen for scholastics. They must be satisfied that both teaching and content are solid, especially with regard to philosophy and theology, which must always be in accordance with the Magisterium of the Church. In the Five Wounds, Fr. Founder deplores what he considered poor quality teaching, non-existent methodology, appalling textbooks in the Italian seminaries or universities of his time.

Formators are real fathers and guides for the “carissimi”, a collective name often used by Fr. Founder for our scholastics, and they cannot abdicate their profound responsibility both for the spiritual progress and the academic or technical training of their subjects. Fr. Founder insists that Formators cannot simply discharge their responsibilities for the studies of scholastics by relying entirely in universities, lecturers, courses approved by the State or even the Church. He demands knowledge of the content, certainty that philosophy or theology, for example, are sound and solid, and additional teaching in the house if what is being taught at colleges is found deficient (C328).

For discussion

It is often said that no one should become a formator without a proper “course”. Yet, who should care to check the content, the details of what is being taught at the course? Especially today, the time of often brief and superficial courses on all matters, how can attending a “course” bring assurance that the person has truly become a “formator”?

Should the Institute send persons out for courses on formation or should it devise its own course based on sound Rosminian educational principles and ascetics? What views have Formators about the courses they have attended?

It was Fr. Founder’s view that good theology is founded on good philosophy. As a young student of theology and later as a young priest he was engaged in giving lectures on thomistic philosophy and theology to seminarians and priests, long before the re-discovery in the Church of the greatness of St. Thomas. In the Constitutions, Fr. Founder recommends a thorough study of philosophy for the duration of two years by scholastics who are going to become priests and by others:

There will be a thorough two-year course of philosophy for the more distinguished of the students to be raised to the priesthood, and also for others in different branches of study” (C323).

It is clear that a completion of a university philosophy course, which is often little more than a history of philosophy with little time given to the great Christian philosophers – early Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, St. Anselm, etc. – does not fulfil the demand Fr. Founder is making. For him a “sound” philosophy which would be a worthy base for theology is the philosophy of the Fathers, of St. Augustine, of St. Thomas. It was a tradition, certainly in the Italian Province, that scholastics destined to the priesthood had to do a two years course on Rosminian philosophy before starting their theology. The reasoning is easily understandable.

Fr. Founder’s philosophy is the most comprehensive Christian philosophy of all times, ranging from epistemology to anthropology, from psychology to ethics, from the philosophy of right to the philosophy of politics. His theosophy is an incredible and daring attempt to dwell in the depth of being, where he finds the most profound link and continuity between natural philosophy and theology.

If this is the case, is it not obvious that Rosminian philosophy should be offered to all our scholastics for a period of two years prior to their undertaking studies in theology or in other disciplines? From the solid base of Rosminian philosophy our scholastics would be in a position of assessing, evaluating, understanding, criticising, and enriching all their subsequent studies.

For discussion

It may prove difficult at the moment to organise a two years Rosminian philosophy course for all scholastics, but  would Formators appreciate a detailed and thorough programme that would allow scholastics to cover  methodically and fully, over the years of the scholasticate, for a period of a month a year,  the fundamental aspects of Rosminian philosophy?

Fr. Founder stresses also the desirability for “internationalisation” in the formation of our scholastics, based on our call to universal charity. He writes, “Scholastics need to be taught how to comport themselves as workers in this Society whose members have to live in so many different parts of the world and with so many different types of persons” (C372). He stresses the importance of learning foreign languages and of having houses of mixed nationalities (C310-320).

Fr. Hegarty, in his booklet, “Seeds in search of soil” has a perceptive page on this important aspect of the formation of scholastics. He quotes from a letter of Fr. Founder to Puecher in 1837: “I consider it of great value that we have mixed Communities of persons coming from more than one nation” (EC 6:288), and then from another in which Fr. Founder speaks about the novitiate as the place which teaches the “virtues of universal charity on which our Institute is founded and to obtain this end it will help enormously if persons of different nationalities are together; they will learn from each other” (EC 6:631). Fr. Hegarty concludes, “Internationalisation, then, is implicit in our charism and the experience of formation in an international setting is enriching without in any way diminishing the particular cultural values of the participants” (Hegarty, n.22)


The Dismissal of those found unsuitable

Fr. Founder gives this matter a rather lengthy treatment, from no. 251 to no. 275. His general message is clear: Superiors must dismiss with extreme prudence, after extensive consultation, with loving care for the spiritual welfare of the person to be dismissed. Members must not be kept in “at all costs”, but they must not be given the idea that “the way out is open without difficulty” (C275).

Five are the main reasons for dismissal, but in each case every possible avenue must be explored before the decision is taken (see C253-257).

Three groups of people must be fully satisfied that the dismissal has been done with prudence and loving care, 1- the person who dismisses; 2- the person dismissed; 3- all members of the household.

The person who dismisses must pray beforehand that the Lord may show clearly his most holy will; he must ask the advice of other responsible superiors; he must reach his decision only on the basis of the greater glory of God and the particular and common good.

The person dismissed should as far as possible leave the house without disgrace or loss of his good name; he should be dismissed “with every possible consolation in the Lord”; he should be guided about choosing another way of serving the Lord outside.

Members of the household should be given a sufficient reason for the dismissal to prevent disquiet among them, and they should continue to pray for and to love him in Christ.


Obedience in Vita Consecrata and in Perfectae Caritatis

 Religious life is a gift to the Church and a prophetic witness. Obedience challenges that view of freedom which separates this fundamental human good from its essential relationship to the truth and to moral norms. A freedom which is disjointed from obedience to God and to objective ethical principles leads to slavery, injustice, even violence. This view of obedience as a source of inner freedom and as a proclamation of true freedom in our world is an essential characteristic of obedience, which is not, however, readily considered and appreciated.

The vow of obedience re-proposes the obedience of Christ to the Father and testifies that there is no contradiction between obedience and freedom. “Indeed, the Son’s attitude discloses the mystery of human freedom as the path of obedience to the Father’s will, and the mystery of obedience as the path to the gradual conquest of true freedom. By obedience the consecrated persons intend to show their awareness of being children of the Father, as a result of which they wish to take the Father’s will as their daily bread (Jn 4:34), as their rock, their joy, their shield and their fortress (Ps. 18:2)” (VC 91).

There was no fear in Christ’s obedience to the will of the Father, but pure relation of love. There should be no fear in the hearts of religious persons but their obedience should be simply living in the truth, a voluntary relation of love with the Father. The Will of the Father is, therefore, the whole truth for us and the means of achieving our own perfection. Holiness, our own perfection, is to do the Father’s Will in the freedom of the children of God. This profound truth about the nature of obedience is contained eminently in Fr. Founder’s insistence on the “voluntariness” of obedience and on “holy indifference”. Vocation to the Institute of Charity is, therefore, a call to live in utter freedom.

Obedience is, for Fr. Founder, the royal way of knowing the will of the Father, and thus of achieving perfection through universal charity. The Institute is consecrated to charity and to the greatest possible increase of charity in the Church and in the world. Obedience makes this task more effective and fruitful, because the longing and the strength of the individuals are joined together in the same direction under Superiors that have the achievement of the greatest possible charity as their aim. Both Vita Consecrata and Perfectae Caritatis make the same point:

This testimony of consecration takes on special meaning in religious life because of the community dimension which marks it. The fraternal life is the privileged place in which to discern and accept God’s will, and to walk together with one mind and heart. Obedience, enlivened by charity, unites the members of an Institute in the same witness and the same mission, while respecting the diversity of gifts and individual personalities” (VC 92).

Religious should be humbly submissive to their superiors, in a spirit of faith and of love for God’s will, and in accordance with their rules and constitutions. They should bring their powers of intellect and will and their gifts of nature and grace to bear on the executions of commands, realising that they are contributing towards the building up of the Body of Christ. In this way, far from lowering the dignity of the human person, religious obedience leads it to maturity by extending the freedom of the sons of God” (PC 14).


For reflection:

There is widespread “fear” in the heart of many people today, for many reasons. This fear is often present among our scholastics. We can help them overcome their fears by a presentation of the true meaning of obedience, which is to live in the utter freedom of the children of God. But do we readily associate obedience with freedom and love of God? Or does a wrong interpretation of obedience lead to more fear and anxiety? What is the experience of Formators in relation to fear and obedience?

Obedience in Scripture

The theme of Obedience and the Will of God should be explored in detail in the many biblical dictionaries. Those in formation would benefit greatly from extensive research work on the theme; they could be asked, for example, to prepare a written paper on “Obedience and the Will of God in Scripture”.

Xavier Leon-Dufour in his Dictionary of Biblical Theology begins the examination of the theme of Obedience with a brief and rich statement:

Obedience is far from being an endured constraint and a passive compliance; it is, rather, the free adherence to the plan of God still enclosed in mystery but proposed by the Word of faith; and this obedience permits man to make of his life a service of God and an entrance into His joy” (p.397).

He develops the theme under 4 headings:

  1. Creation obeys God. The God of the Old Testament is presented as the Creator and Master of all things, and all things obey Him joyfully. In the New Testament, JESUS is presented as calming the storm or casting out demons, as the one whom “the winds and the sea obey” (Mt 8,27). But more than the silence of the universe acknowledging its Master and the darkness over the whole earth at the moment of His death, what the Bible wonders at and expresses in outbursts of thanksgiving is the joyous enthusiasm of creatures responding in haste to the voice of God: “The stars shine… in joy; He calls them and they say: “Here we are!” and they shine with joy for Him who has created them” (Ba 3,34; Ps. 104,4; Si 42,23; 43,16-26).
  2. The drama of disobedience. From the very beginning, Adam disobeys God, involving all his descendants in his rebellion (Rom. 5,19). The revolt of Adam shows, by contrast what obedience is: it is the submission of man to the will of God, who has a plan to fulfil, a universe to bring to perfection. To save mankind, God stirs up the faith of Abraham; and to assure Himself of that faith, He makes it pass through obedience: “Leave your country… Walk in my presence and be perfect… Take your son and offer him as a holocaust” (Gen. passim). The whole existence of Abraham rests on the Word of God, obedience is for him a test, a trial from God (22,1), and for God a priceless witness: “You have not refused me your son, your only son” (Gen.22,16). The Covenant is based on obedience: “All that Yahweh has spoken, we shall heed and do” responds Israel in adhering to the pact which God proposes to it (Ex.24,7). Fidelity to the Law is not the submission of a slave, but an attitude of love: “Those who love Me keep my commandments” (Ex.20,6); Deuteronomy repeats and develops the idea (Dt. 11,13,22); the Psalms celebrate the Law as the great gift of God’s love to men and the source of an obedience of love (Ps. 19, 8-11; 119).
  3. Christ, our Obedience. But who obeys God? Israel is “a rebellious house” (Ez. 2,5), “sons in revolt” (Isa. 1,2), “glorying in the Law, it dishonours God in transgressing it” (Rom. 2,23). Slave of sin, man, who nevertheless aspires to obedience in his depths, is incapable of obeying God (Rom. 7,14). To arrive at this point, to “find the Law at the heart of his being” (Jer. 31,33) it is necessary that God send His Servant, “Behold, I come to do your will” (Ps.40,7). “For just as by the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be constituted just” (Rom. 5,19). The obedience of JESUS Christ is our salvation and enables us once again to discover obedience to God. The life of JESUS was, from “His entrance into the world” (He 10,5) and “until His death on the cross” (Phil. 2,8), obedience.
  4. The obedience of the Christian. Having become through His obedience “the Lord” (Phil. 2,11) and clothed with “all power in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28,18), JESUS Christ has a right to the obedience of every creature. It is through Him, through obedience to His gospel and to the word of His Church (2 Thess. 3,14; Mt. 10,40) that man attains God in faith. Obedience to the Church and to the authority of those approved by the Church brings salvation and the certainty of doing God’s will: “He who hears you, hears Me” (Lk. 10,16).
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