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The Scottish Benedict Option

Iona Abbey in the Inner Hebrides, founded in 563 by St. Columba, a contemporary of St. Benedict’s (Iowsun/Shutterstock [1])

Victor Morton [2] alert! The Scottish Catholic Observer publishes an interview [3] with Your Working Boy about The Benedict Option [4]and its application to church life in Scotland. Editor Ian Dunn says that “it is already one of the most discussed books in America — and it only came out last week.” Excerpts:

“People assume I’m saying run for the mountains and build a bunker and await the end—it’s not that at all,” he tells me from his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“I’m calling for Christians to create spaces of real Christian contemplation, so we have the strength to go out into the world and be who Christ asked us to be.

“If we are not aware of ourselves as different from the world, and don’t do things to strengthen our Christian identity, we will be absorbed into it. I think that has happened to the Church in my country.”


Mr Dreher visited the Benedictine Monks in Norcia, Italy, several times in researching the book, and their monastery, founded originally by St Benedict, had a profound effect on him.

“I remember the first time I sat down to interview Fr Casian, the prior at the monastery,” he said. “I felt this overwhelming sense of serenity coming from him. This is a man who thinks deeply, who prays deeply and conveys a strong sense of authority. It was like talking to my father and that’s what a priest and a monk should be, a spiritual father.

“And I felt that multiplied with other monks I spoke to there who were under his authority. That’s when I felt there was something special about this particular monastery.”

After he visited, tragedy was to strike the monks and their historic home, when a series of earthquakes hit central Italy, the final one destroying the ancient Basilica of St Benedict.

“The most serious one happened on a Sunday morning and I stood in my own Church here in Louisiana praying for those monks and trying not to cry because I love them as my brothers in Christ and I really believe God has established that monastery to be a light to the world,” he said.

“And when I heard from them I really believed God would use them in an even more powerful way than I anticipated, and the monks understand that too.

“It’s quoted in the book, one of them saying: ‘We look at the ruins of the basilica as a symbol of the Church today in the West that we have to rebuild.’

Mr Dreher points out that it is ‘extraordinary’ the monks are alive for the rebuilding because they moved just outside the city to a safe space when the first quakes hit. “They did not abandon the city; they were still there to serve the people of the town, and because they’d been living by the rule of St Benedict for so long they carried within them the monastery, so it was not so difficult to re-establish it,” he said. “I find the whole thing to be a remarkable example for all of us Christians in the West.

“It’s such a tragedy, but as we known from our Faith, new life comes out of death and I think extraordinary new life will rise out of Norcia and they will be a brighter light to the world than they would have been otherwise.”

“The monks already had to maintain through the worst periods in the history of the Church and they did it through regular prayer and ordered living.”

That, to Mr Dreher, is the template.

“It’s not much of a slogan to attract people, but we Christians in the West are going to have to learn to suffer well and suffer with joy. And if we unite our suffering with God it’s going to have meaning and lead to the redemption of the world.”

Read the whole thing. [3]

The Observer adds an editorial [5] saying that The Benedict Option [6] is “a book every Scottish Christian should read.” Excerpt:

Many may disagree with much of it. His prescription that renewal of the Faith requires withdrawal from the world can be contested. But his central diagnosis, that we are living in a post-Christian world and we need to find ways to resist that world or be absorbed by it, is one we know to be true. … The age of Christendom has passed in the West. What comes next, and how we reckon with it, is the challenge of our days.

“The challenge of our days.” Yes — and this Orthodox Christian is grateful for the opportunity to stand with Catholic brothers like Ian Dunn to face our common future with hope and confidence, despite it all.

I am really surprised and pleased by the interest in the book from Christians in Europe. It will be published in Czech next spring. I’m writing a big piece for the Spectator (UK) about the Ben Op, so maybe the book will find a British publisher. A Catholic journalist for Le Figaro in France is reading the book, and has requested an interview. In Italy, Il Foglio has given the book generous coverage. I find this encouraging because all of us Christians living in the West in these times are going to need each other in the days to come — and if that’s going to happen, we first have to get to know each other.

(N.B., Victor Morton, the Washington journalist and Right-Wing Film Geek [7], is a Scots-born Catholic.)

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "The Scottish Benedict Option"

#1 Comment By just a prof On March 19, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

Lovely picture! How I miss Pluscarden.

#2 Comment By Charles Cosimano On March 19, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

Do they rightly consider haggis to be penance?

#3 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 19, 2017 @ 3:25 pm

That picture of Iona is beautiful.

For some reason, St. Columba and Iona, as well as the Celtic Cross, are claimed by the Presbyterian Church as their forerunners. Of course, Presbyterian was the Established Church in Scotland, and primarily came from Scottish roots. But I’m sure Scottish Catholics make their own claims.

Christendom means to me the politicized Christian church in union with the state, so I shed no tears for it, if indeed it has passed. I’m not so sure it has.

I do take it as a general duty of all to resist the ruthless general homogenization of culture, the notion that we should all adhere to identical preferences and styles of living. I grew up knowing that our family, our Catholic neighbors, and our Lutheran neighbors, lived somewhat different lives, which in no way prevented all the kids playing together or the adults inviting each other over.

#4 Comment By William Tighe On March 19, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

The rebuilt Iona Abbey has been home to “the Iona Community” since 1938, a kind of lay quasi-monastic community founded by a Scottish Presbyterian minister:


I have never visited the community per se, but on the two occasions when I happened to be on the Isle of Iona in the 1980s I perambulated the church and spent some time perusing the literature produced by the community. The theological outlook of the community, so far as I could discern it from that material, was very “Liberal Protestant/ecumenical” and earnest, but with a commendable commitment to sensible “service to the poor.” I have no idea how the community has developed in the 35 years since I last set foot on Iona.

#5 Comment By James C On March 19, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

William Tighe: I was there last year and the ‘Iona Community’ was disappointingly about the same. But no matter, the island is still a beautiful and meditative place.

But to see the real thing in Scotland, one must go to Papa Stronsay in the Orkneys and meet the Transalpine Redemptorists, who now go by the name of the Sons of the Holy Redeemer. [9]

I’ve met their founder and prior, and he’s hugely impressive. He overflows with the spirit of St Alphonsus Liguori, their spiritual father. The brothers lead a pretty hard life up there on a remote Scottish island, but they do it full of childlike joy! They are a treasure of the Church in these dark days.

[NFR: I’d love to see them. By the way, I spent the last day of my recent trip with the Bruderhof in the Hudson River Valley. I’ll be writing about it tomorrow on this blog. They bought a MASSIVE Redemptorist seminary building, opened in 1907. Within 100 years, the only people living in it were four elderly Redemptorists. The Bruderhof bought it, renovated it, and it is not home to their community high school, as well as literally home to fifty or so Bruderhof families (they turned groups of classrooms into apartments). Though Anabaptists, the Bruderhof folks are *very* respectful of the Catholic heritage of the building, and are on good terms with Catholics. I could not get over the fact that only a century ago, the Redemptorist order was confident enough to erect a building like that for the training of its priests. I saw some numbers online that indicate the Redemptorists have all but collapsed in the US. — RD]

#6 Comment By VikingLS On March 19, 2017 @ 5:30 pm

“Do they rightly consider haggis to be penance?”

Have you ever eaten haggis?

#7 Comment By William Tighe On March 19, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

“Have you ever eaten haggis?”

I have; it’s absolutely yummy!

#8 Comment By VikingLS On March 19, 2017 @ 9:36 pm

@William Tighe

I concur. Funnily it’s something I have taken to the Paschal feast several times.

#9 Comment By Charles Cosimano On March 19, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

“Have you ever eaten haggis?”

Aye. And by the Grace of God lived to tell the tale. The haggis is a mystical food for in the eating thereof one can well divine the dourness of John Knox as well as the need for whiskey because none can eat it sober.

[NFR: I would probably like it just fine if I thought of it as Caledonian boudin. — RD]

#10 Comment By Xenia Grant On March 19, 2017 @ 10:31 pm

I ordered the Benedict Option on 3/14, which is my birthday, besides it being the Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia. I am excited when it comes into my hot hands on Tuesday.

One of the reasons why the Benedict Option interests me is that the lack of community in this nation is appalling, and trying to create community with people spread all over the place is difficult. One of the most attractive things about Orthodoxy is the communal aspect. A small example is at church today, when we sang the troparion venerating the Cross, everyone prostrated 3 times before it, while singing.

#11 Comment By James C On March 20, 2017 @ 3:32 am

Ah loove me haggis! It’s one of the handful of culinary things I do miss about the UK (another is proper breakfast—Italians, get out of bed and make some breakfast!).

When I saw this post I vaguely remembered hearing a story about a sacred haggis somewhere. Where is this intestinal object of veneration? The East Neuk of Fife? The Cairngorms? Some little village on Moray Firth or a crofter’s cottage in the Outer Hebrides?

I googled away and discovered: Dallas, Texas. And the founder of this offal cult is one Rod Dreher: [10]

[NFR: The freezer in the break room of the editorial department of The Dallas Morning News is the reliquary — unless the Unbelievers have cast it out, heaven forfend. — RD]

#12 Comment By Elijah On March 20, 2017 @ 8:05 am

“I do take it as a general duty of all to resist the ruthless general homogenization of culture, the notion that we should all adhere to identical preferences and styles of living. I grew up knowing that our family, our Catholic neighbors, and our Lutheran neighbors, lived somewhat different lives, which in no way prevented all the kids playing together or the adults inviting each other over.”

This times 10,000. There is a lamentable tendency in our current society that insists people be carbon copies of themselves in all manner of belief in order to get along, be civil, and possibly be friends. I see this in political progressives and certain types of religious conservatives particularly.

As for haggis: you can have my portions for now and eternity. There are a lot of nasty stereotypes regarding English food, but surely haggis lives up to them all.

#13 Comment By mrscracker On March 20, 2017 @ 10:45 am

I haven’t tried haggis but I doubt it would differ much from boudin. Well, less seasoned boudin anyway.
There’s still a few shops around here that sell ponce: stuffed stomach. Which is basically a variation on haggis. I haven’t tried that either but I’ve made head cheese before. Every culture has a way to use up the odds and ends from butchering.

#14 Comment By Rob G On March 20, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

An English doctor is being shown around a Scottish hospital by a physician friend of his.

At the end of his visit, he is shown into a ward with a number of patients who show no obvious signs of injury.

He goes to examine the first man he sees, and the man declaims:
“Fair fa’ yer honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain e’ the puddin’ race!..”
And in a loud voice on with the poem he goes.

The Englishman, somewhat taken aback, goes to the next patient, and immediately the patient launches into:
“Scots wha’ hae wi’ Wallace bled
Scots wham Bruce has aften led…”
And on he goes.

This continues with the next patient:
“Wee sleekit cow’rin tim’rous beastie,
O what a panic’s in thy breastie!”

“Well,” the Englishman mutters to his Scottish colleague, “I see you saved the psychiatric ward for the last.”

“Nay, nay,” the Scottish doctor corrected him, “this is the Serious Burns Unit.”

#15 Comment By mrscracker On March 20, 2017 @ 3:02 pm

Rob G,
I loved it. Thanks!

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 20, 2017 @ 10:36 pm

Haggis as Caledonian boudin? Rod has just talked me out of trying boudin if I ever make it to Louisiana. I don’t like “reeking” food. Elijah said it well (and thank you Elijah for your kind words on more serious matters): ” There are a lot of nasty stereotypes regarding English food, but surely haggis lives up to them all.” I can’t say better for Welsh cooking — a lot of leeks and some cheese masquerading as rabbit. There is a rather good pan-fried cookie with currants.