Enzo Bianchi, the author of this book, is the founder and prior of a monastic community in Bose, Italy. In the words of the book’s back cover, the community was founded “in the fervor of renewal of the Second Vatican Council.” That fervor is evident in this book as Bianchi explores foundational vocabulary from the very beginnings of the Christian monastic tradition and renews its effectiveness for contemporary Christians, monastic and non-monastic alike. Bianchi’s refreshing of the ancient tradition is a fine representative of the Council’s two guiding principles for renewal: ressourcement and aggiornamento.
In forty-five very brief chapters Bianchi evokes the early desert monastic tradition of seekers coming to a wise elder monk with the request, “Father, give me a word.” Anyone acquainted with this tradition stemming from the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine will recognize the words of Bianchi’s chapter titles—words such as listening, asceticism, humility, obedience, patience, prayer. The words have retained their place throughout the history of monasticism. They were never merely words, but, as Bianchi points out in his introduction, they were echoes of the Word and given for the sake of transformation, of drawing one into the experience of God. As sages of any tradition have always known, words, to be effective, must be apt to the particularity of a situation. In the tradition of the desert sages, Bianchi has plumbed the depths of familiar words and demonstrated their aptness and capacity for renewal in the context of contemporary Western culture.
For this reader, two especially important aspects of contemporary culture that echo in Bianchi’s wise assessment of our present circumstance are its individualism and Bianchi’s understanding of the Church’s primary responsibility to the faithful. In contrast to today’s individualism, he often talks of the need for the exodus out of the self toward communion with God and with others. As for the Church, he calls it to its primary responsibility of mediating the experience of God.
Bianchi does not reflect on the words from the tradition in isolation from one another. Employing the image of links on internet sites, Bianchi uses what he calls a nonlinear but directed approach. Thus, in each chapter the words echo among themselves and are held together in a coherent, cohesive whole. The brevity of Bianchi’s treatment of each word is no detriment to the depth of reflection and the resonance of the words with each other does not seem repetitive but rather contributive to the depth.
The serious reader who takes to heart what Bianchi has to say is likely to agree with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s comment in the forward, “This book makes me want to be more holy.” Bianchi may be a “new kind of monk” as the book’s subtitle claims, but his work makes the very old wisdom of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the desert elders apt for today. It is a book to read slowly. The old, yet new, wisdom here will resonate within, and readers who give it time will keep hearing echoes of these words in their hearts long after the book has been put down.
—Shawn Carruth, O.S.B., Mount St. Benedict Monastery, Crookston, MN, American Benedictine Review