The Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem from France to Poland

The Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem (JMF) was founded in 1975 in the church of Saint-Gervais et Saint-Protais by a diocesan priest, Pierre-Marie Delfieux, with the support of the then Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Marty. Delfieux matured his concept of an innovative monasticism while he was a student chaplain at the Sorbonne during a period of social unrest in Paris. He later spent two years as a hermit in the Sahara Desert. He was critical of the form monastic life had assumed over time, particularly medieval monasticism which he considered 'rustic, cloistered and abbot-bound'. He concurred with Cardinal Marty that 'Millennium monasteries’10 should necessarily spring up within the walls of Paris.

Initially his community was called ‘Saint-Gervais’, the name ‘Jerusalem’ appearing later (1978), but the adjective ‘monastic’ was present from the beginning. However, Delfieux at once recognised the problem of definition, questioning whether or not the members were monks. Realising that only time would tell, the problem remained, however, on the definition of the term ‘monk’. The monks of Saint-Gervais were expected to find a new way of living the truth of the Beatitudes. According to Delfieux, the plan for this new life form would not be pastoral, sacramental, pedagogic or charitable but contemplative. In 1979 Cardinal Marty endowed a monastic frame on the new community, placing it - as soon as its statutes had been approved - under the patronage of a traditional monastery.

Delfieux’s choice of an urban setting led to specific organisational decisions. For example, the selection of rented accommodation, salaried employment outside the ‘cloister’ (which had by now become metaphorical), and special attention towards the liturgy understood not only as opus Dei but also as public service. He was most keen that the liturgy should at the same time manage to be attractive and ‘nourishing’ for its participants, which it still is. For this reason, a liturgical form was chosen which combined creativity, active participation within places of cultural and architectural merit thereby creating uplifting backgrounds in which to perform liturgical rites. Monks and nuns are divided not only by Canon Law but also into two distinct institutions.11 Both are usually present in their communities, sharing not only liturgical prayer by singing together in polyphony, but also doctrinal education and festivities.

In this study, I have focussed on two JMF monasteries in Warsaw, Poland, invited to the capital by Cardinal Glemp in 2010.12 The communities cooperate closely, being situated in the same complex which from outside appears as one institution. Three lay communities - a community of families, an evangelical community and a community of Christian meditation - are closely connected with them. In addition, there is a foundation (the Jerusalem Urbs Beata Foundation12) run by lay people who also manage a shop.14

Innovation, re-interpretation and rejection - sacred creativity in reinventing tradition

Although New Monks consider themselves to be ‘children of monasticism’, they refuse to unite with the ‘authorised descent’, which is to say traditional monastic orders. They draw freely from a selected past tradition: a set of references (rules, practices, apophthegms) which - organised and understood anew according to personal (especially the leaders’) charismas - govern their communal life. I claim that, rather than renewing ‘the paradigm of monasticism’ (Winthrop 1981), they (re)invent tradition, substituting it with another which is their own and which radically modifies the rules and basic assumptions of the paradigm of reference. Critics observe that the New Monks (the ‘pretenders’) propose imaginary bonds with traditional monks (the ‘legitimate heirs’). The main issue, from a sociological perspective, is that it is more fruitful to examine the motivation and method of pretenders (re)inventing monasticism rather than to what extent pretenders are authentic. Thus, our focus is on the generativity of tradition: it is irrelevant whether or not pretenders legitimately call themselves ‘monks’, more important is the generative creativity (based on tradition) with which they produce new symbolism and socio-cultural imagery aimed at building monasticism which is relevant to men and women in today’s society.

In the following three sections, we shall investigate, under three analytical headings - innovation, re-interpretation and rejection - their modalities of (re)invention in the context of specific strategies employed by New Monks in order ally themselves with monastic heritage. Our questions relate specifically with regard to the Polish JMF case study. What ex novo innovations, that is, those resulting in discontinuity with tradition, have they introduced? Which traditional elements have been re-interpreted, and how? What has been rejected, and why? We shall attempt to answer the questions by limiting the discussion to the most emblematic examples of JMF’s innovation, reinterpretation and rejection.

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