Rievaulx Abbey

Our way of life is a strongly fortified city surrounded on all sides by sound observances which, like walls and towers, rise up to prevent our enemy from deceiving us and enticing us away from our Emperor’s army.

What a wall poverty is! How well it defends us against the pride of the world, against harmful and ruinous vanities and superfluities.

What a tower silence is! It repels the assaults of contention, quarrelling, dissension, and detraction.

What about obedience, humility, cheap clothing? What about a restricted diet? They are walls, they are towers against vices, against the attacks of our enemies.

In this city we declare ourselves, not Romans, but angelic beings. For these observances demonstrate that we belong to the fellowship of the angels and are not among the slaves of the Romans.

When we make profession of this way of life the words of Isaiah are fulfilled: They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles.

Then he goes on: Nation shall not lift sword against nation nor ever again be trained for war.

[…] Let us think about the sword of which the Lord said: Everyone who takes up the sword will perish by the sword, and the ploughshares by which the earth of our heart is broken, in accordance with the text: Rend your hearts and not your garments.

And we shall see at the present time countless persons changing their swords into ploughshares.

The sword is wrongdoing. With this sword a person wounds himself before he does anyone else; as Saint Augustine says:

‘Every person who is a wrongdoer harms himself before he harms anyone else because, even before he injures the other person, by making up his mind to injure someone else he injures himself, slaying himself with the sword of wrongdoing.

This is the sword of which the Lord says to Peter: Everyone who takes up the sword will perish by the sword.

How many there are, brothers, who at the present time are beating this sword of wrongdoing into the ploughshare of compunction!

Many who have previously killed their soul with the sword of sin now rend their heart by the compunction of penance.

Many today are also changing their spears – that is, the subtlety of their wits by which they used to drag many others down into sin with them – into sickles with which they are reaping a spiritual harvest so that they may come to meet the Lord bearing in their hands the sheaves of justice and salvation.

Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 – 1167): The Liturgical Sermons 3.7-13, tr. Berkeley & Pennington (2001), from Cistercian Fathers 58, from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Monday in 1st Week of Advent, Year 2.