The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, Monk of St. Edmundsbury

Date: 1907

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Chapter XXXIII Monastic Life in the Twelfth Century



The Choice of an Abbot


The abbacy being vacant, we often made supplication unto the Lord and to the blessed martyr, Edmund, that they would give us and our church a fit pastor. Three times in each week did we prostrate ourselves in the choir and sing seven penitential psalms. And there were some who would not have been so earnest in their prayers, if they had known who was to become abbot. As to the choice of an abbot, if the king3 should grant us free election, there was much difference of opinion, some of it openly expressed, some of it privately; and every man had his own ideas.

One said of a certain brother, "He, that brother, is a good monk, a likely person. He knows much of St. Benedict’s Rule and of the customs of the Church. It is true that he is not so profoundly wise as are some others, but he is quite capable of being abbot. Abbot Ording was illiterate, and yet he was a good abbot and ruled this house wisely; and one reads in the fable that the frogs did better to elect a log to be their king than a serpent, who devoured his subjects." Another answered, "How could this thing be? How could one who does not know letters preach in the chapter, or to the people on feast days? How could one who does not know the Scriptures have the knowledge of binding and loosing? For the rule of souls is the art of arts, the highest form of knowledge. God forbid that a dumb idol be set up in the church of St. Edmund, where many men are to be found who are learned and industrious."

Again, one said of another, "That brother is a literate man, eloquent and prudent, and strict in his observance of the Rule. He loves the monastery greatly and has suffered many ills for the good of the Church. He is worthy to be made abbot." Another answered, "From good clerks deliver us, O Lord!"

And again, one said of another, "That brother is a good husbandman; this is proved by the state of his office, and from the positions in which he has served, and from the buildings and repairs which he has effected. He is well able to work and to defend the House, and he is something of a scholar, though too much learning has not made him mad. He is worthy of the abbacy." Another answered, "God forbid that a man who can neither read nor sing nor celebrate the holy office, a man who is dishonest and unjust, and who treats poor men in evil fashion, should be made abbot."

Again, one said of another, "That brother is a kindly man, friendly and amiable, peaceful and calm, generous and liberal, a learned and eloquent man, and proper enough in face and gait. He is beloved of many within and without the walls, and such a one might become abbot to the great honor of the Church, if God wills." Another answered. "It is no credit, but rather a disgrace, for a man to be too particular as to what he eats and drinks, to think it a virtue to sleep much, to know well how to spend and to know little how to gain, to snore while others keep vigil, to wish ever to have abundance, and not to trouble when debts daily increase, or when money spent brings no return; to be one who hates anxiety and toil, caring nothing while one day passes and another dawns; to be one who loves and cherishes flatterers and liars; to be one man in word and another in deed. From such a prelate the Lord deliver us!"

And again, one said of his friend, "That man is almost wiser than all of us, both in secular and in ecclesiastical matters. He is a man skilled in counsel, strict in the Rule, learned and eloquent, and noble in stature; such a prelate would become our Church." Another answered, "That would be true, if he were a man of good and approved repute. But his character has been questioned, perhaps falsely, perhaps rightly. And though the man is wise, humble in the chapter, devoted to the singing of psalms, strict in his conduct in the cloister while he is a cloistered monk, this is only from force of habit. For if he have authority in any office, he is too scornful, holding monks of no account, and being on familar terms with secular men, and if he be angry, he will scarce say a word willingly to any brother, even in answer to a question."

I heard in truth another brother abused by some because he had an impediment in his speech, and it was said of him that he had pastry in his mouth when he should have spoken. I myself said that I would not consent that anyone should be made abbot unless he understood something of logic, and knew how to distinguish the true from the false. One, moreover, who was wise in his own eyes, said, "May Almighty God give us a foolish and stupid pastor, that he may be driven to use our help." And I heard, forsooth, that one monk, who was industrious, learned, and preëminent for his high birth, was abused by some of the older men because he was a novice. The novices said of their elders that they were invalid old men and little capable of ruling an abbey. And so many men said many things, and every man was fully persuaded in his own mind.

1 , translated by L. C. Jane. London, 1907. Chatto and Windus.

2Cronica Jocelini de Brakelonda, pp. 16–20.

3 Henry II, 1154–1180.

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Chicago: L. C. Jane, trans., The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, Monk of St. Edmundsbury in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 351–353. Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: . The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, Monk of St. Edmundsbury, translted by L. C. Jane, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 351–353. Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: (trans.), The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, Monk of St. Edmundsbury. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.351–353. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from