To run a monastery efficiently, you have to have more staff than just an abbot and a few deans. There are all kinds of jobs to do. One such job was the cellarer. The cellarer was in charge of giving out a monastery’s food and drink. In an era where food may be scarce depending on how good the harvest was, it was an important job. (And even now when most people can just go to the grocery store, being charge of food is an important job!)
However, not everyone should be a cellarer. Saint Benedict sets out quite a few very specific guidelines for the cellarer’s personal character:
“Let there be chosen out of the community, as Cellarer of the Monastery, a man wise and of mature character, temperate, not a great eater, not haughty, nor headstrong, nor arrogant, not slothful, nor wasteful, but a God-fearing man, who may be like a father to the whole community.” (pg. 47)
According to Saint Benedict, the man in charge of the monastery’s food should have some self-control when it comes to being around food. This is certainly a reasonable requirement. If the cellarer can’t restrain himself, it would be extremely hypocritical to expect the other monks to do the same. As “a father to the whole community” (pg. 47), the cellarer is expected to lead by example and be a good example to the others.
The Rule of Saint Benedict allows the cellarer to make some executive decisions. The text explicitly states, “let him have the care of everything” (pg. 47). However, he is also to “do nothing without leave of the Abbot” (pg. 47). So the cellarer is certainly in charge, but he must always double-check with his abbot before he makes those executive decisions.
Saint Benedict wants the cellarers to be kind, patient, and mild-mannered. This may seem like a strange requirement (especially for anyone who has ever worked in food service!), but a few sentences later, this is explained:
“Let him take heed to what is commanded him, and not sadden his brethren. If a brother ask him for anything unreasonably, let him not treat him with contempt and so grieve him, but reasonably and with all humility refuse what he asks for amiss.” (pg. 47 and 48)
As someone in charge of the food and drink, the cellarer is going to have quite a few hungry monks asking him for treats/snacks when they aren’t allowed to. It’s his duty to be kind and say no to these requests kindly. He is to make sure that everyone has had their fair share of food. That doesn’t just mean telling gluttonous monks that they may not have extras. It also means giving more to those who need extra nourishment:
“Let him have especial care of the sick, of the children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account of all these on the Day of Judgment.” (pg. 48)
The ones listed above are quite often the type of people who need more food and drink than your average healthy adult. The sick need extra to get well, children need extra to grow, guests should have extra to show proper hospitality and the poor need extra because they are lacking. Like in previous chapters, Saint Benedict sprinkles in a little bit of fear-mongering at the end. If the cellarer does not show kindness towards the vulnerable, he will have to explain to God why he was deliberately cruel to those who needed that kindness the most.
Furthermore, the cellarer must “look upon all the vessels and goods of the Monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar” (pg. 48). Food is just as important as the holy items used in church and it should be treated as such. It is sacred and it must not be wasted. Saint Benedict goes on to write that the cellarer should “not think that he may neglect anything” (pg. 48). It is his responsibility that everything regarding the monastery’s meals goes smoothly. To do so properly, the cellarer must “not be given to covetousness, nor wasteful, nor a squanderer of the goods of the Monastery” (pg. 48). He is to “do all things in proper measure” (pg. 48). However, Saint Benedict reminds his monkish reader once again that the cellarer must listen to “the bidding of his Abbot” (pg. 48).
As an interesting side note, in the translations I used to cross-check my own copy of The Rule, (as mine uses a lot of archaic words and the syntax can be a little strange) they translate “covetousness” to “avarice.” (Links to those can be found at the end of this post.)
After explaining the degree of reverence he should have for food, the text returns to discussing the ideal cellarer’s personal character. Saint Benedict reiterates that he should in “above all things have humility” (pg. 48). This includes giving “a kind answer” (pg. 48) when monks ask for things the cellarer does not have. And when his abbot tells the cellarer that he can’t have things, he is not “to meddle with what is forbidden him” (pg. 48).
At the end of this chapter, Saint Benedict finally explains the cellarer’s main job (and he throws in a threat at the end!):
“Let him distribute to the brethren their appointed allowance of food, without arrogance or delay, that they not be scandalized: mindful of what the Word of God declareth him to deserve, who ‘shall scandalize one of these little ones:’ namely, ‘that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.'” (pg. 48)
It’s certainly quite a threat! God says to do your job compassionately or you’ll be sleeping with the fishes! At least, Saint Benedict claims that God said this. And with a consequence like that, who is going to argue?
Funnily enough, He doesn’t unpack the last few sentences. Saint Benedict just keeps moving on with the text. The chapter ends with a few more practicalities of the job. This includes whether or not the cellarer gets “helpers” (only “if the community be large”) and that “things…[that] are necessary be given and asked for at befitting times” (pg. 48). Then the chapter ends with a much more comforting phrase, “no one may be troubled nor grieved in the house of God” (pg. 48).
The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.
(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)
Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here.
Solesme Abbey’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation. (You have to scroll down to see the text.)
EDIT: In case you can’t access the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the PDF I used. That PDF can be accessed here.