Theology of the Brother


It’s fairly easy to see the theological mystery evident in many states of life–the married couple representing the ever-fruitful union between Christ and His Church, for instance; the ordained priest representing Christ’s sacrificial priesthood; the sister or nun representing the bride of Christ–but my mind draws a blank when I think about the mystery represented by the non-ordained religious brother.

Perhaps it is to our detriment today that we tend to focus on the male orders of the Church through a clerical lens, but then we must step back and think that many of these, such as the great Benedictine and Franciscan families, were founded by non-clerics and had a rather non-clerical orientation throughout much of their history. Moreover, we seem to see much said about the religious life as seen through a female lens, through the bridal mysticism of nuns and such, but little through a masculine lens (save the clerical aspects).

So, what is the theological mystery represented by non-ordained men religious, distinct from the mysteries represented by religious priests and by women religious?


In the common rules of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), St. Vincent Depaul stated that the brother’s role was that of Martha. Honestly, I wasn’t sure either until I read that.:o


How interesting; it is the feast today of St. Martha.

My next question, though, would be one of universality. Martha is often taken to embody the active life as opposed to the contemplative. The Vincentians, being a missionary and thus more active order, no doubt would have very active brothers working in temporal support of the priests’ apostolate. How would this work, though, in the context of something more monastic and contemplative by nature, particularly now after the abolition of the general distinction between lay brothers and choir monks? Indeed, I’ve spent some time in monasteries, and, aside from the administration of the sacraments, the work done by both priests and brothers is generally the same.


I did notice this when I started the morning prayers…

Well instead of the brothers being in service to the priests (who are the primary “workers” in the Vincentian charism), monks are almost the opposite: the priests are at the service of the community. As Br. JR would say, the priesthood is accidental in this case (they are religious/monks first, and then some may be priests out of necessity).


I rather miss Brother JR; a lot of the questions I’ve had lately would have been right up his alley.


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