College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
BA (Bachelor of Arts)
Session and Year of Graduation
Honors Major Advisor
Michael E. Moore
This essay argues that the famed beer brewed by the Trappist order of Catholic monks today is a reflection of two abundantly rich traditions: brewing and monasticism. Initial examination of these two traditions finds their linkage a conceptual paradox, and my essay proposes that their reconciliation lies in a legacy of the Middle Ages, in which a uniquely spiritual ambition defined the labor practices of these brewing monks. Over the course of history, Benedictine thought has imbued the lives of a sizable demographic with practical meaning – that is, the men and women of prayer who have taken the monastic vocation; and, within the tradition of brewing, such monastic thought has advanced brewing and in Carolingian Europe even allowed for the early and unprecedented flourishing of beer at an industrial scale. The confluence of monastic organization with brewing practice reveals a distinguished understanding of work and life characterized by, on one hand, the perennial pursuit of holy ideals and, on the other, the evolving social role of monastic institutions in European society over time.
A number of the most significant components of this understanding – the ideals of monastic observance and the social and material conditions under which they are expressed – I argue, formed over the course of the Middle Ages and have endured since, though continually transforming amidst the dynamic phenomena of political, economic, and cultural life. My essay attempts to unite scholarly sources of modern historical literature on brewing and on monasticism, along with several primary medieval sources. With what is common amongst them, I have built a story of how and why medieval monks came to brew. Above all, the primacy of the spiritual ambition represented in the monks' performance of the Divine Office, a "busy leisure," has historically given meaning to monastic brewing and continues today to actively define the labor by which these beers are a byproduct, indeed producing a delightful sensorial result. The production of Trappist beers today is borne of this uniquely idealized relationship between work and leisure, devoted to Benedictine doctrine, and it evinces a remarkably enduring confluence of two traditions -- beer and spirit -- both of whose origins are deeply embedded in historical life and human experience.
Trappist, Cistercian, Benedict, Columbanus, beer, St Gall
Copyright © 2019 Benjamin Louviere