A Benedictine Joke

How can you tell the difference between a Benedictine and a Dominican?  A Dominican thinks the Latin word conversatio means “conversation” [insert sarcastic guffaw].

In a Benedictine author like St. Anselm, if you see conversatio it should almost certainly be translated in light of the Benedictine promise of conversatio morum, or “daily conversion of one’s life.”  This is made a little trickier by the fact that St. Benedict’s use of the word would be something of an archaism by the time of St. Anselm, but we are going to trust his grounding in the Rule.

So when a Dominican author copies a Benedictine author’s use of conversatio, now how should we translate it?  The standard use of the word by the time of Aquinas is simply “conversation” as we would use the term.  See opening joke of this post: my English translation of St. Thomas’s prayer gives “discourse” where the saint has conversatio.  He’s only a Dominican, right?

But he is lifting directly from St. Anselm’s prayer, another way in which the Abbot of Bec exerted enormous influence over the scholastic era.  Here’s the side-by-side:

St. Anselm, Oratio Prima St. Thomas Aquinas, Ad Vitam Sapienter Instituendam
Dona mihi, Domine,
diligentiam quae te quaerat,
sapientiam quae te inveniat,
animam quae te agnoscat,
oculos qui te videant,
conversationem quae tibi placeat,
perseverantiam usque in finem, finem perfectum, retributionem aeternam.
Largire mihi, Domine Deus meus
intellectum te cognoscentem,
diligentiam te quaerentem,
sapientiam te invenientem,
conversationem tibi placentem,
perseverentiam fidenter te expectantem,
et fiduciam te finaliter amplectentem.

So for St. Anselm it should be a daily conversion pleasing to God, while for St. Thomas it should be discourse or manner of speech pleasing to God.  Right?

But hold on there.  Everyone knows that, before he ran away to join those wacky Dominicans, St. Thomas was trained by Benedictines.  His father had intended him to join that noble order, after all.  So St. Thomas himself has some grounding in the Rule…he even ennobles the Summa with a few references to that holy book.

So what happens when a Should-Been-Benedictine/Dominican asks that God give him “conversatio ever pleasing to [Him]”?  Surely good grace bids us assume the crypto-Benedictine reading, does it not?

The long reach of our Holy Father Benedict, indeed!


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