The term conversatio morum is an ancient Benedictine term. Its exact meaning is subject to some shades of interpretation, but its general meaning is clear -- it is continuing fidelity to the monastic life.
The term conversatio morum is found in chapter 58 of the Rule of St. Benedict.
Although the following material applies to people who want to make a vow as part of becoming a monk or sister (something Benedictine oblates do not do), oblates can, in their own lives "in the world" strive to apply the monastic principles in the Rule of St. Benedict to their life.
Verse 58.17 of the Rule quoted below is about how a monk or sister should be admitted into a monastery community. Monks and nuns make a vow of stability, conversatio morum (fidelity to monastic life) and obedience (again, these are not what an oblate promises, but this single constellation of characteristics (as distinguished from three separate vows) can be applied in a general way to all who wish to live a more monastic life.)
[Note, the English translation of the Rule quoted here has been written for females and that is why the quoted section reads "17 When she is to be received....."]
17 When she is to be received she promises before all in the oratory stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience.
The Latin for this part of the Rule is:
17 Suscipiendus autem in oratorio coram omnibus promittat de stabilitate sua et conversatione morum suorum et oboedientia,
What Does Conversatio Morum Mean?
The following is a random selection of what various people or institutions have written about Conversatio Morum. All of the following are quotes from the web sites referenced at the end of each series of paragraphs. For a brief quote on how the promise of “Conversatio Morum” fits or should be viewed along with “Stability” and “Obedience” see the End Note taken from RB 1980.
The vows according to which a person becomes a consecrated Religious are poverty, chastity and obedience. All these are implied in the Benedictine vow of "Conversion of Life". Or is that really the Benedictine vow? 20th century scholars discovered, with some consternation, that what St. Benedict actually wrote was not "conversio morum", but "conversatio morum".
Copyists in the 8th century found that difficult to understand, assumed it must be a mistake, and changed it.
[Inserted Note by Oblate Spring.com: --- It was Cuthbert Butler in his 1912 edition of the Rule, Sancti Benedicti Regula Monachorum who first noticed the error and brought St. Benedict’s now famous phrase back from its 1,000 years being misquoted.]
The original is indeed a grammatical tangle which defies literal translation. Broadly it means "to live the monastic way of life with fidelity". But the Latin emendation was not so far off. The root word lying behind "conversatio" is "to change", or "be converted", so our English expression "conversion of life" remains valid, and we continue to use it.
Linked to Conversion of Life are the other two Benedictine vows of Stability and Obedience. These also simply make explicit some key aspects of monastic life. Today any sort of lifelong commitment is profoundly counter-cultural: how much more so these vows! Yet they exist to enable true freedom: freedom from the passing things of this world that can weigh us down: freedom to devote ourselves to the one thing necessary, that is never to be taken away (cf. Lk 10:42). Above Pasted from http://www.pluscardenabbey.org/oblate-letter-archive-july-2004.asp
3. At the heart of St Benedict's monastic experience is a Simple, typically Christian principle, which the monk adopts in all its radicalness: to unify one's life around the primacy of God. This "tenere in unum", the first, fundamental condition for entering monastic life, must be the commitment unifying the life of the individual and the community, and be expressed in the "conversatio morum" which is fidelity to a life-style lived concretely in daily obedience. The search for Gospel simplicity requires continual examination, that is, the effort "to do the truth", by constantly returning to the initial gift of the divine call which is at the root of one's own religious experience. Above Pasted from http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2sub.htm
What we are about in our lives "in the world" is allowing our hearts to be converted (the monastic metanoia, conversatio morum) to be open to the indwelling of the Godhead within our selves, and allowing that to transform our lives so that eventually we run in the sweetness of God's commands (i.e. being about good works and service) and in so doing, grow in communion with God, and with our brothers and sisters. Above Pasted from http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MonasticLife/message/51969
Conversatio is another commitment that is closely allied with stability and unique to Benedictine monastics. This Latin word means a commitment to all practices oriented toward the search for God. By practices we do not mean a rote, rigid adherence to regimen. Conversatio includes disciplines such as commitment to a regular daily schedule of prayer and work, to silence, to lectio divina, community meals, and community of goods. Everything is oriented toward a faithful living of the Gospel. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/acad/benval2.html
Of even more significance is the word conversatio, a term that is difficult to translate. Conversatio connotes a commitment to live faithfully in unsettled times and to keep one's life open. Such a paradox: remain settled; stay open to change! For the monks of the Middle Ages, living faithfully meant listening to an inner voice and responding to the call. Above Pasted from http://www.eileenmcdargh.com/article_changemasters.html
I surmise that the best way conversatio happens on a daily basis is when we are open to being mentors and being mentored by another. Change in our own behavior happens when the words or example of another calls into question whether we are living the monastic life fully. Sister Joan Chittister, in her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, says: "To live community life well is to have all the edges rubbed off, all the rough parts made smooth. There is no need then for disciplines to practice. Life itself is the discipline."2 I believe that a community life that is filled with opportunities for mutual mentoring is a life that will truly smooth out our rough edges and bring us closer to Christ. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/aba/2002/proceedings/html/RexingConversatio.html
The commitment to conversatio morum leads us to welcome Christ to turn us in His direction in every situation and to know that His direction for us is the best. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/sva/obl/pdf/may2004.pdf
Conversatio morum suorum is that strange, untranslatable vow so central to Benedictine life that we simply take it to mean, "living as a Benedictine." Above all, conversatio is about the paschal mystery of death and life as it is lived out daily for a lifetime. Conversatio is about being broken and renewed, being overwhelmed and being raised up. It is willingness to suffer and be utterly confused, because we have learned that is one way God leads us into the encounter with brand new life. Conversatio is about being in the hands of the living God, the God who always surprises us, always shatters our expectations, the God who surpasses our imaginations. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/obl/nvest9907.html
[T]he postulant aspires to the monastic way of life: conversatio. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/swissam/ritual/commentary.html
To be received as a full member of the community, a formal promise of obedience is required. To gain admittance to the novitiate, persistence and determination must be demonstrated. Viewed from the postulant's [page 7 ends] original aspiration, namely, undertaking monastic conversatio, the novitiate appears to be a deferment. But by accepting it, he learns to practice the perseverance, stability, and obedience which lie at the heart of monastic conversatio. In other words, in the novitiate he already begins to live the very "way of life" which apparently had been denied him! When at last he is allowed to make profession, he knows what he is entering (see RB 58: 12), and so his original desire as well as the Rule's prescriptions are simultaneously fulfilled. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/swissam/ritual/commentary.html
D 24 Conversatio in the Rule of Benedict indicates the progressive nature of the monastic profession, a continuing effort to seek God truly and grow into the likeness of Christ. It commits the monk to the pattern of observances adopted by his community. The monk promises to walk the path of return to the Father with his brothers, always listening with them to the Spirit's call for internal and external renewal. Conversatio is not a conversion once and for all; it can mean "conversion of life" as a constantly renewed, persevering quest for holy monastic observance. The monk is not alone in this lifelong dynamic process of conformation to Christ. The brothers build up, support and encourage one another as they climb the ladder of humility that will bring them to the love that casts out fear. This way of humility is fundamentally a commitment to living in the truth revealed in Christ. It frees the monk to be and give himself in love. The monk benefits from knowing that his brothers are with him, that they too are struggling to imitate Jesus who humbled himself and became obedient to death--even to death on a cross. Stability and conversatio together express an aspect of the mystery of redemption: the kingdom of Christ is already in our midst, the source of grace and hope, but it is still being built in us gradually until the final hour. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/swissam/declaration/IIA.html
Just as a monk’s vow of conversatio morum commits him to “grow in perfect charity through a monastic manner of life” (formula for the monk’s vows), the Oblate promises to keep trying to seek Christ in the midst of ordinary events so that every moment becomes an opportunity for deeper trust in God, firmer rejection of self-will, and more generous surrender to Christ as He stretches us in His self-sacrificing, all-generous love. A helpful analysis of the term conversatio morum appears in The Benedictines, pp. 94-98. There Fr. Terrence Kardong shows how it implies a “dynamic process.” The term “morum” probably does not at all refer to “morals” but simply reinforces conversatio. The two words together may be taken to mean the whole “monastic way of life,” but in its traditional usage the term refers mainly to the external, tangible elements of that life. Therefore, commitment to conversatio morum encourages the monk or Oblate to put the Gospel into practice in the very concrete details of everyday life and also to be open continually to new concrete practices that radical discipleship may demand. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/sva/obl/pdf/OblateFormation.pdf
This life to which we are professed is, itself an expression of the paschal mystery. We enter into the dying of Jesus that we may rise with him by embracing a life of monastic conversatio. We live out our promise of fidelity to the monastic way of life through daily acceptance of our human condition and steadfast dedication to community life. Experience of God's healing prompts us again and again to turn to our Creator. Relying on faithful love, we are gradually transformed. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/fedben/html/hearts2.html
One can only be a monk of a particular community. Our community is our monastic home in which we are united to a particular Benedictine Family, as Brother Benet Tvedten put it in his book ‘How to be a Monastic and not Leave your Day Job’. It is all summed up in the three fold promise of the monastic profession, made by us all in one form or another, based on the Latin original:
‘Stabilitate sua, Conversatione morum suorum, et Obœdientia.’ RB, 57.7.
The RB 80 discussion on these promises, or rather this one tripartite promise, is invaluable. The Latin can be and is translated variously, but I would defend my own translation:
The fact the English wording may be different in the religious and lay professions can be misleading. The single threefold promise - to join in the conversation - however expressed or translated, can only have one meaning in practice. Above several paragraphs are Pasted from a paper by Christopher K Rance OSB (Obl Pk) Prinknash Abby, Gloucester, written July 2006. The paper is titled "The Conversation that is Monasticism8.doc" and is available in the Files section of http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MonasticLife/files/
This is monastic profession in the cenobitic tradition. It is conversatio morum which is the profession of the life as a monastic and is common to all expressions of monastic life from anchorite to cenobite. It is the profession of the "Battle of the Heart" as Abba Antony calls it, the profession of seeking purity of heart as Cassian teaches or, more simply, through monastic practices, the discovery of the God within whom pulsates the life-giving blood of love. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/aba/news/3003/danw.html
St. Benedict reminds us of the “always-and-everywhere” dimension of our commitment to conversation morum, to ongoing conversion. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/sva/obl/pdf/may2005.pdf
A Benedictine monk takes vows of obedience, stability, and conversatio morum, or ongoing conversion of life according to the monastic way (RB 58:17). Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/sva/obl/inquire.html
By conversatio morum Oblates make use of all means at their disposal to welcome God's grace to purify and transform them. Just as the monk's corresponding vow commits him "to grow in perfect charity through a monastic manner of life," so the Oblate promises to surrender more and more of his or her life to Christ amidst daily vicissitudes; thus every moment becomes an opportunity for firmer rejection of self-will and deeper abiding in the love of Christ. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/sva/obl/inquire.html
What has been described thus far is true of every Christian. What is distinctive about the monastic is the way in which this transformation of the person is to take place. The end is the same, but the means to the end is unique. The means are the traditional, time-honored monastic practices: lectio and liturgy, silence and solitude, community living, study and work. These elements are designed to help the monastic move toward the goal of inner transformation. Thus, the first part of the "primary" work of the monastic consists in being faithful to these monastic practices. Benedictines promise obedience, stability and conversatio morum which is commonly now translated as "fidelity to the monastic life." Some monastic scholars are saying that, as a matter of fact, there is only one vow, which is conversatio morum and all the others are simply aspects of it. Thus, the monastic life becomes a life project all by itself. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/gen/topics/work/kulzer.html
It was early in 1988. Sister Katherine Howard, our prioress at the time, was giving monthly conferences on the monastic life. This particular conference was entitled, "The Monastic Life: Its Goal and Its Way of Life." At the time, we were studying conversatio morum as the monastic way of life. She told us that John Cassian defined the ultimate aim of monastic life as the kingdom of God, but that the immediate goal was purity of heart. She spent most of her time that Sunday exploring the concept of purity of heart. She saw it was a "turning to and a turning from." Inspired by John Cassian, she invited us to "turn to" a loving God in unceasing prayer and out of that strength to "turn from" material goods as a goal; our compulsions and false self as a goal (eight logismoi or passions); the visible and present world as a goal. That introduction to the concept of purity of heart was very significant for me. It made me especially alert to the term. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/aba/news/992902/purity.html
Monastic poverty is meant to free the monastic for conversatio: a life of listening. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/aba/law/mll05.htm
[W]ith monastic profession, a person promises to be on a constant journey of seeking God (conversatio morum). Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/aba/law/mll08.htm
To assure monastic vitality and to accelerate its momentum, the monk specifically dedicates himself to conversatio morum, which is here interpreted as a growth in readiness for, and openness to, the inbreaking of the kingdom. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/amcass/renew/elements.html
Look at the way we have come to understand conversatio and change our translation from "conversion" to some notion of fidelity to the monastic way. I think we are all happy for the more integrated approach. Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/aba/news/3301/
C 54. By his profession of conversion through a monastic way of life (conversatio morum), the monk commits himself to the persevering exercise of monastic discipline and self-denial that school him for growth towards the fullness of love (cf. RB Prol 45-49; 7:67). Above Pasted from http://www.osb.org/amcass/const/I03a3.html
Conversatio Morum – monks take a vow of conversion of life. This vow does not have a direct English equivalent, because the Latin can take the meaning of both a conversion of one’s behavior and/or conversion to monastic living. In practice, this vow means both, with an emphasis on the latter. Above Pasted from http://www.stlouisabbey.org/becomingamonk/conversatio.php
‘Conversatio morum’ is often left untranslated since it is hard to find English words that are adequate. It is a vow to a continual change of heart, a daily reshaping of the mind and heart according to God’s plan for us. Above Pasted from http://www.ampleforth.org.uk/abbey/Spirituality/Monasticism/monasticism.html
The word conversatio seems to come from the Latin versatio con, that is to say, a turning with. The idea behind conversatio is that we discover that we have failed God in some way, and we acknowledge that we have sinned, but we do not stop there and become discouraged or make excuses for ourselves that would lead to hardness of heart. Above Pasted from http://geneseeabbey.org/Homilies/justin-07-03-15.htm
This is where we turn to the second kind of conversion which, in the monastic tradition, is called 'conversatio morum,' sometimes translated as 'ongoing conversion.' This kind of conversion is the ongoing struggle to allow the Gospel to touch every part of our lives. In the words of Esther de Waal, 'conversatio means to respond totally and integrally to the word of Christ sent to all of us: 'Come, follow me!' Above Pasted from http://www.allsaintsbh.org/life0402/page02.htm
By the vow of fidelity to the monastic way of life, or conversatio morum, to use the original, untranslatable Latin phrase of the Rule of St. Benedict, we commit ourselves to a lifelong pilgrimage toward that perfect love of God and neighbor which Christ urges on us in the gospel. Above Pasted from http://www.walburga.org/com_vows.html
This ordinary and particular obedience grows out of a daily experience of “conversatio morum.” The monk’s whole life is a constant process of conversion. Each day we take up our cross and follow Christ. Above Pasted from
Conversion of Life
Although we do not profess the evangelical counsels of poverty and chastity explicitly, they are, nonetheless, an intrinsic part of our self-giving to God in the vow of Conversatio Morum and in our Constitutions. Through the training of his heart and the marshalling of his thoughts in the experience of monastic living, the young monk learns how to focus on Christ and how to turn and constantly return his heart to God. Above Pasted from http://www.farnboroughabbey.org/vocation/profession.php
By his temporary profession of the three monastic vows—obedience, stability, and conversatio morum (the pursuit of perfect charity according to a monastic manner of life)—the candidate formally embraces the life envisioned by Saint Benedict. Above Pasted from http://www.anselm.edu/administration/the+abbey/BecomingaMonk/
With the vow of conversion of manners ("conversatio morum") we promise to live a life following the Gospel. God's call to every Christian to be ready on an ongoing basis, to rethink and to change one's ways is meant here. Above Pasted from
What is this ‘conversion of life’, in latin conversatio morum, mentioned in the monk’s formula of profession (see June 18, below), which Br. Isaac just committed himself to for the rest of his life? The meaning of the phrase can be intuited from the words themselves, this is obvious. On it’s face it means what it says, to turn from one way of living to another way of living. But what does that mean? ‘Conversion of life’ is a twofold act of turning from sin and towards Christ. But isn’t this what every Christian does through his Baptism and the working out of its implications in his life? Yes, absolutely! There is no difference fundamentally between what the Christian takes on as his goal in life and what the monk does in his life. Above Pasted from http://monasticism.org/monk/category/monastic-profession/
"Conversatio Morum" (ongoing conversion of life). Above Pasted from http://www.mountmichael.org/abtus_hist.htm
The third Benedictine vow is usually given in Latin, conversatio morum. That is because it is hard to translate, but roughly translated it means conversion of life. Above Pasted from http://webrax5.webrax.com/~admin85/vocations/whoweare.html
A Benedictine monk takes vows of obedience, stability, and conversatio morum, or ongoing
conversion of life according to the monastic way (RB 58:17). Above Pasted from http://www.saintbenedict.org/stboblates.htm
OBLATES COMMIT THEMSELVES to a never-ending process of integration - a deepening of their awareness of and responsiveness to God through the practice of contemplative prayer. This ongoing process of integration is referred to in the Rule as conversatio morum, "reformation of life". It is the oblates' continuous consecration to God of the deepest parts of their selves and their lives. Above Pasted from http://www.valyermo.com/obl-con.html
The Riasaphor is fully monastic, and is expected to engage daily in the central monastic work of conversatio morum, of the conversion of life: that is to say, to enter more and more into the mystery of monastic life. Above Pasted from http://www.orthodoxcatholicchurch.org/rias.html
Benedict did not demand of his followers great feats of prayer and mysticism based on an asceticism of perfection. He asked monastics to set out on a path to change their hearts. This conversatio morum, which is the profession we have made, relies on valuing community and connectedness in a world that prizes individualism and independence. We have the opportunity to demonstrate to the postmodern world that happiness is found in God and God is found in relationship with others—community. Above Pasted from http://eriebenedictines.org/Pages/INSPIRATION/backprioress/blessingofministries.html
The means to this step is neither to go overboard hunting for things we hate to afflict ourselves with nor to insist on our own way at all costs. The real meaning here is found in the statement that Christ came not to do His own will, but the will of His Father. We don't see Jesus going out His way to find things distasteful to Him, nor do we see Him stoically and resolutely refusing to enjoy things His Father wills that please Him. His will is one with the Father's. He also has a human nature that wars against that Divine will, but, in Jesus, it never wins.
Alas, in us, that human will often DOES win: why else would we be struggling along the monastic way all our lives? Unlike Jesus, we are not sinless, we are able to sin and often do so all too gladly! We must daily- even minute to minute- turn from the bad in our own wills. It is an ongoing fight, but that is what conversatio morum means! As Benedictines we will- indeed, must- always be straining against the negative goad, always be seeking the place of greater light and good. Above Pasted from http://www.dboyko.info/holyrule/jan30may31sept30.html
The search to understand and to practise the faith corresponds to our second monastic vow, Conversatio morum. For the monk this means a day-by-day adherence to the pattern of life described in the Gospels and in the Rule. Above Pasted from http://www.ampleforthcollege.york.sch.uk/benedictine/benedictine_context.htm
One of the three Benedictine vows is Conversatio Morum, a vow to be always striving for change in one’s life, always seeking for God, always striving for perfection. Above Pasted from http://www.douaiabbey.org.uk/obnews6.htm
6. Conversatio morum can be defined as a fidelity to the monastic way of life as given in the Rule of Saint Benedict and the constitutions of the order. Above Pasted from http://www.trappist.net/news/talks/Basil/enews_08_29_06.html
St. Benedict takes all this so much for granted that he scarcely feels the need to mention it. He doesn't even require an explicit vow of chastity: simply including that in the vow "conversatio morum", (best translated as "fidelity to monastic life"; HR 58:17). Above Pasted from http://www.pluscardenabbey.org/oblate-letter-archive-august-2002.asp
6. Conversion. Aware that internal weakness and external temptation pose constant challenges to spiritual growth, monks dedicates themselves to what St. Benedict calls "conversatio morum." This is the monk's commitment to reject complacency and ever to be open to the voice of God, so that the crust of self might be shattered and the kingdom of God might be established within. Above Pasted from http://www.the-abbey.org/ask-a-catholic/how-does-a-benedictine-monk-or-oblate-develop-spiritually
A Benedictine echo of this is the vow of "conversatio morum", loosely translated "conversion of life," which commits the monastic continually to recommit to and seek to live in a fuller way the monastic way. Above Pasted from http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MonasticLife/message/43468
Our monastic vows translate so well to life in the world: stability (which can be translated as well to faithfulness in good and bad times as well as fidelity); obedience (and I don't know about you, but my relationships are always calling me to die to myself [in a healthly way]) and conversatio morum - openness to daily (if not more frequently) conversion of heart mind and spirit. Part and parcel of that is simplicity of life and chastity - which are a challenge to anyone living in a first world country these days. Above Pasted from http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MonasticLife/message/28495
“We do not know precisely what St. Benedict's monks stated in their promissio and wrote in their petitio. Later the three-member phrase was often incorporated into the profession formula, though we sometimes find versions containing only two members, stability and obedience.35 The three-member formula is still used today. In the Rule, however, it is not a profession formula, but rather a rubric that is intended to describe the content of the promissio in terms of the monastic realities it encompasses. It is not a list of distinct obligations and is not exhaustive, but is simply a statement singling out some of the principal features of the monk's promise.36 The profession consisted of a promise to live the entire life prescribed by the Rule. That life is specified, but not exclusively, by the three elements mentioned. Their content is not necessarily mutually exclusive, since they are not perceived as distinct obligations.
“Much discussion has been devoted by recent Benedictine writers to the precise meaning of stabilitas, conversatio morum suorum, and oboedientia. Often the discussion has been colored by the assumption that the three elements represent three distinct "Benedictine vows." Once this supposition is dismissed, the question becomes at once clearer and less urgent, for there is no real doubt about what the monk promised: the full observance of monastic life as defined by the Rule.” RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Timothy Fry, O.S.B., Translator ISBN:978-0-8146-1220-0