Some things are not coincidences.

An article on the monastic roots of Western democracy caught my eye. It did not wholly convince me that democracy had monastic roots. But it taught me something about the monastic ideal I had not known.

The Abbot was the potentate of the monastery. He was not supposed to rule arbitrarily. But he did rule, without formal checks and balances. Yet there was this:

As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and himself explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course. The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the [181] younger. The brothers, for their part, are to express their opinions with all humility, and not presume to defend their own views obstinately. The decision is rather the abbot’s to make, so that when he has determined what is more prudent, all may obey. Nevertheless, just as it is proper for disciples to obey their master, so it is becoming for the master on his part to settle everything with foresight and fairness. [R.B. 1980, 179, 181]

Even the youngest and seemingly simplest of the brothers at the monastery must speak, so as to release what the Spirit might say in that one.

Change the titles, and that is almost a word for word description of a Mormon ward council. The bishop commands, but he also counsels, and inspiration comes to him because of his counseling.

The next day, I sat for an Elders’ Quorum lesson on family councils.

Some things are not coincidences.

Let us assume, as I do, that Mormonism’s councilling is inspired. The Benedictine council could then either be the result of divine inspiration (the Benedictines reached the same result as us because they got it from the same source–God) or the result of human reason successfully reaching the conclusion that divine wisdom has led us to–or it could be something about the West that makes this particular form of governance sturdy and sound.

I believe the first two explanations are true in some degree. But I also do not rule out the third. What God reveals–what the mind reveals–may be goodnesses and truths that are particularly adapted to our own culture. There is not a particularly strong emphasis on councils in the Old Testament or the New. Nor is the Council in Heaven particularly consultative. Perhaps it was. We just cannot say so based on the evidence we have now.

Historically, in the West, aristocrats insisted very much on a right to counsel the king. Foolishly, I thought, because it was always understood that the king had the right to reject counsel. Similarly, our own Bill of Rights also insisted on this right, in the guise of the right to petition. Again, mostly a nullity, or so I believed. But it turns out–I am as shocked as you are–that the great magnates of former days and the Founders of our own Republic may have known a little what they were about.

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