Vow of silence  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A Vow of silence is a religious vow, usually taken in a monastic context, to maintain silence.

Pythagoras imposed a strict rule of silence on his disciples; the vestal virgins also were bound to severe silence for long years. Many similar examples could be quoted.

Spiritual silence may be viewed from a threefold standpoint:

  • As an aid to the practice of good, for we keep silence with man, in order the better to speak with God, because an unguarded tongue dissipates the soul, rendering the mind almost, if not quite, incapable of prayer. The mere abstaining from speech, without this purpose, would be that "idle silence" which St. Ambrose so strongly condemns.
  • As a preventative of evil. Senica, quoted by Thomas à Kempis complains that "As often as I have been amongst men, I have returned less a man" (Imitation, Book I, c. 20).
  • The practice of silence involves much self-denial and restraint, and is therefore a wholesome penance, and as such is needed by all.

From the foregoing it will be readily understood why all founders of religious orders and congregations, even those devoted to the service of the poor, the infirm, the ignorant, and other external works, have insisted on this, more or less severely according to the nature of their occupations, as one of the essential rules of their institutes. It was Saint Benedict who first laid down the clearest and most strict laws regarding the observance of silence.

In all monasteries, of every order, there are special places, called the "Regular Places" (church, refectory, dormitory etc.) and particular times, especially the night hours, termed the "Great Silence", wherein speaking is more strictly prohibited. Outside these places and times there are usually accorded "recreations" during which conversation is permitted, governed by rules of charity and moderation, though useless and idle words are universally forbidden in all times and places. Of course in active orders the members speak according to the needs of their various duties. It was perhaps the Cistercian Order alone that admitted no relaxation from the strict rule of silence, which severity is still maintained amongst the Reformed Cistercians (Trappists) though all other contemplative Orders (Carthusians, Carmelites, Camaldolese etc.) are much more strict on this point than those engaged in active works. In order to avoid the necessity of speaking, many orders (Cistercians, Dominicans, Discalced Carmelites etc.) have a certain number of signs, by means of which the religious may have a limited communication with each other for the necessities that are unavoidable.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Vow of silence" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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