Do Trappist monks receive academic instruction after progressing beyond the novice stage? If so, of what does the academic curriculum/program consist?

Teaching, in the monastic tradition, has always been more experiential than theoretical.

In the early days, an aspiring monk fell at the feet of an elder and said: “Abba – give me a word”. The Abba told him how he should eat, the schedule of prayers he should follow, times for manual labor, etc. He taught him what to do in the event he experienced temptations of various sorts – it was all very practical.

Monastic formation remains mostly experiential and practical. You learn to be a monk by living and talking with old monks.

There are some formal classes and these are offered beginning with the two year novitiate, once or twice a week. Typically, a novice will be offered instruction in Lectio Divina, the Psalms, Monastic History, Scripture, and house customs.

During the three years as a Junior monk, studies are more intensive and go into greater depth. Prior to 1969, the Juniorate was actually called the “Scholasticate” because this was the time when those monks the Abbot had called to priesthood began their formal studies. They were even given time off from work each day to apply themselves to these studies.

After Solemn Vows, a Trappist may be sent by his or her superior to do further studies, either for the priesthood or in order to prepare the monk to teach class in the monastery. So, for example, a monk or nun might be sent to a Catholic University to study Liturgy, or Scripture, or to Rome to study Canon Law.

Every year at Kalamazoo Michigan, the Cistercian Congress features many lectures on Cistercian themes and our monks and nuns often attend these meetings.