Many thanks to the Northwoods Contemplative for sending me this great quote.
The fidelity of Benedictines to the practice of reading has been of great service to mankind. It had been to secure suitable reading materials for the monks that monastic libraries were established and the skills of literacy preserved. Although Benedict did not envisage his monks as custodians of culture…nevertheless the devotion to reading which he infused into his followers was sufficiently strong to ensure that much was accomplished in securing the accumulated wisdom of the Greco-Roman World and of western Christianity from the erosion which accompanied the collapse of the western Roman Empire.
Nor should the communal sacrifice demanded by such fidelity be underestimated. The buiding up of even a small library was an expensive project and the copying of manuscripts kept many workers away from more lucrative employments. When we consider that Clairvaux, during the forty years of Bernard’s abbacy, acquired several hundred tomes, only some of which were gifts, we can form some idea of how many hours some of his monks spent at scriptorium tasks. To provide a library, an educational system and scope for personal reading demands the outlay of considerable resources and the corresponding acceptance of a lower standard of living and less capital-based influence than would otherwise have been possible. Dedication to reading is a guaranteed means of staying poor!