As I described above in detail, the hospitality of the Order of St. John is in its inmost essence spirituality. The service to the "Poor of Christ" is spiritual service. This fact is proven by chapter 3 of the Rule, which belongs to its independent material. There visiting the sick including the communion of the sick is being taken for granted and they just enacted liturgical regulations for it.
I am convinced, that the conception of charity as worship of God, which represents the essential aim of the Orders in those days like today, was the remaining motivating force, which preserved the Order until today through the heavy storms of its history in the contrary to other religious orders of chivalry. The Order of St. John was the first religious Order which made hospitality its main task. Sometimes it proudly was called the eldest and for centuries the only regular relief organisation of the occident. Rightfully it deserves the honour of being the eldest hospital order of the world. "The Order founded by Gérard anticipated for many centuries all the following organisations, who devoted themselves to nursing the Poor and the Sick."
Although hospitality as such is no new invention of the Order of St. John - the roman valetudinariums for the nursing of sick slaves, in order to uphold their capacity to work, or the xenodocea (xenodochea), which were instituted in big number in the course of time by the bishops, to nurse sick and aged people, following an advise of the Council of Nicaea AD 325, were examples of much older hospitality - it still was the first religious community, whose central task was to care for the poor and sick and who ran this service in a large scale.
The Rule and the Statutes (in the said time) give no evidence that the brethren made a fourth vow, the vow of hospitality. But the Customs (usances) about AD 1239 describe in chapter 121 the ceremonies how a brother should be received. It says: "You promise and vow unto God and unto Our Lady and unto our Lord St. John Baptist to live and to die in obedience, and to be obedient unto whatsoever superior God shall give you. And likewise you promise to live in chastity until your death. And likewise you promise to live without property of your own. Also we make another promise, which no other people make, for you promise to be the serf and slave of our lords the sick." (King, Statutes pg. 193) If we consider this now a fourth religious vow or an additional promise, it is in any case a profound innovation, because such a promise appears for the first time in the history of religious orders besides the vows to live according to the evangelical counsels, like we find it in our days with the hospital order of St. John of God.
It is remarkable and new in this context, too, who the aim of the service was directed to. Whereas the Rule of St. Augustine and especially the Rule of St. Benedict seem to focus at the first place on the brethren's gaining of salvation through their service to God and the neighbour, the main destination of the Rule of the Order of St. John is to selflessly try to achieve the neighbour's, i.e. the poor and the sick's salvation. Surely the latter is not a result of extensive dogmatic exegetic reflection on fundamental principles, but rather due to a original Christian impetus. The wish to gain one's own salvation surely plays a big role with a brother of the Order of St. John, but the activities of the order are directed in a far more obvious way to the outside, i.e. to the sick.
This page is part of the publication: Blessed Gérard Tonque and his "everlasting brotherhood": The Order of St. John of Jerusalem
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