Spiritual and historical Background of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard
Blessed Gérard (who died on September 3, 1120) was most probably a Benedictine monk who was the guest master of the Benedictine Monastery St. Maria Latina in Jerusalem. The guest house, situated on the other side of the road of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was very big as it was always occupied by numerous pilgrims who came to see the places where Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead. Because the journeys in those days were a big strain, most of the pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem exhausted or sick.
Therefore the guest house of St. Maria Latina was more a hospital than a hotel and it was in those days commonly known as the Hospital of Jerusalem. Apart from nursing the sick they used to accommodate abandoned children, feed the starving, clothe the needy and care for discharged prisoners. Blessed Gérard's hospital was a well organised charitable organisation.
Blessed Gérard founded the Brotherhood of St. John of Jerusalem to run the hospital.
This community is the historical root of the Hospital Order of St. John, the oldest hospital order of the Church (founded in 1099), known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta or in short the Order of the Knights of Malta, whose Anglican branch, The Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (founded in 1831), is well known in South Africa as The Priory of the Order of St. John through its offspring the St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade (founded in 1877).
The statutes of the Brotherhood of St. John of Jerusalem are the basis of the Rule of the Order of St. John whose spirituality is going back to the Benedictine principle of hospitality, expressed in chapter 53 of the Rule of St. Benedict which reads: "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). Proper honour must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims". And that is exactly what the hospital of Jerusalem and its brotherhood did.
Blessed Gérard and his successors called the sick "the poor of Christ" or simply "the holy poor" indicating that they being welcomed as Christ, thus represent Christ to those who have the honour of serving them. Loving ones neighbour therefore becomes worship of God and the members of the hospital order made the promise "to be servants and slaves to our Lords, the sick". A principle of the brotherhood's spirituality was right in the contradiction of the spirit of the time not to gracefully grant favours to those in need and to be honoured for what they had done, but to consider it a favour to have the honour of serving the needy and thus receive the grace of being close to Christ who is being represented by the poor.
Such an attitude is still a contradiction to the Spirit of our times, where helpers often consider themselves superior to those they help and do not realise what graceful chance they miss to meet the Lord in the needy.
On the other hand the hospital of Jerusalem did not disregard the spiritual needs of their Lords, the sick. The hospital was actually regarded as a spiritual community and the sick were not only cared for bodily but also benefited from the pastoral care of the hospital.
The Rule of the Order of St. John reads in chapter 17: "When a sick comes to the house ... he may be received as follows: After he has first faithfully confessed his sins to a priest, he may receive Holy Communion, and afterwards he may be carried to a bed and may be lovingly fed every day like the Lord, according to the possibilities of the house, even before the brothers have their meal. And the Reading and the Gospel may be read in the hospital on all Sundays and the sick may be sprinkled with Holy Water during the procession."
The hospital was considered both a church building and church community anyway. The ward was a big room with an altar inside, so that all the sick could participate in Holy Mass without having to leave their beds.
All in all the brotherhood and the hospital order founded b Blessed Gérard thought of the hospital as a community of saints: The brothers extended God's loving care to the needy. They acted on Christ's behalf, because the church is the body of Christ and Christ is thus acting at all times through his church. But the brothers met Christ in the Sick as well (cf. "Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me!" Mt. 25.40).
All involved, the brothers on the one hand and the sick on the other hand, are mutually representing Christ, making life in the community of the hospital a mutual encounter with the Lord and therefore an event of salvation.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard sees itself as a revival of the Brotherhood of St. John founded by the Blessed Gérard. It wants to revitalise the charisma of these origins and adopt them and the brotherhood's spirituality into the context of our present time and life situation.
It seeks to brotherly relate to all communities and organisations standing in the same tradition and spirituality.
Blessed Gérard was a holy man ...
It was in the year 1099, that Blessed Gérard Tonque founded a brotherhood of dedicated people at the house of the hospital of St. John the Baptist in Jerusalem, who were referred to as "the brothers, who come to serve the poor and protect the Catholic Faith". This brotherhood developed into a religious Order by AD 1113, which is in our days called the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (or the Order of Malta).
Blessed Gérard was a holy man, who was praised by contemporary sources as well as posthumously. Blessed Gérard died on 3. September 1120 and his epitaph in the convent he founded reads as follows:
Here lies Gerard, the humblest man among the dwellers in the East;
The servant of the poor, a welcoming friend to strangers;
He was lowly in mien, but within him shone a noble heart.
The measure of his goodness may be seen within these walls.
He was provident in many things, painstaking in all he did;
He undertook many tasks of diverse nature;
Stretching out his arms diligently to many lands,
He gathered from everywhere the means to feed his people.
(Quoted from H. J. A. Sire: The Knights of Malta, Reprint New Haven and London 1994)