Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD_ St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict[1]


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The Centrality of Prayer

In his Rule, St. Benedict starts off the prologue by placing fervent prayer as the pre-eminent act before starting any good work so that it may be brought to perfection.   He then admonishes his disciples to not harden their hearts as the Israelites did when they heard God’s voice, to learn the fear of the Lord, and to work while it is still day.  Yet, like Paul the apostle (1 Cor.15: 10) as they see the progress and fruit of their work, they are not to boast of themselves, but are rather to give thanks to God for supplying the grace needed to accomplish their tasks.  Since disciples are in a battle, critical to holy obedience is the preparation of both heart and body.  And that which is impossible by nature, the disciple is to ask the Lord for his grace to help.  The purpose of the regulations is not intended to be harsh, nor burdensome, but where strictness obtains, it is to safeguard love and amend faults.

The Rule’s Impact

Benedict calls it a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.  He starts off the rule by explaining the four different kinds of monks that exist and that his order (the cenobites) live in a monastery and serve under a rule and an abbot.  The Abbot must exemplify the character of Christ and make Jesus’ teaching the anchor of all that’s instructed to the disciples, understanding that God’s stricter judgment awaits those who teach.  The primary manner in which the Abbot is to teach is not by mere words, but rather through example.  Furthermore, the Abbot is to show no favoritism and when teaching, he must use argument with the undisciplined, he must use appeal with the docile and obedient, and with the negligent and disdainful he must use reproof and rebuke.  Above all else, the Abbot must not treat lightly his duties by being distracted with the temporary things of the world.

Tools for Good Works Grounded in One’s Love for God

Concerning the tools for good works, Benedict points out that the great commandment on which all good deeds are grounded: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The restraint of speech is especially cherished so that sin is avoided (Prov.10: 19) and vulgar speech is abated.  Moreover, the twelve steps to humility first begin with the fear of the Lord.  One is to constantly remember that God sees their deeds and motives.  The second step is for a man to not delight in his desires or will, but rather to make God’s will his desire (Jn.6: 38).  The third step requires one to submit to his superiors in all things for the love of God, while the fourth step admonishes the disciple to submit even though being unjustly treated, for it is the one who endures to the end that will be saved.  Again, whether verbal, mental, or actual’ all sins must be confessed to the Abbot, the disciple must be grateful for the lowest tasks and see himself as a poor and worthless workman.  Furthermore, this workman must realize and confess that he is inferior to all and of less value than they.  The eighth step to humility is that the monk is only to do what the common rule of the monastery endorses and the example set by his superiors.  Again, a monk must control his tongue and remain silent unless spoken to.  He must not speak loudly with laughter or raise his voice, but instead he is to speak gently, seriously, and with becoming modesty.  Finally, the monk is to walk about with his head down at all times judging himself as a sinner who desperately needs Gods mercy to save him.  All these steps can only be realized through the power of the Holy Spirit’s grace being imparted to one.

The Reading of Scripture

Among other things the rule emphasizes the way, manner, and the days in which one is to read the scriptures and the catholic fathers.  Much attention is given to the Psalms and text memorization.  There is a specific procedure for the evening, morning and midday prayers, for the singing of the psalms, and for how one is to do their work.  Moreover, how to deal with the poor and excommunicated brothers is also addressed, as well as the proper and improper way for monks to interact with each other in the monastery.  Benedict ends his rule by reminding the monks that the rule is only the beginning of perfection, but by displaying the virtues in the rule, one displays that he has the beginnings of the monastic life.

[1] The Rule of St. Benedict In English; Editor Timothy Fry, O.S.B., (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1981 by the Order of St. Benedict).

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