Daily Reading from the Rule of Benedict

Yesterday's Reading

About the Rule of Benedict

Benedict of Nursia was born in the year 480. As a student in Rome, he tired of the decadent culture around him and left to live a simple spiritual life as a hermit in the countryside of Subiaco about thirty miles outside of the city. It wasn't long, however, before he was discovered both by the people of the area and disciples who were themselves looking for a more meaningful way of life. Out of these associations sprang the monastic life that would eventually cover Europe.

The Rule of Benedict is not a treatise in systematic theology. Its logic is the logic of daily life lived in Christ and lived well. This early monastic rule is part of the Wisdom tradition of Christianity and is rooted in the Bible for its inspiration and its end. It deals with the meaning and purpose of life. The positions taken in the Rule in the light of themes in the wisdom literature of other culture find Benedict of Nursia in the stream of thinkers who lived out of a single tradition but from the perspective of universal and fundamental insights into life.

Excerpted from The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister, OSB

May 14, 2021
Chapter 2
Qualities of the Abbot or Prioress

In their teachings, the prioress or abbot should always observe the apostle's recommendation in which it is said: "Use argument, appeal, reproof (2 Tm 4:2)." This means that they must vary with circumstances, threatening and coaxing by turns, at times stern, at times devoted and tender. With the undisciplined and restless, they will use firm argument: with the obedient and docile and patient, they will appeal for greater virtue; but as for the negligent and disdainful, we charge the abbot or prioress to use reproof and rebuke. They should not gloss over the sins of those who err, but cut them out while they can, as soon as they begin to sprout, remembering the fate of Eli, priest of Shiloh (Sm 2:11-4:18). For the upright and perceptive, the first and second warnings should be verbal; but those who are evil or stubborn, arrogant or disobedient, can be curbed only by blows or some other physical punishment at the first offense. It is written, "The fool cannot be corrected with words (Prv 29:19):" and again, "Strike your children with a rod and you will free their souls from death (Prv 23:14)."

To "vary with the circumstances" may be the genius of the entire Rule of Benedict. It is undoubtedly clear here.

The Rule of Benedict does not turn people into interchangeable parts. Benedict makes it quite plain: people don't all learn the same way; they don't all grow the same way; they can't all be dealt with the same way. Those concepts, of course, have become commonplace in a culture that is based on individualism. But they were not commonplace as recently as fifty years ago. Historically, there has been a more acceptable way for just about everything: a more acceptable way to pray; a more acceptable way to celebrate the Mass; a more acceptable way to think; a more acceptable way to live. Not everyone did it, of course, but everyone had very clear criteria by which to judge the social fit of everyone else.

Personalism is a constant throughout the Rule of Benedict.Here, though, in a chapter on the abbot or prioress, you would certainly expect at least to find a clear call for order, if not for perfection and discipline and conformity. There is no room in Benedictine spirituality, though, for bloodless relationships between people in authority and the people for whom they have responsibility. Benedictine authority is expected to have meaning. It is to be anchored in the needs and personality of the other person. For the prioress or abbot or parent or supervisor, it is an exhausting task to treat every individual in our care as an individual but nothing else is worth our time. It is easy to intimidate the stubborn with power. It is simple to ignore the mediocre. It is possible to leave the docile on their own and hope for the best.

In the Rule, though, the function of the leader is to call each individual to become more tomorrow than they were today. The point of the paragraph is not how the calling is to be done, with firmness or tenderness or persuasion or discipline. The theories on that subject change from period to period. Some types respond to one approach, some respond better to another. The point here is simply that the calling is to be done. The person who accepts a position of responsibility and milks it of its comforts but leaves the persons in a group no more spiritually stirred than when they began, no more alive in Christ than when they started, no more aflame with the gospel than when they first held it in their hands, is more to be criticized than the fruitless group itself. It was Eli, Benedict points out, the father who did not correct his sinful sons, whom God indicts, not the sons alone.

The Rule of Benedict Insights for the Ages

Is there a great spiritual tradition that deals with the contemporary issues facing the human community? In her new introduction to the Rule, Joan Chittister boldly claims that Benedict’s sixth-century text is the only one of the great traditions that directly touches today’s issues: stewardship, conversion, communication, reflection, contemplation, humility and equality. Tracing Benedict’s original Rule paragraph by paragraph, the new book expands the principles of the Rule into the larger context of spiritual living in a secular world and makes the seemingly archaic instructions relevant for a contemporary audience. A new foreword, updated content, an appendix, a Gregorian Chant download and a recommended calendar for reading the entries and commentaries make this an invaluable resource for solitary or communal contemplation. (Crossroad; Paperback) Order here.