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

October 31, 2020
Chapter 24
Degrees of Excommunication

There ought to be due proportion between the seriousness of a fault and the measure of excommunication or discipline. The prioress or abbot determines the gravity of faults.

If monastics are found guilty of less serious faults, they will not be allowed to share the common table. Members excluded from the common table will conduct themselves as follows: in the oratory they will not lead a psalm or a refrain nor will they recite a reading until they have made satisfaction, and they will take meals alone, after the others have eaten. For instance, if the community eats at noon, they will eat in midafternoon; if the community eats in midafternoon, they will eat in the evening, until by proper satisfaction pardon is gained.

Chapter 24 makes two important points in the psychology of punishment and human association: first, the need to punish is no excuse for the arbitrary wielding of power and anger and vengeance; second, sins against community rupture the community and must be recognized as such.

Obedience is not a license to destroy another human being for the whims and fancies of an authority figure. To be a parent does not give anyone the right to beat a child. To be an official does not give anyone--the police, the president, the teacher--the right to vent either their force or their frustration on simple people for doing simple things. The nature of the punishment is always to be weighed against the nature of the offense.

The pursuit of holiness ought not to be a fearsome thing. Benedictine spirituality is a gentle manifestation of a loving and parenting God who wants us to be all that we can be.

What Benedict prescribes is one of two kinds of excommunication. In the first, for lighter offenses against the unity and peace of the community, a person is separated from the common table and denied the right to lead prayer. In the second, for more significant attacks on community well-being, the person is banished from community prayer, social life and table sharing at the same time.

Benedict is teaching very clearly that to disturb the human community is a serious thing. It makes us outcasts to our own kind. It eats away in the style of acid at the very things that a community needs to flourish and to be effective--love, trust and cooperation. And, Benedict insinuates, once you have broken the bonds that make a community a community, a family a family, a team a team, there is no growth possible until we all face the fact.

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.