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

December 17, 2014
Chapter 61
The Reception of Visiting Monastics

Visiting monastics from far away will perhaps present themselves and wish to stay as guests in the monastery. Provided that they are content with the life as they find it, and do not make excessive demands that upset the monastery, but are simply content with what they find, they should be received for as long a time as they wish. They may, indeed with all humility and love make some reasonable criticisms or observations, which the prioress or abbot should prudently consider; it is possible that God guided them to the monastery for this very purpose.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote once: "There is a meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler." The Benedictine rule presumes the fundamental truth of that. In an era when monastics from small monasteries made regular pilgrimages to the shrines of Europe, Benedictine life not only welcomed them, fed them, kept them and accepted them as one of its own, Benedictine life opened itself to learn from them. And we can learn from that kind of radical acceptance, too. Wisdom is welcome from any direction. Our task is to open ourselves to it, to see criticism as an occasion for growth, to see the value of continued evaluation and never to close ourselves off from challenge, even when it comes from places we don't expect and people we don't know.

If after a while they wish to remain and bind themselves to stability, they should not be refused this wish, especially as there was time enough, while they were a guest, to judge their character. But if during their stay they have been found excessive in their demands or full of faults, they should certainly not be admitted as a member of the community. Instead, they should be politely told to depart, lest their ways contaminate others.

Benedictine spirituality never requires perfection. It does, however, demand effort and openness. Complaining and complacency are the two evils that community life most abhors and can least afford. Any community, any group is poisoned by people who criticize constantly and exert themselves little. Benedict warns against them both here. "Don't keep them," he insists. Better to do with fewer and do the life well than to swell the numbers of a group with what will eventually corrode it. It is a hard lesson in a culture that measures its success in numbers.

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.