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

February 26, 2017
Chapter 21
The Deans of the Monastery

If the community is rather large, some chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans. They will take care of their groups of ten, managing all affairs according to the commandments of God and the orders of their prioress or abbot. Anyone selected as a dean should be the kind of person with whom the prioress or abbot can confidently share the burdens of office. They are to be chosen for virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank.

In one simple paragraph Benedict does away with the notion of absolute hierarchy and the divine right to anything. The abbot and prioress are to be the last word in a Benedictine community but they are not to be its only word. They are to "share the burdens of their office," not simply delegate them, with those members of the community who themselves are models of the monastic life. The age of a person or the number of years they've been in the monastery has nothing to do with the decision to give one person rather than another a position of responsibility or authority in the group. What counts is the quality of their community life, the prayerfulness of their lives, their commitment to Benedictine values.

Whoever the leaders, the central thesis of the chapter remains: the community belongs to the community. Its sanctity and success does not rise and fall on the shoulders of one leader alone. It rises and falls on the shoulders of its members. What they are the community shall be.

It is an important concept in a culture that calls itself classless but which relies heavily on connections and prestige and money to define its centers of power and so overlooks the values and voices of many.

If perhaps one of these deans is found to be puffed up with any pride, and so deserving of censure, they are to be reproved once, twice and even a third time. Should they refuse to amend, they must be removed from office and replaced by another who is worthy. We prescribe the same course of action in regard to the subprioress or prior.

To share authority is not the same as to give it away. To share authority means that those who are responsible for the group must arrive at common decisions, share a common wisdom, come to a common commitment and then teach it together in such a way that the community is united, not divided, by the people chosen to lead it. To give authority away is to abdicate it, to leave the group open to division, disunity and destruction.

The government of a Benedictine community is to come out of a common vision, a common heart. There is one interpreter of the Rule in every Benedictine monastery, the abbot or prioress, who themselves are immersed in scripture and who have listened to the experience of the community and bring those elements to bear on every present situation. The unity of the community depends on the centrality of that teaching. To divide a group into factions until the unity of the teaching pales, to tear at its center until its fabric frays and rends, to refuse to give focus to its focus is to strike at the very heart of Benedictine spirituality. It is not possible to form a group when the group is being divided over the very items on which it should be being developed.

What Benedict is inveighing against, then, is the spirit of the coup d'etat, that war that is waged against authority by the very people named by the authority to uphold it. The person with a Benedictine mindset goes into the parish council or the union office or the hospital board to cooperate with the leadership, to carry the group, not to tug it to pieces over inconsequential matters for some gain of personal aggrandizement and ego satisfaction. A Benedictine family does not draw and quarter the children with two different sets of expectations. Benedictine spirituality uses authority to weld a group, not to fracture it.

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.