Rule of Benedict Daily Reading

January 16, 2022
Chapter 3
Summoning the Community for Counsel

As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the prioress or abbot shall call the whole community together and explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the members, let them ponder it and follow what they judge the wiser course. The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Spirit often reveals what is better to the younger. The community members, for their part, are to express their opinions with all humility, and not presume to defend their own views obstinately. The decision is rather the prioress' or the abbot's to make, so that when the abbot or prioress of the community has determined what is more prudent, all must obey. Nevertheless, just as it is proper for disciples to obey their teacher, so it is becoming for the teacher to settle everything with foresight and fairness.

An African proverb says: "You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla." Experience counts. Wisdom is simply its distillation. Abbots may be abbots and prioresses may be prioresses but the community was there long before them and the community will remain long after they have gone, as well. To ignore the counsel of a group, then, is to proceed at risk.

But Benedict knows about more than the value of experience. Benedict knows about the presence and power of God. And Benedict knows that there is a spark of the divine in all of us. The function of an abbot or prioress, of leaders and spouses everywhere, is not so much to know the Truth as it is to be able to espy it and to recognize it in the other when they hear it. Calling the community for counsel is Benedict's contribution to the Theology of the Holy Spirit.

In the monastic community, this common search for truth is pitched at a delicate balance. The abbot and prioress are clearly not dictators but the community is not a voting bloc either. They are each to speak their truth, to share the perspective from which they see a situation, to raise their questions and to open their hearts, with honesty and with trust. The prioress and abbot are to listen carefully for what they could not find in their own souls and to make a decision only when they can come to peace with it, weighing both the community's concerns and the heart they have for carrying the decision through.

"Foresight and fairness" are essentials for leaders who lead out of a sense of Benedictine spirituality. The decision is all theirs and they will answer for it in conscience and in consequences. They must not make it lightly and they must take all of its effects into consideration. The emphasis in this paragraph is clearly on results rather than on power. It is easy to gain power. It is difficult to use it without being seduced by it. The Rule of Benedict reminds us that whatever authority we hold, we hold it for the good of the entire group, not for our own sense of self.