The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapters Twenty One and Twenty Two, Electing Deans and Sleeping in a Medieval Monastery

For my previous analyses on The Rule of Saint Benedict, I have gone over each chapter individually. Today I am switching things up. I’ve decided to combine chapters twenty-one and twenty-two into one post for two reasons. They are thematically similar and are each only one paragraph long. Theoretically, I could have done what I did for my last post and go in-depth with historical examples, but I want to keep today’s analyses brief.   This series is meant to (mostly) focus on Saint Benedict’s text itself. That being said, I am interested in sharing more historical anecdotes on this blog. (But not today.)

Chapter Twenty-One is titled “Of the Deans of the Monastery” (pg. 41). Saint Benedict describes how a monastery should choose superiors in their community. However, not all monasteries should have deans other than an abbot. It is only when “the community [is] large” (pg. 41) should deans be elected.

This chapter doesn’t specify what is considered a large community. However, according to a footnote for chapter seventeen in my copy of the text, a small community (or a Congregatio minor in Latin) “is usually interpreted to mean one consisting of less than twelve members” (pg. 38). Wikipedia offers a different interpretation, saying that there should be a dean for every ten monks. Whether a small community has ten or twelve members, Saint Benedict was wise when he decided that a small community doesn’t need a lot of superiors. After all, too many cooks spoil the broth.

So who gets to be a dean? Saint Benedict recommends “certain brethren of good repute and holy life, [be] appointed Deans” (pg. 41). To run any sort of organization smoothly, especially one dedicated to worshipping God, you want someone who is of good moral character. While you could have someone corrupt in charge that will cause unnecessary conflict (eventually). Saint Benedict also recommends that the superiors “carefully direct their deaneries in all things according to the commandments of God and of the…Abbot” (pg. 41-42).

An abbot must be careful when it comes to selecting superiors. Not just anyone can be a dean. The monk chosen must be a man that “the Abbot may safely trust to share his burdens” (pg. 42). Saint Benedict says that these monks should “not be chosen according to order” (pg. 42). Or in other terms, don’t choose a monk to be a dean just because he’s been there the longest or has been a monk for a while. A monastery’s deans must be selected due to “the merit of their lives and for their wisdom and learning” (pg. 42).

What happens if the dean ends up being bad at his job or is “found worthy of blame” (pg. 42)? What if the power goes to his head and he is “puffed up with pride” (pg. 42)? Well, Saint Benedict doesn’t want the dean to be let go immediately. He should be given a few chances to get back on track. But if he’s still acting poorly “after being thrice corrected” and he “refuse[s] to amend” then “let him be deposed” (pg. 42). Basically, it’s time to fire the dean and choose “one who is worthy [to] put in his place” (pg. 42).

Chapter Twenty-Two is titled “How the Monks are to Sleep” (pg. 42). Thematically, this is another section dedicated to the many practicalities of running a monastery. Saint Benedict has quite a few guidelines concerning a monastery’s dormitory. The chapter starts off with “Let them sleep each in a separate bed” (pg. 42). I like details like this as it implies in monasteries (or in other living spaces) people shared beds. Even if monks were to get separate beds, they still had to “all sleep in one place” (pg. 42). However, if there were too many monks and the dormitory was too small, they were permitted to be broken up into groups of “tens or twenties” and sleep “with the seniors who have charge of them” (pg. 42). Saint Benedict adds in the latter part of the chapter that the “younger brethren” should sleep “among those of the seniors” (pg. 42). According to the footnote in my copy of The Rule, a having common dorm “was strictly observed for many centuries” (pg. 42).

But separate beds and a common dorm aren’t the only things monks need/should do at bedtime. Saint Benedict recommends that “a candle burn constantly…until morning” (pg. 42). I assume this is the medieval equivalent of a night light so you can see when it’s time to rise for offices or in case someone needs to get up to use the privy. The text also says that a monk should not sleep “with knives at their sides, lest perchance they wound themselves” (pg. 42). This certainly implies that monks did sleep with their knives. I would speculate that there may have been a few incidents resulting in this rule to be written down.

In addition to not sleeping with sharp objects, monks were told to “sleep clothed, and girded with belts or cords” (pg. 42). This was so that the monks could “be always ready” and “rise without delay” (pg. 42). After all, being forced to find your clothes and put them on would “forestall” your fellow monks when it was time to go “to the Work of God” (pg. 42). Sleeping clothed also prevents any sinful immodesty.

Finally, Saint Benedict tells his monks that when it is time to wake up and go to services they should “gently encourage one another, because of the excuses of the drowsy” (pg. 42). Or in other words, you shouldn’t let your fellow monk use the ‘five more minutes’ request when it is time to worship the Lord.

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Other Sources:

Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here. (Accessed on February 16, 2020.)

Solesme Abbey’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check the translation.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Twenty, Reverence at Prayer and Some Historical Examples of Clergy Not being Particularly Reverent

For this blog post, I’ve jumped a bit ahead in The Rule of Saint Benedict. In my last post, I covered chapter seven. I’ve decided to skip chapters eight through nineteen as they mostly detail how Divine Offices were said. While there are a lot of good insights into the praying aspect of monastic life, I’m not super interested in dissecting the offices. I may come back to those chapters in the future, but for now, I want to talk about what was and was not considered the proper way to pray.

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Benedictine monks chanting | BL Add 39636, ff. 10, 13, 28, 29, f. 10 | Source: PICRYL.com

Chapter Twenty is titled ‘Of Reverence at Prayer.’ As you might be able to tell from the title, this chapter is about praying respectfully. Saint Benedict tells his monkish reader that praying to God should be similar to making “any request to men in power” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). Meaning that you should only “do so…with humility and reverence” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). God isn’t your friend so you must pray to Him “with all lowliness and purity of devotion” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). God also doesn’t have all day to listen to you so your “prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,” except of course you are lucky enough to have it “prolonged by the inspiration of Divine Grace” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). That being said, when praying as a community prayer should be kept short and the “all [should] rise together” at “the signal given by the Superior” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41).

If Saint Benedict was telling his monks to pray respectfully and to keep it short, was long, disrespectful prayer a problem? Admittedly I haven’t done much research into prayer during Saint Benedict’s life (he lived between the years 480 AD and 547 AD) but I have done some research into monasticism during the later medieval period. And the answer is yes. Yes, disrespectful (for lack of a better term) prayer was an issue at some monasteries. Three of my four examples weren’t exactly bothersome to God but to the people around the worshipper.

(I’ll note that the people I’ve listed as examples were Cistercians and not Benedictines. However, the monastic Order of Cistercians also follow The Rule of Saint Benedict. Ironically, it can be argued that the Cistercians are more strict about The Rule than the Benedictines!)

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Saint Benedict and Saint Bernard (1542), by Diogo de Contreiras | Note: St. Benedict is in black and St. Bernard is in white | Source: Wikipedia

 

 

Caesarius of Heisterbach documents an incident where “one nun genuflected overenthusiastically…and injured her knee” (Kerr, pg. 98). As a result of this injury, the nun had to go to the infirmary. While recovering, the Virgin Mary visited her. The Virgin Mary wasn’t exactly pleased with the nun showing off and she was “reprimanded” (Kerr, pg. 98). The nun was also “warned that in the future she should be modest and discreet in her prayers” (Kerr, pg. 98).

A minor knee injury isn’t the only documented example of overenthusiastic worship. A twelfth-century nun called Ida the Gentle had a tendency to “fall into ecstatic trances after receiving the Eucharist” where she would lose “all physical control” (Kerr, pg. 153). These trances would involve Ida crying out during services, falling down, “unable to speak or move,” her face would change color, “and her eyes flashed” (Kerr, pg. 153). Despite Ida’s spiritual journey, her worshipping style was considered to be a bit too much by the nuns and priests she lived with:

“The community acknowledged that Ida’s turns were a mark of her spirituality and considered her privy to Divine Knowledge, but her behavior was nonetheless regarded as disruptive and irreverent and Ida was consequently barred from attending the Eucharist.” (Kerr, pg. 153)

Of course, not only nuns had issues with reverence at prayer. In Villers in Belgium, there was a lay brother named Arnulf who “was periodically overcome with jubilant laughter” as a result of “an inward flow of Heavenly Grace” (Kerr, pg. 153). Whenever this happened Arnulf would leave wherever he was and “run into the church to be alone” (Kerr, pg. 153). There he would ‘”dance until the wine of his drunkenness was gradually digested”‘ (Kerr, pg. 153-154). Like Ida the Gentle’s trances, Arnulf’s laughing and dancing did get him into a bit of trouble. Sometimes he found this laughing to be embarrassing, especially when people didn’t understand that it was very much “involuntary” (Kerr, pg. 154). To make matters worse for Arnulf, “some considered it evil” (Kerr, pg. 154).

 

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Bernard of Clairvaux | Source: Wikipedia

 

Bernard of Clairvaux also had some problems when it came to reverence at prayer. However, his problems weren’t necessarily because of the way he worshipped. Instead, his problems were a consequence of “years of austerity” and by “his later years” (Kerr, pg. 154) he had completely destroyed his digestive system. But I wouldn’t necessarily consider that disrespectful worship, at least not in regards to God. What was an issue was how Bernard of Clairvaux tried to get around his tendency to vomit up his latest meal.

Instead of accepting that he was too sick to “participate fully in the liturgical day” (Kerr, pg. 154) Bernard decided the best solution was to install a basin in the choir for him to throw up into. Julie Kerr wonderfully describes the monks’ reaction to the vomiting during services as such:

“This was not, however, a satisfactory arrangement.” (Kerr, pg. 154)

Needless to say, the monks found his constant throwing up extremely gross. In the end, Bernard of Clairvaux was “compelled to withdraw from communal activities” (Kerr, pg. 154).

 

 

Main Sources:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Kerr, Julie. Life in the Medieval Cloister. Continuum, 2009.

(This book can be purchased here. Some of it can be found here on Google books. It can also be accessed on ProQuest Ebook Central.)

Other Sources:

Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here. (Accessed on February 15, 2020.)

Solesme Abbey’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check the translation.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Seven, How to be Humble Like a Medieval Monk in 12 Easy (and Certainly Not at All Creepy) Steps

Chapter seven of The Rule of Saint Benedict is completely dedicated to humility and how a monk should be humble. According to Saint Benedict, there are twelve degrees of humility. The degrees of humility are of varying levels of easiness, practicality, and to be honest, creepiness. While I admit this is an ethnocentric worldview, I can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable with the way Saint Benedict phrases things as well as with his desire for his monks to have blind, unquestioning obedience no matter what they are told.

My feelings of uneasiness are emphasized when I think about abuse in the Catholic Church. I can easily see how a superior in a monastery could take advantage of this particular text and use it for nefarious purposes. That being said, not all of the text in this chapter is problematic. Some of it is quite mundane and other parts consist of wise advice.

Saint Benedict doesn’t jump into the degrees right away. Instead, there is a long introductory paragraph instructing monks how to worship humbly and the importance of doing so. It can be summed up with this quote:

‘”Every one[sic] that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”‘ (pg. 25)

Basically, don’t pray or act for the sake of glory. Neither should you pray to show off your self proclaimed holiness. You aren’t being holy when you do so. You are being self-righteous. If you do pray just to show off, beware. Bad things will come your way. In contrast, if you are humble with your prayers and good deeds, God knows and you will be praised.

After the preface, Saint Benedict explains the first degree of humility. Compared to the other degrees, this one is pretty lengthy. In my translation, there are four paragraphs discussing it. (This is a lot of text for a book that is only eighty-six pages long and has seventy-three chapters.) In the first paragraph, Saint Benedict tells his monkish reader to “always [keep] the fear of God before his eyes” (pg. 26). In doing so, Heaven will be “prepared for them” (pg. 26). Saint Benedict is aware that constant fear often leads to hate. To get around this unfortunate consequence, the text threatens “that those who despise God will be consumed in hell for their sins” (pg. 26).

The second paragraph consists of more fear-mongering. We are reminded that God is always watching over everything we do. So how exactly does God watch every single human being on Earth at every second of the day? Surely He has better things to do. Saint Benedict explains that instead of God personally watching over us, our actions (good and bad) “are every hour reported to Him by His angels” (pg. 26). This is a good answer to (almost) every Catholic child’s ponderings over the practical logistics of God’s surveillance of humanity. Because God or His angels are keeping an eye on you, it is best to “be on…guard against evil thoughts” (pg. 26). God’s surveillance reminds a monk to be humble so he can be “unspotted before Him” (pg. 26).

 

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The Virgin Mary, Baby Jesus, and Six Angels (watching you) | Source: Photo taken by Viktor Athelstan at The Louvre Museum

 

Even with God always watching, in the third paragraph the reader is told that “[w]e are, indeed, forbidden to do our own will by Scripture” (pg. 27). However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t have free will. Instead, ‘”[t]here are ways which to men seem right, but the ends…lead to the depths of hell”‘ (pg. 27). What Saint Benedict is saying is that while you may think what you are doing is good and holy, in reality, you very well be sinning. To avoid sin (and thus be humble) it’s important that you do what God wants. This is especially the case when it comes to “desires of the flesh” (pg. 27).

The fourth paragraph goes in-depth about the dangers of “evil desires” (pg. 27). Saint Benedict warns his reader ‘”[g]o not after thy concupiscences“‘ (pg. 27) and repeats that God’s angels are always watching. In short, a monk should always fear God. You can’t be properly humble if you don’t.

The second degree of humility basically says to always do God’s will. A monk should not “delight in gratifying his own desires” (pg. 27). Instead, he needs to be subordinate to what God wants. In doing so, his “reward…will be a crown of glory hereafter” (footnote on pg. 27).

The third degree of humility is once again about subordination. However, instead of subordination to God, a monk should “submit himself to his superior in all obedience” (pg. 28). In doing so, he will be “imitating the LORD” (pg. 28).

 

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Virgin and kneeling monk | BL Sloane 278, f. 7 | Source: PICRYL.com

 

The fourth degree of humility wants monks to endure all hardships patiently. While this sentiment might be a good way to tell your monks to stop complaining, my translation’s phrasing gives this part of the text some creepy undertones. The connotations of many of the words are extremely violent. These words and phrases include (but are not limited to!) “injuries,” “afflicted,” “death,” “slaughter,” “tried by fire,” “snare,” “tribulation,” and “adversities” (pg. 28). I was curious if these violent connotations were just a result of my translator’s word choice. I looked at another translation and the connotations are extremely similar. (You can find the link to that PDF under ‘Other Sources’ at the end of this article.) The sentence at the beginning of this section particularly alarmed me:

“…that if in this very obedience hard and contrary things, nay even injuries, are done to him, he should embrace them patiently with a quiet conscience, and not grow weary or give in…” (pg. 28).

Telling your monks to suck up their pain may be good if all of their complaints relate to little things (e.g. bad tasting food, uncomfortable beds, tonsure makes their head look weird) but it can get dangerous if it is used to ignore bigger concerns. Like in any other living space, problems will inevitably arise from clashing personalities. Telling a monk who is being severely bullied or even abused to “bear with false brethren, and bless those that curse them” as it will “secure…their hope of the divine reward” (pg. 28) isn’t productive. It is the same as sweeping everything under the rug because that is easier to do than deal with the actual problem. And eventually, that problem will boil over into a bigger issue.

The fifth degree of humility is to always confess your sins. A humble monk wouldn’t “hide from one’s Abbot any…evil thoughts” nor would he hide “the sins committed in secret” (pg. 28). Instead, he would “humbly confess them” (pg. 28). Admitting your wrongdoings keeps you from getting too big for your britches. You aren’t perfect and God knows if you’ve done bad things. What’s the point of trying to hide them from Him?

The sixth degree of humility reminds monks “to be contented with the meanest and worst of everything” and to “esteem himself a bad and worthless laborer” (pg. 29). While the latter certainly won’t be great for anyone’s self-esteem, the former can be quite helpful. After all, if you’ve willingly become a monk you shouldn’t expect to be living large. Instead, you should be content to live with little like Christ.

The seventh degree of humility also is not fantastic for anyone’s self-esteem:

“…he should not only call himself with his tongue lower and viler than all, but also believe himself in his inmost heart to be so…” (pg. 29)

Even though hating and thinking badly of yourself isn’t a healthy way to think, this mindset certainly will keep you humble. You can’t be proud if you consider yourself worthless. That being said, this is another degree that can be dangerous if taken to the extreme. Especially when Saint Benedict encourages his monkish readers to think, “‘I am a worm and no man”‘ (pg. 29). I can easily see how a monk may spiral into depression (or melancholy) if he isn’t careful with thoughts like this.

The next few degrees are extremely short.

The eighth degree of humility is just to follow the rules. A monk needs to “do nothing except what is authorized” (pg. 29).

The ninth degree of humility is to only speak until spoken to. A monk should keep “silent until a question [is] asked him” (pg. 29). It’s also a short summary of chapter six which I’ve written more about here.

The tenth degree of humility is don’t laugh. A monk shouldn’t laugh because ‘”The fool lifteth up his voice in laughter”‘ (pg. 29).

 

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A Fool | BL Royal 19 D III, f. 266 | Source: PICRYL.com

 

The eleventh degree of humility is to speak “gently and without laughter, humbly, gravely, with few and reasonable words, and that he be not noisy in his speech” (pg. 29). Basically, a humble monk doesn’t talk a lot and when he does, he gets to the point right away.

The twelfth degree of humility is to not only act humble but to look humble too. A monk “in his very exterior, [should] always show his humility to all who see him” (pg. 30). So how does one do this? Well…

“…that is, in the work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field, or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing, with head always bent down, and eyes fixed on the earth, that he ever think of the guilt of his sins…” (pg. 30)

By looking humble as well as acting humble a monk can be a good example to others.

Saint Benedict ends this chapter with a closing paragraph. Here he says that if a monk can achieve all of these degrees of humility and not stray from them he no longer has to “dread…hell” and through “the love of Christ” he will be “cleansed from vice and sin” (pg. 30).

 

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Other Sources:

Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here. (Accessed on February 14, 2020.)

Solesme Abbey’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check the translation.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Six, Stopping Your Monks From Saying Dumb Stuff, or Silence in the Medieval Monastery

Whether it’s a monk only talking to complain or SNL’s skit about a monastery’s Super Bowl bets there quite a few jokes out there concerning silence in the monastery. But why should monks be quiet? Why is that even a thing? Well, according to chapter six of The Rule of Saint Benedict the answer is actually pretty simple:

‘”[I]n much speaking thou shalt not avoid sin”‘ (Saint Benedict pg. 25).

I’m sure we’ve all said something really stupid because we weren’t thinking. (I know I have!) So what’s the easiest way to prevent your monks from constantly putting their feet in their mouths? By telling them to keep quiet of course! After all, idle talking can lead to sinful thoughts and sinful thoughts lead to sinful actions and sinful actions lead to an eternity in hell.

However, this doesn’t mean that most monks never spoke or talked to other members of the community. Later in The Rule Saint Benedict gives instructions on when monks can talk to each other and when they shouldn’t. Even in this chapter, Saint Benedict gives guidelines for conversations. For example, “if anything has to be asked of the Superior, let it be done with all humility and…reverence” (Saint Benedict pg. 25).

 

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Annoyed looking monks singing | BL Harley 2888, f. 98v | Source: PICRYL.com

 

Saint Benedict uses this chapter not only to warn his monks about sinful thoughts but about “bad speech” (Kardong) in general. Bad speech also includes “buffoonery [and] idle words” (Saint Benedict pg. 25). In Terrence G. Kardong’s commentary on The Rule, the Latin text is translated as “crude jokes and idle talk” (Kardong). Either way, Saint Benedict doesn’t want his monks saying things that “move [you] to laughter” (Saint Benedict pg. 25) or that are “aimed at arousing laughter” (Kardong). (I’ll note that these quotations are different translations of the same sentence.) Kardong speculates that Saint Benedict wasn’t crazy about laughter not because he was a killjoy, but because “much ancient comedy was obscene” (Kardong). Given that monks are supposed to be chaste, it is understandable that Saint Benedict wouldn’t want dirty (thus sinful) jokes told in his monasteries. 

The Rule’s chapter about silence isn’t just about avoiding saying sinful things or laughing at things holy monks shouldn’t. It’s also about learning when to talk and when to listen:

“For it becometh the master to speak and to teach, but it beseemeth the disciple to be silent and to listen” (Saint Benedict pg. 25).

Like students listening to their teachers, monks should listen to their abbot. The abbot is supposed to be an “inextinguishable fount of wisdom” (Kardong). And the only way to truly listen and learn is to keep quiet.

 

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Other Sources:

Benedictus, and Terrence G. Kardong. Benedicts Rule: a Translation and Commentary. Liturgical Press, 1996.

(You can find part of this book here.)

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Five, Blind Obedience in a Medieval Monastery

Saint Benedict loves obedience. Besides writing about it in previous chapters (as well as in future chapters!) he dedicates the entirety of chapter five on it. However, Saint Benedict’s writings on this topic do come across as a little worrisome. He demands nothing less than blind obedience from his monks. The first sentence of chapter five is “The first degree of humility is obedience without delay” (Saint Benedict pg. 23). Monks are supposed to be humble so it’s natural that he would talk about how to be humble (he goes more into detail in chapter seven), but Saint Benedict takes this obsession with obedience a bit too far:

“[A]s soon as anything is ordered by the superior, suffer no more delay in doing it than if it had been commanded by God Himself.” (Saint Benedict pg. 23)

 

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Institution of a monk | BL Royal 11 D IX, f. 195 | Source: Picryl.com

 

One problem with this is that the superiors are human. Their commands may very well be dangerous. (And even God tried to get Abraham to kill his own son.) To make matters even more problematic, Saint Benedict wants his monks to obey while keeping in mind their “fear of hell or…the glory of life everlasting” (Saint Benedict pg. 23).

In Terrence G. Kardong’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict, he comments that this chapter “may appear to call for absolute ‘militaristic’ obedience…this is a false impression” (Kardong). He goes on to claim that “the abbot must conform to the high standards” (Kardong) previously set out by The Rule and if he doesn’t, there can be consequences. Kardong is extremely optimistic about how often people, the Church especially, actually follow high standards. I think it’s common knowledge that people in charge take advantage of their power. Corruption in the Catholic Church isn’t a modern-day phenomenon either. (There is an entire era of the papacy that is called the pornocracy due to its corruption.)

Saint Benedict is aware that not every monk will want to do what he is told. (And perhaps what he is told to do isn’t a result of corruption, it’s just something the monk doesn’t want to do.) Saint Benedict is also aware that when people have to do things they don’t want to, they complain, even if God loves blind obedience. As a result, he spends one-third of the chapter (which is only three paragraphs) telling his reader not to complain:

“But this very obedience will then only be acceptable to God and sweet to men, if what is commanded be done not fearfully, tardily, nor coldly, now with murmuring, nor with answer, showing unwillingness.” (Saint Benedict pg. 24)

(I will note that “murmuring” here means grumbling or complaining.)

Finally, Saint Benedict says that even if the reader does obey his superiors, God only accepts this obedience if he doesn’t complain while he does the thing he was asked to do. I do find it interesting that Saint Benedict goes into so much detail when telling his monks to stop whining. Perhaps he was sick and tired of listening to his own monks complain?

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Other Sources:

Benedictus, and Terrence G. Kardong. Benedicts Rule: a Translation and Commentary. Liturgical Press, 1996.

(You can find part of this book here.)

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Four, How to be a Good Christian Monk in 72 Easy Steps

Chapter four of The Rule of Saint Benedict is titled “What are the Instruments of Good Works” (pg. 20). “Good Works” refer to instructions on how to be a good person as well as a good monk. In my translation, there are seventy-two different works (or steps as I shall be referring to them). I will note that a lot of these steps are just the same rule but phrased in a slightly different way. I assume Saint Benedict does this so no monk tries to find a loophole. (I’ve noticed that often times super-specific rules are written purely because someone found a so-called loophole and did something they weren’t supposed to do. Human nature really hasn’t changed too much over the millennia.)

The first step is to love God “with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength” (pg. 20).

The second one is the same as the first, but to apply this to “one’s neighbor as oneself” (pg. 20).

Steps three through seven are from the Ten Commandments. Don’t kill, commit adultery, steal, covet, and/or lie (pg. 20).

Step eight is “to honor all men” (pg. 20).

Step nine is “not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself” (pg. 20) or the golden rule.

Steps ten through thirteen are all about denying yourself comforts. This includes “to chastise the body” as well as fasting and “not to seek after delicate living” (pg. 20).

Steps fourteen through nineteen are instructions on taking care of those less fortunate than yourself. This means helping the poor, naked, sick, those afflicted, and those grieving. It also includes burying the dead (pg. 20).

 

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Burying the dead | Source: Pintrest.com

 

Step twenty is “to keep aloof from worldly actions” (pg. 20). I’m not one hundred percent sure how to interpret this. I feel like “worldly actions” could be anything from politics to sex. (Perhaps even both!) Either way, to be a good monk you should avoid both.

Step twenty-one wants you to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ” (pg. 21). This meaning that you should value Christ’s love above everything else.

Steps twenty-two through thirty-four detail how to be a benevolent, truthful person. Don’t let yourself be angry over every little thing, don’t seek revenge, don’t “foster guile in [your] heart” and if you don’t intend to actually make peace don’t pretend that you are (pg. 21). Nor should you “forsake charity,” swear oaths as you run the risk of breaking them, “render evil for evil”, or “be proud” (pg. 21). Instead of cursing people who curse you, you should bless them.

These are a lot of instructions on what not to do. What should you do to be benevolent? Well, you should only tell the truth “from heart and mouth”, “do no wrong to anyone” and “bear patiently wrong done to” you, “love [your] enemies” and finally, you should “bear persecution for justice sake” (pg. 21).

Steps thirty-five and thirty-six tell monks not to be greedy when it comes to food and drink. Don’t drink too much and don’t be “a glutton” (pg. 21).

 

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Some gluttonous men drinking |Additional 27695 f. 14 | Source: British Library

 

Steps thirty-seven and thirty-eight basically say not to be lazy (pg. 21).

Steps thirty-nine and forty tell monks not to complain in two different ways. You shouldn’t be a “murmurer” (someone who complains all the time) or a “detractor” (someone who talks badly of others) (pg. 21).

Step forty-one wants you “to put [your] hope in God” (pg. 21).

Steps forty-two and forty-three are restatements from the preface about where your abilities to be good and evil comes from (pg. 21). (Only through God can you be good and when you are bad that’s on you.)

Steps forty-four through forty-seven are reminders that you should fear “the Day of Judgment,” and hell as well as the fact you will die (pg. 21). Saint Benedict also throws in a reminder that you should “desire with all spiritual longing everlasting life” (pg. 21).

Steps forty-eight and forty-nine basically say that God is always watching so you should be careful what you do (pg. 21).

Steps fifty through fifty-two are how to avoid evil thoughts, go to confession when you do have them, and certainly don’t speak your evil thoughts out loud (pg. 22).

Steps fifty-three through fifty-five tell the reader not to be a chatterbox, think before you speak or laugh, and don’t laugh too much (pg. 22).

Steps fifty-six through fifty-eight remind the reader that they need to listen to the “holy reading,” pray “frequently” and go to confession (pg. 22).

Step fifty-nine is “not to fulfill the desires of the flesh” and “to hate one’s own will” (pg. 22).

Step sixty is Saint Benedict telling his monkish reader to obey their abbot, despite him having several chapters saying this (pg. 22).

Step sixty-one says don’t want to be called holy before you actually are holy (pg. 22).

Step sixty-two is “daily…fulfill by one’s deeds the commandments of God” (pg. 22).

Step sixty-three is Saint Benedict reminding his reader “to love chastity” (pg. 22).

Steps sixty-four through sixty-six basically say don’t cause drama in the monastery. Don’t hate anyone, don’t be jealous or envious, and certainly don’t “love strife” (pg. 22)!

Step sixty-seven is don’t be vain (pg. 22).

 

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A creature with a mirror | Source: Pintrest.com

 

Steps sixty-eight and sixty-nine tell the monks to “reverence the Seniors” and “love the juniors” (pg. 22). I think we can interpret this to also mean be patient with both.

Step seventy is “to pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ” (pg. 22).

Step seventy-one is basically don’t go to bed angry when you are fighting with someone (pg. 22).

Finally, step seventy-two is “never to despair of the mercy of God” (pg. 22).

If you (a monk) follow all of these rules, then everyone will be able to live peacefully in the monastery together!

 

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Other Sources (used to cross-check translation, not quoted):

Benedictus, and Terrence G. Kardong. Benedicts Rule: a Translation and Commentary. Liturgical Press, 1996.

(You can find this book here.)

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Three, How to Make a Good Decision in a Monastery

I think we all have a story where a superior made a decision without consulting everyone else in the organization, whether the organization is school, work, or politics. Sometimes these decisions work out well for everyone. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they spin everything into chaos because the superior has no idea how things practically work on the ground level. Unfortunately, superiors making ill-advised choices isn’t a modern phenomenon. This was also a problem during Saint Benedict’s time and it was a concern of his. It was so much of a concern that he wrote an entire chapter of The Rule dedicated to how abbots should make decisions! (Granted, it is a short chapter but it is a chapter none-the-less!)

 

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BL Royal MS 10 E IV f222r | Source: The British Library

 

So how should important decisions be made in a monastic setting? Like most matters, it depends. If the matter isn’t super important the abbot should “take counsel with the Seniors only” (pg. 20). But if it’s really important the abbot must “call together the whole community” (pg. 19) so he can hear everyone’s opinion. This includes the younger members of the monastery. Saint Benedict reminds his reader that “it is often to the younger that the LORD revealeth what is best” (pg. 19). I’m not sure how young is young for Saint Benedict, but anyone who has been around children knows that kids lack a filter. Thus they can be extremely honest. Sometimes painfully so.

When giving his counsel, a monk must be humble. He is to “give their advice with all subjection and humility” (pg. 19). After all, this is a monastery and not a debate team. A monk shouldn’t “stubbornly…defend their own opinion” (pg. 19).

After everyone has spoken, it’s time for the abbot to reflect on what he’s heard “and then do what he shall judge most expedient” (pg. 19). This way the abbot will know how his decision will affect everyone in the community. What works for some monks might make another monk’s life much more difficult than it has to be. It’s extremely important for the abbot to make an educated decision. Otherwise, the monastery can be thrown into chaos.

So what happens if the abbot does make a choice some monks don’t like? Well, Saint Benedict basically tells his reader to suck it up. Monks are to “submit to whatever [the abbot] shall judge to be best” (pg. 19). This means not arguing with the abbot, doing what you want anyway, or “presume insolently to contend with his Abbot, either within or without the monastery” (pg. 19). If a monk does these things then Saint Benedict encourages that he be punished “to the discipline appointed by the Rule” (pg. 19). At the end of the day, the abbot has to face God with “an account of all his judgments” (pg. 19). Hopefully, the abbot is making his choices based on that and not earthly matters.

Even with all these steps needed to make a choice, there is one thing Saint Benedict is firm on: no matter the decision, an abbot must ‘”Do all things with counsel, and thou shalt not afterwards repent it” (pg. 20).

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. A link to that is here.)

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Two, How to be a Good Abbot

The second chapter of The Rule of Saint Benedict covers “What Kind of Man the Abbot ought to be” (pg. 16). The abbot is in charge of the monastery and all the people who live in it. As The Rule is both a guide on how to be a good holy monk as well as how to actually run a monastery effectively, finding an abbot who knows what he is doing is extremely important. After all, without a competent leader, a community can and often will fall into chaos. (And this applies not only to monasteries but any other community of people as well!) Saint Benedict was an abbot himself, so while his opinion on what makes a good abbot might be a bit biased, he does know what he’s talking about. He is considered the founder of Western Christian monasticism for a reason!

 

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A carving of Saint Benedict of Nursia | Source: Wikipedia

 

Saint Benedict’s guide on being an abbot is partially practical instructions and partially fearmongering. The chapter starts off with Saint Benedict reminding the reader that the abbot should always remember his place. He is supposed to “hold the place of Christ in the monastery” so he should “correspond to his name of superior by his deeds” (pg. 16). This means that the abbot should never “teach, or ordain, or command anything contrary to the law of the LORD” (pg. 16). The abbot is his flock’s primary example on how to act so he should behave accordingly. If he doesn’t, he will face the consequences in the afterlife. There God will judge him based on “his own teaching and…the obedience of his disciples” (pg. 16).

But what happens if an abbot tries his best, is holy and good, and his monks still misbehave? Well, all is not lost. God will certainly take the abbot’s effort into consideration. As long as the abbot “bestowed all pastoral diligence” and “employed all his care” into fixing his “corrupt” monks then he will be “absolved” (pg. 16). His monks, however, will not be. They will receive “the punishment of death” (pg. 17). Instead of getting into Heaven like their abbot will, they will not. This is a great example of the practicalness of The Rule. Saint Benedict acknowledges that even if an abbot is holy and good that does not mean his monks will follow his example. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

What if your monks aren’t necessarily bad, but just sort of stubborn? What can you do to prevent your monks from receiving eternal damnation? What can you do to encourage them to be good? Well, Saint Benedict recommends “a two-fold teaching” (pg. 17). He should tell “the intelligent among his disciples” and show “the hard-hearted and the simple-minded” how to act properly. In short, an abbot’s actions speak louder than his words. If he doesn’t practice what he preaches then he is a hypocrite. And no one is going to listen to a hypocrite, especially God. This hypocrisy also runs the risk of sowing discord among his monks.

 

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Abbot addressing monk | BL Royal 10 E IV, f. 249 | Source: Picryl.com

 

Hypocrisy isn’t the only way tensions may arise as a direct result of an abbot’s behavior. Saint Benedict stresses that it is extremely important to treat everyone in the monastery equally. An abbot shouldn’t “let…one be loved more than another” (pg. 17). Not even if a monk is “of noble birth” while another monk was “formerly a slave” (pg. 17). Everyone needs to be valued at the same amount. After all, “we are all one in Christ” (pg. 17). That being said, there is a minor exception to this particular rule: The only time the abbot can show some favoritism is if the monk is “found to excel in good works or in obedience” (pg. 17).

How should an abbot act if a monk isn’t excelling in good works or in obedience? Well, it depends on the circumstance. If a monk with a “good disposition and understanding” does something wrong an abbot “for the first or second time, correct only with words” (pg. 18). But if the monk is “froward and hard of heart, and proud, or disobedient” the abbot must be much harsher in his punishment. Saint Benedict recommends “chastis[ing] with bodily stripes at the very first offense” (pg. 18). Saint Benedict argues that ‘”The fool is not corrected with words” (pg. 18), so why bother talking to them about what they did wrong?

To prevent his monks from misbehaving in the first place, an abbot needs to show “the rigor of a master” as well as “the loving affection of a father” (pg. 18). He should “rebuke the undisciplined and restless” and “exhort the obedient, mild, and patient to advance in virtue” (pg. 18). To put it simply, an abbot needs to reward good behavior and punish bad ones. That also means that he shouldn’t turn a blind eye when monks do act up. Instead of ignoring misdeeds, “as soon as they appear, let him strive with all his might to root them out” (pg. 18).

 

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Abbot blessing monks | BL Royal 10 E IV, f. 224v | Source: Picryl.com

 

When running his monastery and disciplining the monks an abbot “ought always to remember what he is” (pg. 18). He is in charge of his flock, thus he must “[adapt] himself to many dispositions” (pg. 18). What works with one monk punishment wise might not work with another one:

“Let him so accommodate and suit himself to the character and intelligence of each, winning some by kindness, others by reproof, others by persuasion, that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to him, but may even rejoice in their virtuous increase.” (pg. 18)

Saint Benedict ends this chapter by going into further detail with what he said in the beginning. An abbot shouldn’t concentrate too much on “fleeting, earthly, and perishable things” (pg. 18). He is in charge of and responsible for his monks’ souls, thus he should act like it. By saving these souls, “he will be himself cured of his own defects” (pg. 19).

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can find the book I’m reading here.)