The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Thirty-Five, A Monk’s Weekly Kitchen Duty

Whether it is a school, nursing home, hospital, or monastery, if people are there for extended periods of time, it’s important to have a fully staffed kitchen. Chapter Thirty-Five of The Rule of Saint Benedict, instructs monks on who should work in the kitchen, how long they should do so, what their duties are, and other minor details concerning the job.

 

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Working in the Kitchen | Source: Pinterest.com

 

The text begins by saying “let the brethren wait on one another in turn, so that none be excused from the work of the kitchen” (pg. 50). In theory, every monk is required to do the laborious tasks of making meals for the entire monastery. I say in theory because Saint Benedict puts in an exception for monks “prevented by sickness” (pg. 50). So if a monk is sick he does not have to work in the kitchen that week. This is quite practical as a sick person should not be touching the food others are going to eat. (It’s a shame restaurants in the United States don’t follow this rule!)

Because every monk is supposed to do kitchen work, Saint Benedict advises “assistance be given to the weak” (pg. 50). Like in Chapter Thirty-Four, the monkish reader is reminded to help the brethren who need it so “they may not do their work with sadness” (pg. 50). Accommodations must be made so no one gets hurt.

That being said, Saint Benedict does make two more exceptions regarding those who can skip kitchen duty. The first person is the cellarer. But he can only “be excused from work in the kitchen” if “the community be large” (pg. 51). (A large community is twelve or more monks.) The second exception is monks who are “occupied in more urgent business” (pg. 51). I assume this means monks who are off on important business or other such tasks that cannot be avoided.

The text then specifies that “the rest serve each other in turn with all charity” (pg. 51). If I had to guess, I think Saint Benedict is calling out the whiners again!

Making food isn’t the weekly servers’ only duty. On Saturday, a monk’s last day in the kitchen, he is to clean “all things” (pg. 51). This includes washing the towels the monks use to “dry their hands and feet” as well as “the feet of all” (pg. 51). Luckily for the weekly server, he doesn’t have to wash everyone’s feet by himself. The monk “who is coming in” helps him. Once a monk’s kitchen duty is finished, he returns “the vessels of his office, clean and whole” (pg. 51) to the Cellarer. Once he is sure everything is there, the Cellarer gives the supplies to the next weekly server.

Like the catering company I used to work for, Saint Benedict knows the importance of feeding servers before the big dinner:

“Let the weekly servers take each a cup of drink and a piece of bread over and above the appointed portion, one hour before the time for reflection, that so they may serve their brethren, when the hour cometh, without murmuring or great labor.” (pg. 51)

After all, if you let your servers go hungry before they handle all that food, they may be tempted to take a bit for themselves!

Finally, after Lauds on Sunday (a little after dawn), “the incoming and the outgoing servers [are to] fall on their knees before all…and ask their prayers” (pg. 51). The monk who already served that week says a prayer thanking God for His help three times before being blessed. Once that is over, the incoming server will say a different prayer, asking for God’s help. He will also say it three times before he too is blessed.

 

 

Main Source:

  • Saint Benedict. Blair, D. Oswald Hunter, translator. 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.

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

For some reason, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict wasn’t loading today. However, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the usual PDF that I reference. You can access that screenshot here. (You have to scroll down to see the text.) I used this to cross-check my translation.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Thirty-Four, Getting Your Fair Share

My last post was about private ownership in a monastery. There I discussed how monks were not allowed to own things (unless they had their abbot’s permission of course) as everything was to belong to the community. The chapter I will be analyzing today goes into a bit more detail regarding that.

 

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Sick clerk proposing to become a monk | BL Royal 11 D IX, f. 207v | Source: PICRYL.com

 

Chapter Thirty-Four of The Rule of Saint Benedict is titled “Whether all ought alike to Receive what is Needful” (pg. 50). It begins with the bible quote ‘”Distribution was made to every man, according as he had need”‘ (pg. 50). This is the thesis/summary of chapter thirty-four. Saint Benedict goes onto elaborate saying:

“Herein we do not say that there should be respecting of personsGod forbid—but consideration for infirmities.” (pg. 50)

Basically, a monastery is supposed to make accommodations for monks who need them. An elderly sick monk will need more food or blankets than a healthy young one, so it’s important to take a monk’s disabilities into account when items are being distributed in the monastery. This isn’t just a medieval concept. Even in modern times, workplaces are expected to make reasonable accommodations for people.

Saint Benedict is aware that sometimes people get grumbly when they see someone else getting ‘more’ (for lack of a better term) than them. He reminds his monkish reader “that hath need of less [should] give thanks to God, and not be grieved” (pg. 50). In other words, a monk should be thankful he is healthy. The text also tells monks with disabilities that they should “be humbled for his infirmity” (pg. 50). He should “not [be] made proud by the kindness shown to him” (pg. 50). If everyone can do this, then “all the members of the family shall be at peace” (pg. 50).

In case these words don’t convince monks, the text warns the reader about “the evil of murmuring” (pg. 50). If a monk complains even with “the slightest word or sign on any account whatsoever” then he is to “be subjected to very severe punishment” (pg. 50).

 

 

Main Source:

  • Saint Benedict. Blair, D. Oswald Hunter, translator. 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.

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

Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation. (You have to scroll down to see the text.)

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Thirty-Three, Can You (a Medieval Monk) Own Stuff?

Once again, I am discussing another short chapter in The Rule of Saint Benedict. Like the last chapter (and various other ones) this one is only a paragraph long. Chapter Thirty-Three is titled “Whether Monks ought to have anything of their Own” (pg. 49). The short answer to this is No. The long answer to this is Still No But Sometimes Maybe.

 

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The Beginning of Chapter Thirty-Three in a Medieval Manuscript | Harley MS 5431 f.60r | Source: The British Library

 

The text begins with “the vice of private ownership is above all to be cut off from the Monastery by the roots” (pg. 49). Saint Benedict definitely had something here. When you own your own things, it is very easy to become greedy and want more and more. Or if you don’t become greedy, you might hesitate to share what you do have. To avoid monks spiraling into absolute corruption, the simplest solution is to have everything belong to the community. (I will note that this sentiment is still extremely relevant in 2020. However, it is much easier to share when your community is twelve or more other monks and not a country of other people.)

Everything was to “be common to all” (pg.49). Or in other words, all things were to be shared by the brethren. A monk was not “to keep anything as their own” (pg. 49). They weren’t even allowed to own little things that might not seem very valuable, such as a “writing-tablet or [a] pen” (pg. 49)! While this does seem a bit extreme, Saint Benedict justifies these regulations by reminding his monkish reader that “they are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power” (pg. 49). If a monk isn’t even allowed to have his own will, why would he be allowed to have his own pen?

If a monk doesn’t even have his own will, who in the monastery does? The answer is the abbot. One of the abbot’s many duties was to permit his monks to own items if he so chose. Saint Benedict says, “let none presume to give or receive anything without leave of the Abbot” (pg. 49). However, an abbot was not to deprive his monks of things they needed to survive:

“But all that is necessary they [the monks] may hope to receive from the father of the Monastery…” (pg. 49)

However, expecting a person to share absolutely everything can be a bit impractical at times. I imagine that monks were allowed to keep their own habits even if the clothes technically belonged to the monastery. (After all, someone very short and thin won’t fit into the same clothes as someone very tall and fat.) Like in previous chapters, Saint Benedict throws in a loophole. Monks can have some things as long as the Abbot has given it to them “or at least permitted them to have” (pg. 49) it.

What happens if a monk doesn’t follow the rules and sneaks something into the monastery for himself? Well, if any monk is “found to indulge in this most baneful vice” (pg. 50) there must be consequences. At first, the monk should be given “one or two admonitions” (pg. 50). But if he does “not amend” Saint Benedict says the monk must “be subjected to correction” (pg. 50).

 

 

Main Source:

  • Saint Benedict. Blair, D. Oswald Hunter, translator. 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.

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

For some reason, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict wasn’t loading today. However, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the usual PDF that I reference. You can access that screenshot here. (You have to scroll down to see the text.) I used this to cross-check my translation.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Thirty-Two, Who Gets to Keep Track of a Monastery’s Tools

Chapter Thirty-Two of The Rule of Saint Benedict is another shorter chapter. It’s only one paragraph long and it’s titled “Of the Iron Tools, and Property of the Monastery” (pg. 49). As you can probably guess, this chapter is about the monastery’s property. To be more specific, it is about how monks are to treat the tools they use.

 

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The Beginning of Chapter Thirty-Two in a Medieval Manuscript | BL Harley MS 5431 f.59v | Source: The British Library

 

It starts off with Saint Benedict instructing the abbot how to choose the monks “to the charge of the iron tools, clothes, and other property of the Monastery” (pg. 49). These monks are to be men “on whose manner of life and character he [the abbot] can rely” (pg. 49). They must be dependable. Not only are these monks to make sure the tools are kept in good working order, but they also have to keep track of where the tools are as they are being used. Saint Benedict explicitly says that “the things [are] to be kept and collected after use” (pg. 49).

Furthermore, it’s an abbot’s duty to “keep a list” (pg. 49) of the property. Monks are given different chores to do at different times. A monk working in the kitchen and a monk working in the fields aren’t going to use the same tools. A list will help the abbot “know what he giveth and receiveth back” (pg. 49).

Finally, the chapter ends with what should be done with the monks who “treat the property…in a slovenly or negligent manner” (pg. 49). At first, they are to “be corrected” but “if he do not amend” then the monk should “be subjected to the discipline of the Rule” (pg. 49). (And if you are curious about what exactly this discipline is, I’ve gone into detail about that here.)

This chapter has the same theme as other chapters concerning running a monastery. That theme being important jobs should only go to those responsible enough to handle them. If you’ve ever done yardwork or what have you, you know that high-quality tools can be expensive. And even if you only own a $15 rake, it’s still very annoying to have to go out and buy a new one if it accidentally breaks. It’s even more annoying when something breaks because you left it outside or the person using it wasn’t careful or you misplaced it.

Now imagine that instead of driving down to the hardware store (or buying a tool online and waiting a few days for it to be delivered) you have to make it all from scratch. It’s no wonder that Saint Benedict wants only responsible monks to keep track of everything!

 

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.

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

Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation. (You have to scroll down to see the text.)

EDIT: In case you can’t access the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the PDF I used. That PDF can be accessed here.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Thirty-One, What Kind of Man the Cellarer Should be and His Job Duties

To run a monastery efficiently, you have to have more staff than just an abbot and a few deans. There are all kinds of jobs to do. One such job was the cellarer. The cellarer was in charge of giving out a monastery’s food and drink. In an era where food may be scarce depending on how good the harvest was, it was an important job. (And even now when most people can just go to the grocery store, being charge of food is an important job!)

However, not everyone should be a cellarer. Saint Benedict sets out quite a few very specific guidelines for the cellarer’s personal character:

“Let there be chosen out of the community, as Cellarer of the Monastery, a man wise and of mature character, temperate, not a great eater, not haughty, nor headstrong, nor arrogant, not slothful, nor wasteful, but a God-fearing man, who may be like a father to the whole community.” (pg. 47)

According to Saint Benedict, the man in charge of the monastery’s food should have some self-control when it comes to being around food. This is certainly a reasonable requirement. If the cellarer can’t restrain himself, it would be extremely hypocritical to expect the other monks to do the same. As “a father to the whole community” (pg. 47), the cellarer is expected to lead by example and be a good example to the others.

The Rule of Saint Benedict allows the cellarer to make some executive decisions. The text explicitly states, “let him have the care of everything” (pg. 47). However, he is also to “do nothing without leave of the Abbot” (pg. 47). So the cellarer is certainly in charge, but he must always double-check with his abbot before he makes those executive decisions.

 

Harley MS 5431 f.58r

The Beginning of Chapter Thirty-One in a Medieval Manuscript | BL Harley MS 5431 f.58r | Source: The British Library

 

Saint Benedict wants the cellarers to be kind, patient, and mild-mannered. This may seem like a strange requirement (especially for anyone who has ever worked in food service!), but a few sentences later, this is explained:

“Let him take heed to what is commanded him, and not sadden his brethren. If a brother ask him for anything unreasonably, let him not treat him with contempt and so grieve him, but reasonably and with all humility refuse what he asks for amiss.” (pg. 47 and 48)

As someone in charge of the food and drink, the cellarer is going to have quite a few hungry monks asking him for treats/snacks when they aren’t allowed to. It’s his duty to be kind and say no to these requests kindly. He is to make sure that everyone has had their fair share of food. That doesn’t just mean telling gluttonous monks that they may not have extras. It also means giving more to those who need extra nourishment:

“Let him have especial care of the sick, of the children, of guests and of the poor, knowing without doubt that he will have to render an account of all these on the Day of Judgment.” (pg. 48)

The ones listed above are quite often the type of people who need more food and drink than your average healthy adult. The sick need extra to get well, children need extra to grow, guests should have extra to show proper hospitality and the poor need extra because they are lacking. Like in previous chapters, Saint Benedict sprinkles in a little bit of fear-mongering at the end. If the cellarer does not show kindness towards the vulnerable, he will have to explain to God why he was deliberately cruel to those who needed that kindness the most.

Furthermore, the cellarer must “look upon all the vessels and goods of the Monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar” (pg. 48). Food is just as important as the holy items used in church and it should be treated as such. It is sacred and it must not be wasted. Saint Benedict goes on to write that the cellarer should “not think that he may neglect anything” (pg. 48). It is his responsibility that everything regarding the monastery’s meals goes smoothly. To do so properly, the cellarer must “not be given to covetousness, nor wasteful, nor a squanderer of the goods of the Monastery” (pg. 48). He is to “do all things in proper measure” (pg. 48). However, Saint Benedict reminds his monkish reader once again that the cellarer must listen to “the bidding of his Abbot” (pg. 48).

 

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A Monk Sneaking a Drink | BL Sloane 2435, f. 44v | Source: Wikipedia

 

As an interesting side note, in the translations I used to cross-check my own copy of The Rule, (as mine uses a lot of archaic words and the syntax can be a little strange) they translate “covetousness” to “avarice.” (Links to those can be found at the end of this post.)

After explaining the degree of reverence he should have for food, the text returns to discussing the ideal cellarer’s personal character. Saint Benedict reiterates that he should in “above all things have humility” (pg. 48). This includes giving “a kind answer” (pg. 48) when monks ask for things the cellarer does not have. And when his abbot tells the cellarer that he can’t have things, he is not “to meddle with what is forbidden him” (pg. 48).

At the end of this chapter, Saint Benedict finally explains the cellarer’s main job (and he throws in a threat at the end!):

“Let him distribute to the brethren their appointed allowance of food, without arrogance or delay, that they not be scandalized: mindful of what the Word of God declareth him to deserve, who ‘shall scandalize one of these little ones:’ namely, ‘that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.'” (pg. 48)

 

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Technically, the Virgin Mary is saving this monk from drowning, but I felt that this illustration was still appropriate | BL Royal MS 10 E IV f.227r | Source: The British Library

 

It’s certainly quite a threat! God says to do your job compassionately or you’ll be sleeping with the fishes! At least, Saint Benedict claims that God said this. And with a consequence like that, who is going to argue?

Funnily enough, He doesn’t unpack the last few sentences. Saint Benedict just keeps moving on with the text. The chapter ends with a few more practicalities of the job. This includes whether or not the cellarer gets “helpers” (only “if the community be large”) and that “things…[that] are necessary be given and asked for at befitting times” (pg. 48). Then the chapter ends with a much more comforting phrase, “no one may be troubled nor grieved in the house of God” (pg. 48).

 

 

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.

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

Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation. (You have to scroll down to see the text.)

EDIT: In case you can’t access the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the PDF I used. That PDF can be accessed here.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapters Twenty-Three through Thirty, So You (a Medieval Monk) Have Been Really Bad. Now What?

Despite being men of God, monks didn’t always act holy. Saint Benedict knew that his monks were only human and that humans slip up and make mistakes. This post will be discussing chapters twenty-three through thirty of The Rule of Saint Benedict. While there are other chapters focusing on disciplining bad monks, they focus on minor faults. Today’s post concentrates on what a superior should do if a monk commits a grave fault.

 

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A Monk and Nun in the Stocks | BL Royal MS 10 E IV f.187r | Source: The British Library

 

Chapter Twenty-Three is titled “Of Excommunication for Offenses” (pg. 43). Here Saint Benedict lists out what actions are punishable by excommunication:

“If any brother shall be found contumacious, or disobedient, or proud, or a murmurer, or in any way transgressing the Holy Rule, and contemning the orders of his seniors…” (pg. 43)

However, just because a monk does any of these things, it doesn’t mean he should be immediately excommunicated. (Which I will note isn’t necessarily kicking the monk out of the monastery, never to return. I’ll go into more detail about that later on in this post.) Instead, Saint Benedict allows the Abbot to give the monk a little bit of leniency. For the first offense, a monk should “be once or twice privately admonished by his elders” (pg. 43). When you speak to someone privately about their wrongdoings, you can avoid the anger and defensiveness that usually comes out when someone is called out publicly. It also allows the monk some time to reflect and correct himself.

If a monk keeps acting out despite being privately spoken to, “let him be rebuked in public before all” (pg. 43). Unfortunately, some people only change their ways after a bit of public humiliation. That being said, sometimes neither of these tactics work. If the monk is still misbehaving, then “let him be subjected to excommunication, provided that he understand the nature of the punishment” (pg. 43). What happens if a monk doesn’t get why excommunication is so bad? Well, Saint Benedict recommends that the monk “undergo corporal chastisement” (pg. 43).

Chapter Twenty-Four is titled “What the Measure of Excommunication should be” (pg. 43). Here excommunication is a way to isolate the misbehaving monk from the community at large. (Verses permanently throwing the man out on the street.) Saint Benedict reminds his reader that the punishment should fit the crime. Depending on “the gravity of the offence [sic]” how severe the punishment is “left to the judgment of the Abbot” (pg. 43). This is a wise way of going about things. Needless to say, if one monk murders another monk in cold blood, privately talking to him isn’t exactly an effective punishment. Letting an Abbot make his own judgments allows him to look at the surrounding circumstances of the original crime.

The text goes on to describe the proper punishment for “any brother…found guilty of lighter faults” (pg. 43). Saint Benedict recommends that the bad monk “be excluded from the common table” (pg. 43). Not only does he have to “take his meals alone” but a bad monk has to eat “after those of the brethren” (pg. 43). However, the monk can’t eat immediately after his fellow monks are done. He has to wait and be hungry for a good amount of time before he can eat too. So if the community usually eats “at the sixth hour” the bad monk will “eat at the ninth” (pg. 43). And if they usually “eat at the ninth” the monk has to wait to “eat in the evening” (pg. 43). This goes on “until by proper satisfaction he obtain pardon” (pg. 43).

Being excluded doesn’t just mean being left out at mealtimes. It also means being left out of other group activities. This includes worshipping as well:

“And this shall be the rule for one so deprived: he shall intone neither Psalm nor antiphon in the Oratory, nor shall he read a lesson, until he have made satisfaction.” (pg. 43)

 

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Monks Worshipping | Source: PICRYL.com

 

Chapter Twenty-Five is titled “Of Graver Faults” (pg. 44). Here Saint Benedict goes into detail for the punishments suitable for monks who really mess up. Not only is the monk “excluded both from the table and from the Oratory” (pg. 44) like he would be if he just committed a lesser fault, he is also excluded from the monastic community at large. Meaning that “none of the brethren [are allowed to] consort with him or speak to him” (pg. 44). The monk is isolated in all things. He is to “be alone at the work enjoined him” as well as “take his portion of food alone” (pg. 44).

Because he has committed a grave fault, the monk doesn’t just eat a few hours after everyone else. Instead, his food will be “in the measure and at the time that the Abbot shall think best for him” (pg. 44). This means that the abbot may limit the bad monk’s food portions and make him wait all day until he is allowed to eat. This type of control could either be an effective enough punishment or something that a power-hungry (pun unintended) Abbot would take advantage of to the extreme.

The bad monk’s complete isolation is added to with the last sentence of this chapter:

“Let none of those who pass by bless him, nor the food that is given him.” (pg. 44)

If the bad monk isn’t even allowed to be blessed, then that means he really screwed up. But what happens if another monk talks to him anyway? Well, Saint Benedict covers that in the next chapter!

Chapter Twenty-Six is titled “Of those who, without Leave of the Abbot, Consort with the Excommunicate” (pg. 44). This particular chapter is insanely short. It’s only one sentence. That being said, Saint Benedict really only needs to make his point in one sentence:

“If any brother presume without the Abbot’s leave to hold any intercourse whatever with an excommunicated brother, or to speak with him, or to send him a message, let him incur the same punishment of excommunication.” (pg. 44)

One thing I find particularly notable about this passage is how Saint Benedict closes up any potential loopholes. I can imagine a monk saying to his abbot, ‘I only sent him a letter, I didn’t actually talk to him’ in an attempt to avoid getting in trouble himself. It’s also interesting that Saint Benedict is sure to specify that monks are only allowed to talk to their punished brethren with the permission of their abbot. Even if a monk is shunned from the community, eventually there will need to be communication between the two parties. By giving the other monks permission through the abbot, Saint Benedict is relieving the anxiety a monk might have about being punished themselves.

Chapter Twenty-Seven is titled “How Careful the Abbot should be of the Excommunicate” (pg. 45). Here Saint Benedict argues that while an excommunicated monk is still in trouble, an abbot shouldn’t treat him so harshly that the monk gives up on being good forever. Instead, an abbot should “show all care and solicitude towards the offending brethren” (pg. 45). One tactic includes “sending some brethren of mature years and wisdom” to “secretly, console the wavering brother” (pg. 45). The older monks are to “comfort him, that he be not overwhelmed by excess of sorrow” (pg. 45). This section of the text certainly gives a lot more context to the loophole about receiving an abbot’s permission to talk to the fallen monk!

While no one is allowed to bless the bad monk or his food, Saint Benedict encourages “all pray for him” (pg. 45). An abbot needs to “use the greatest care…not to lose any one of the sheep committed to him” (pg. 45). After all, an abbot “hath undertaken the charge of weakly souls” (pg. 45). It’s his job to make sure those who stray come back to the righteous path. If he doesn’t, he’ll face the consequences on Judgment Day.

 

Royal MS 6 E VI:1 f.57r

Judgment Day | Royal MS 6 E VI/1 f.57r | Source: The British Library

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight is titled “Of those Who, being Often Corrected, do not Amend” (pg. 46). Here the text details what an abbot should do if the bad monk refuses to behave himself. These punishments should be given to a monk who “has been frequently corrected for some fault, or even excommunicated” (pg. 46). If a monk has been told not to do something and he keeps doing it, then it’s time for “the punishment of stripes” (pg. 46), or corporal punishment. And of course, during this time it is vital for the monk to say “his own prayers and those of all the brethren for him” (pg. 46).

But what happens if a monk is still bad even if you hit him? What if he keeps doing the things he’s not supposed to despite the community’s prayers? What if he “even wish to defend his deeds” (pg. 46)? Well, it’s important to note that excommunication and hitting the monk is supposed to be “the last remedy” (pg. 46). So, if you’ve done absolutely everything that Saint Benedict has recommended these last few chapters and the monk is still misbehaving then it’s time for “the Abbot [to] use the sword of separation” (pg. 46).  If an abbot doesn’t remove the problem monk then he runs the risk of “one diseased sheep…taint[ing] the whole flock” (pg. 46). However, kicking out a monk is only supposed to be the last resort.

Chapter Twenty-Nine is titled “Whether the Brethren who Leave the Monastery are to be Received Again” (pg. 46). This is another relatively short chapter. This part of the text explains how a community should handle a monk returning after he has either “through his own fault departeth or is cast out of the Monastery” (pg. 46). Not all monks/nuns who left their monasteries did so because they were kicked out. Some simply ran away! (The monastic life isn’t for everyone.) So what happens if a monk regrets leaving and wants to come back? He most certainly can, but there will be consequences for leaving in the first place.

The returning monk must “first to amend entirely the fault for which he went away” (pg. 47). After doing so, he will be welcomed back, but he will “be received back into the lowest place” (pg. 47) in the order of seniority. This is so “his humility may be tried” (pg. 47). This is to test the monk’s dedication to the monastic life. It’s important that the monk is returning for the right reasons and not just because he has nowhere else to go/is hungry/what have you. Monks leaving then coming back several times is implied to be an issue by the text. Saint Benedict specifically says:

“Should he again depart, let him be taken back until the third time: knowing that after this all return will be denied to him.” (pg. 47)

I think coming back three times is a reasonable amount. After three times, it starts to get a little ridiculous. Clearly, the monk isn’t returning for the right reasons.

 

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A Child Being Given to a Monastery as an Oblate |BL Royal 10 D VIII, f. 82v | Source: blogs.brown.edu

 

Our last chapter, Chapter Thirty is titled “How the Younger Boys are to be Corrected” (pg. 47). Once again, it is one of the shorter chapters in The Rule of Saint Benedict. Monasteries weren’t just full of men. Often times they had young children, called oblates, living there as well. Oblates were given to the monastery by their parents for various reasons. Here, it is explained how these boys should be punished.

The first sentence says that “every age and understanding should have its proper measure of discipline” (pg. 47). This is some good common sense. A five-year-old and a fifty-five-year-old should not be punished the same. Saint Benedict recognizes that if a child is “unable to understand the greatness of the penalty of excommunication” (pg. 47) he shouldn’t be excommunicated. However, Saint Benedict is also a product of his time and recommends that a naughty child “be punished by severe fasting or sharp stripes” so “they may be cured” (pg. 47).

 

 

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 my translation.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation. (You have to scroll down to see the text.)

EDIT: In case you can’t access the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the PDF I used. That PDF can be accessed here.

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.

Add. 39636  f.10 (full page and detail)

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!)

660px-São_Bento_e_São_Bernardo_(1542)_-_Diogo_de_Contreiras

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).

 

Bernard_of_Clairvaux_-_Gutenburg_-_13206

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).

 

IMG_2115.jpg

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).

 

virgin-and-kneeling-monk-from-bl-sloane-278-f-7-2a10ef

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).

 

Royal 19 D.III, f.266

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).

 

monks-singing-from-bl-harley-2888-f-98v-d1ffe8

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.)