Rule of Saint Benedict

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The Rule of Saint Benedict (Latin : Regula Sancti Benedicti) is a book of precepts written in 516 [1] by Benedict of Nursia (c. AD 480–550) for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot.

Contents

An 8th-century copy of the Rule of Saint Benedict MS. Hatton 48 fol. 6v-7r.jpg
An 8th-century copy of the Rule of Saint Benedict

The spirit of Saint Benedict's Rule is summed up in the motto of the Benedictine Confederation: pax ("peace") and the traditional ora et labora ("pray and work"). Compared to other precepts, the Rule provides a moderate path between individual zeal and formulaic institutionalism; because of this middle ground it has been widely popular. Benedict's concerns were the needs of monks in a community environment: namely, to establish due order, to foster an understanding of the relational nature of human beings, and to provide a spiritual father to support and strengthen the individual's ascetic effort and the spiritual growth that is required for the fulfillment of the human vocation, theosis.

The Rule of Saint Benedict has been used by Benedictines for 15 centuries, and thus St. Benedict is sometimes regarded as the founder of Western monasticism due to reform that his rules had on the current Catholic hierarchy. [2] There is, however, no evidence to suggest that Benedict intended to found a religious order in the modern sense and it was not until the later Middle Ages that mention was made of an "Order of Saint Benedict". His Rule was written as a guide for individual, autonomous communities, and all Benedictine Houses (and the Congregations in which they have grouped themselves) still remain self-governing. Advantages seen in retaining this unique Benedictine emphasis on autonomy include cultivating models of tightly bonded communities and contemplative lifestyles. Perceived disadvantages comprise geographical isolation from important activities in adjacent communities. Other perceived losses include inefficiency and lack of mobility in the service of others, and insufficient appeal to potential members. These different emphases emerged within the framework of the Rule in the course of history and are to some extent present within the Benedictine Confederation and the Cistercian Orders of the Common and the Strict Observance.

Origins

Christian monasticism first appeared in the Egyptian desert, in the Eastern Roman Empire a few generations before Benedict of Nursia. Under the inspiration of Saint Anthony the Great (251-356), ascetic monks led by Saint Pachomius (286-346) formed the first Christian monastic communities under what became known as an Abbot, from the Aramaic abba (father). [3]

Saint Benedict writing the rules. Painting (1926) by Hermann Nigg (1849-1928). Heiligenkreuz.St. Benedict.jpg
Saint Benedict writing the rules. Painting (1926) by Hermann Nigg (1849–1928).

Within a generation, both solitary as well as communal monasticism became very popular which spread outside of Egypt, first to Palestine and the Judean Desert and thence to Syria and North Africa. Saint Basil of Caesarea codified the precepts for these eastern monasteries in his Ascetic Rule, or Ascetica, which is still used today in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In the West in about the year 500, Benedict became so upset by the immorality of society in Rome that he gave up his studies there, at age fourteen, and chose the life of an ascetic monk in the pursuit of personal holiness, living as a hermit in a cave near the rugged region of Subiaco. In time, setting an example with his zeal, he began to attract disciples. After considerable initial struggles with his first community at Subiaco, he eventually founded the monastery of Monte Cassino in 529, where he wrote his Rule near the end of his life. [4]

In chapter 73, Saint Benedict commends the Rule of Saint Basil and alludes to further authorities. He was probably aware of the Rule written by Pachomius (or attributed to him), and his Rule also shows influence by the Rule of St Augustine of Hippo and the writings of Saint John Cassian. Benedict's greatest debt, however, may be to the anonymous document known as the Rule of the Master, which Benedict seems to have radically excised, expanded, revised and corrected in the light of his own considerable experience and insight. [5] Saint Benedict's work expounded upon preconceived ideas that were present in the religious community only making minor changes more in line with the time period relevant to his system. [6] [7]

Overview

The Rule opens with a hortatory preface, in which Saint Benedict sets forth the main principles of the religious life, viz.: the renunciation of one's own will and arming oneself "with the strong and noble weapons of obedience" under the banner of "the true King, Christ the Lord" (Prol. 3). He proposes to establish a "school for the Lord's service" (Prol. 45) in which the "way to salvation" (Prol. 48) shall be taught, so that by persevering in the monastery till death his disciples may "through patience share in the passion of Christ that [they] may deserve also to share in his Kingdom" (Prol. 50, passionibus Christi per patientiam participemur, ut et regno eius mereamur esse consortes; note: Latin passionibus and patientiam have the same root, cf. Fry, RB 1980, p. 167). [8]

  1. Cenobites, those "in a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot".
  2. Anchorites, or hermits, who, after long successful training in a monastery, are now coping single-handedly, with only God for their help.
    Regula, 1495 Benedictus - Regula, Anno domini MCCCCLXXXXV die XXVII otubrio - 2472028 ib00310000 TMD MASTER IMG Scan00011.tif
    Regula, 1495
  3. Sarabaites, living by twos and threes together or even alone, with no experience, rule and superior, and thus a law unto themselves. [8]
  4. Gyrovagues, wandering from one monastery to another, slaves to their own wills and appetites. [8]
Saint Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order, Monastery of St. Gilles, Nimes, France, 1129 St. Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order.jpg
Saint Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order, Monastery of St. Gilles, Nimes, France, 1129

Secular significance

Charlemagne had Benedict's rule copied and distributed to encourage monks throughout western Europe to follow it as a standard. Beyond its religious influences, the Rule of St Benedict was one of the most important written works to shape medieval Europe, embodying the ideas of a written constitution and the rule of law. It also incorporated a degree of democracy in a non-democratic society, and dignified manual labor.

Outline of the Benedictine life

Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). This 1862 painting by John Rogers Herbert depicts monks at work in the fields JR Herbert Laborare.jpg
Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). This 1862 painting by John Rogers Herbert depicts monks at work in the fields

Saint Benedict's model for the monastic life was the family, with the abbot as father and all the monks as brothers. Priesthood was not initially an important part of Benedictine monasticism monks used the services of their local priest. Because of this, almost all the Rule is applicable to communities of women under the authority of an abbess. This appeal to multiple groups would later make the Rule of Saint Benedict an integral set of guidelines for the development of the Christian faith.

Saint Benedict's Rule organises the monastic day into regular periods of communal and private prayer, sleep, spiritual reading, and manual labour ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, "that in all [things] God may be glorified" (cf. Rule ch. 57.9). In later centuries, intellectual work and teaching took the place of farming, crafts, or other forms of manual labour for many if not most Benedictines.

Traditionally, the daily life of the Benedictine revolved around the eight canonical hours. The monastic timetable, or Horarium, would begin at midnight with the service, or "office", of Matins (today also called the Office of Readings), followed by the morning office of Lauds at 3am. Before the advent of wax candles in the 14th century, this office was said in the dark or with minimal lighting; and monks were expected to memorise everything. These services could be very long, sometimes lasting till dawn, but usually consisted of a chant, three antiphons, three psalms, and three lessons, along with celebrations of any local saints' days. Afterwards the monks would retire for a few hours of sleep and then rise at 6am to wash and attend the office of Prime. They then gathered in Chapter to receive instructions for the day and to attend to any judicial business. Then came private Mass or spiritual reading or work until 9am when the office of Terce was said, and then High Mass. At noon came the office of Sext and the midday meal. After a brief period of communal recreation, the monk could retire to rest until the office of None at 3pm. This was followed by farming and housekeeping work until after twilight, the evening prayer of Vespers at 6pm, then the night prayer of Compline at 9pm, and retiring to bed, before beginning the cycle again. In modern times, this timetable is often changed to accommodate any apostolate outside the monastic enclosure (e.g. the running of a school or parish).

Many Benedictine Houses have a number of Oblates (secular) who are affiliated with them in prayer, having made a formal private promise (usually renewed annually) to follow the Rule of St Benedict in their private life as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit.

In recent years discussions have occasionally been held [ by whom? ] concerning the applicability of the principles and spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict to the secular working environment. [9]

Reforms

During the more than 1500 years of their existence, the Benedictines have not been immune to periods of laxity and decline, often following periods of greater prosperity and an attendant relaxing of discipline. In such times, dynamic Benedictines have often led reform movements to return to a stricter observance of both the letter and spirit of the Rule of St Benedict, at least as they understood it. Examples include the Camaldolese, the Cistercians, the Trappists (a reform of the Cistercians), and the Sylvestrines. At the heart of reform movements, past and present, lie Hermeneutical questions about what fidelity to tradition means. For example, are sixth-century objectives, like blending in with contemporary dress or providing service to visitors, better served or compromised by retaining sixth-century clothing or by insisting that service excludes formal educational enterprises?[ original research? ]

A popular legend claims that the Rule of Saint Benedict contains the following passage:

If any pilgrim monk come from distant parts, with a wish to dwell as a guest in the monastery, and will be content with the customs which he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds: he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires. If, indeed, he would find fault within anything, or expose it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbot shall discuss it prudently lest perchance God has sent for this very thing. But if he have been found gossipy and contumacious in the time of his sojourn as guest, not only ought he not to be joined to the body of the monastery, but also it shall be said to him, honestly, that he must depart. If he does not go, let two stout monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him. [10]

The bulk of the passage is excerpted (with chance errors) from a translation of chapter 61 of Benedict's Rule found in the book Select historical documents of the Middle Ages (1892), translated and edited by Ernest Flagg Henderson, and reprinted in 1907 in The Library of Original Sources, Vol. IV, edited by Oliver J. Thatcher.

The version above, first published in Hubbard's Little Journeys (1908), omits a part of the passage which enjoins the monastery, given good behaviour, to accept the guest as a permanent resident. The words "gossipy and contumaceous" replace the original "lavish or vicious"; and the words following "he must depart" were originally "lest, by sympathy with him, others also become contaminated."

No language corresponding to the last sentence about "two stout monks" appears in the Rule, though it is a popular myth that it does, with several reputable publications (and more than one church, and at least one Benedictine organization) repeating and propagating the error. At least one of the sources cited attributes the passage to a mythical Chapter 74; the Rule of St Benedict contains only 73 chapters. [11] [12] [13]

An early source for the quotation is the University of California, Berkeley faculty club, which has, for years, posted a version of the above passage on its bulletin board in Gothic script. (There, the notice was not attributed to Saint Benedict). [14]

An article published by Assumption Abbey, of North Dakota, U.S., challenged that the translation of the Benedictine motto is Ora est labora, meaning, "[To say] 'Pray!' equals [saying] 'Work!'" It argued that that interpretation is a result of urban legend and that the actual motto is Ora et labora, meaning "pray and work!" The latter would refer to two major components of a monastic life: first prayer and then work to support the community and its charities. [15] However, scholarly articles published since have not given weight to this assertion, neither as support for nor as refutation of the claim.

See also

Related Research Articles

Benedict of Nursia Christian saint and monk

Saint Benedict of Nursia is a Christian saint venerated in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion and Old Catholic Churches. He is a patron saint of Europe.

Benedictines Roman Catholic monastic order

The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict, are a monastic Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also sometimes called the Black Monks, in reference to the colour of the members' religious habits.

Pachomius the Great Egyptian saint

Saint Pachomius, also known as Pachome and Pakhomius, is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. Coptic churches celebrate his feast day on 9 May, and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches mark his feast on 15 May or 28 May. In the Lutheran Church, the saint is remembered as a renewer of the church, along with his contemporary, Anthony of Egypt on January 17.

Monastery Complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monks or nuns

A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.

Cistercians Catholic religious order

The Cistercians officially the Order of Cistercians, are a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that branched off from the Benedictines and follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also known as Bernardines, after the highly influential Bernard of Clairvaux ; or as White Monks, in reference to the colour of the "cuccula" or white choir robe worn by the Cistercians over their habits, as opposed to the black cuccula worn by Benedictine monks.

Scriptorium Place for writing

Scriptorium, literally "a place for writing", is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the writing, copying and illuminating of manuscripts commonly handled by monastic scribes. However, lay scribes and illuminators from outside the monastery also assisted the clerical scribes

Benedict of Aniane Benedictine monk and reformer

Saint Benedict of Aniane, born Witiza and called the Second Benedict, was a Benedictine monk and monastic reformer, who left a large imprint on the religious practice of the Carolingian Empire. His feast day is February 12.

Trappists Roman Catholic religious order

The Trappists, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance and originally named the Order of Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe, are a Catholic religious order of cloistered monastics that branched off from the Cistercians. They follow the Rule of Saint Benedict and have communities of both monks and nuns that are known as Trappists and Trappistines, respectively. They are named after La Trappe Abbey, the monastery from which the movement and religious order originated. The movement first began with the reforms that Abbot Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé introduced in 1664, later leading to the creation of Trappist congregations, and eventually the formal constitution as a separate religious order in 1892.

Monk member of a monastic religious order

A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate his life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his or her life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.

Christian monasticism Christian devotional practice

Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek μοναχός, itself from μόνος meaning 'alone'.

Cenobitic monasticism

Cenobiticmonasticism is a monastic tradition that stresses community life. Often in the West the community belongs to a religious order, and the life of the cenobitic monk is regulated by a religious rule, a collection of precepts. The older style of monasticism, to live as a hermit, is called eremitic. A third form of monasticism, found primarily in Eastern Christianity, is the skete.

Rule of Saint Augustine

The Rule of Saint Augustine, written about the year 400, is a brief document divided into eight chapters and serves as an outline for religious life lived in community. It is the oldest monastic rule in the Western Church.

In Christian monasticism, an oblate is a person who is specifically dedicated to God or to God's service.

Saint Maurus first disciple of St. Benedict of Nursia

Saint Maurus, O.S.B., was the first disciple of Saint Benedict of Nursia (512–584). He is mentioned in Saint Gregory the Great's biography of the latter as the first oblate; offered to the monastery by his noble Roman parents as a young boy to be brought up in the monastic life.

The Cluniac Reforms were a series of changes within medieval monasticism of the Western Church focused on restoring the traditional monastic life, encouraging art, and caring for the poor. The movement began within the Benedictine order at Cluny Abbey, founded in 910 by William I, Duke of Aquitaine (875–918). The reforms were largely carried out by Saint Odo and spread throughout France, into England, and through much of Italy and Spain.

Saint Berno of Cluny or Berno of Baume was the first abbot of Cluny from its foundation in 909 until he died in 927. He began the tradition of the Cluniac reforms which his successors spread across Europe.

The Order of Saint Benedict is a loose affiliation of monastics of the Orthodox Church who strive to live according to the Rule of St Benedict. The "Order of Saint Benedict" is not an incorporated body. Orthodox Benedictines enjoy good relations with each other, which frequently cross jurisdictional boundaries. "Monastic Orders" are not found in Orthodoxy, so Orthodox Benedictines are often known as "Orthodox Community of Saint Benedict" OCSB-Ro where the "Ro" refers to their lineage from Saint Romould. Their Roman Catholic equivalents are OSB-Cam where the "Cam" refers to their Camaldolese lineage.

Degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism

The degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism are the stages an Eastern Orthodox monk or nun passes through in their religious vocation.

Eastern Christian monasticism developed for around a century and a half as a spontaneous religious movement, up to the time of the Council of Chalcedon, which took place in 451. At that Council, monasticism had become an acknowledged part of the life of the Christian Church, and it was specially legislated for.

Bernardine Cistercians of Esquermes

The Bernardine Cistercians of Esquermes are a small branch of the Cistercian Order. They follow the Rule of St Benedict, and co-operate with the apostolic mission of the Church through educational activities and hospitality. There are eight monasteries of nuns in six different countries, united by a central Government.

References

  1. Wright, James (1693). Monasticon Anglicanum, or, The history of the ancient abbies, and other monasteries, hospitals, cathedral and collegiate churches in England and Wales. With divers French, Irish, and Scotch monasteries formerly relating to England. Sam Keble.
  2. Kardong, T. (2001). Saint Benedict and the Twelfth-Century Reformation. Cistercian Studies Quarterly,36(3), 279.
  3. "abbot". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. Chambers, Mortimer (1974). The Western Experience. p. 188. ISBN   0-394-31733-5.
  5. "OSB. About the Rule of Saint Benedict by Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen OSB" . Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  6. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Rule of St. Benedict". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
  7. Zuidema, Jason (2012). "Understanding Decline and Renewal in the History of Life under Saint Benedict's Rule: Observations from Canada". Cistercian Studies Quarterly. 47: 456–469.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 Wikisource-logo.svg  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Rule of St. Benedict"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton.
  9. Kleymann, Birgit; Malloch, Hedley (2010). "The rule of Saint Benedict and corporate management: Employing the whole person". Journal of Global Responsibility. 1 (2): 207–224. doi:10.1108/20412561011079362.
  10. Hubbard, Elbert (1908). Little Journeys To the Homes of Great Teachers. p.  102.
  11. "Bible.org: Sermon Illustrations" . Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  12. "Sermon Illustrations" . Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  13. "The Benedictine Oblate Newsletter". Archived from the original on 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  14. "The Faculty Club Newsletter, October 2002". Archived from the original on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  15. "Work Is Prayer: Not! by Terrence Kardong from Assumption Abbey Newsletter (Richardton, ND 58652). Volume 23, Number 4 (October 1995)" . Retrieved 2010-07-07.
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