The Rule of St. Benedict

Books of the rule of Saint BenedictBefore I had read the Rule of St. Benedict, I had developed and implemented a rule of life. Years ago I became an Associate with the Order of Holy Cross, which is Benedictine in nature. My rule was fairly simple entailing daily bible reading, prayer, study, church attendance, retreats and fasting.

The biggest impact on my life has been the daily bible reading. Over the years, as I read the same passages over and over again, they seemed to hold different messages. As I assimilated this information and perspective into my world view, my opinions on a variety of topics became more focused. The basic impact was that I grew more tolerant and progressive.

But how was I becoming more liberal when I was leading a more deeply religious life? On a trip through North Dakota I was fortunate enough to stop at Assumption Abbey where I bought a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict. The societal context of 600 years ago is quite different than it is today. But the overall focus remains the same.

Some of Benedict’s rules, while not unheard of, were certainly more progressive and egalitarian than I would have suspected. Then there are the other rules that, like corporal punishment for children, that seem quaint at best and barbaric at worst. Of course, St. Benedict was also the target of assassination attempts from monks that just could not take him.

However, the overall theme is one of prayer, study, work and centering; always being focused on God. I gravitate towards the Benedictine way of life. My challenge is to reconcile the Benedictine rule, the Bible, modern society and a perspective of God that is more expansive and limitless than most people’s view.

You just have to laugh at life: past, present and future. Hence, various quotes from  The Rule of St. Benedict that I have put into tweets. Some of the quotes, modified for brevity at times, have also been appended with my own little comments. Sometimes when you find the absurdity of an idea, it is like finding a little window into your own soul.

A man born free is not to given a higher rank than a slave who becomes a monk. St. Benedict
You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. St. Benedict
Rid your heart of all deceit. St. Benedict
Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love. St. Benedict
If people curse you, do not curse them back, but bless them instead. St. Benedict.
Be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge. St. Benedict
Prefer moderation in speech and speak no foolish chatter. St. Benedict
Do not love quarelling, shun ingnorance. St. Benedict
So important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted. St. Benedict
Monks should remove their knives lest they accidently cut themselves in their sleep. St. Benedict
The younger brothers should not sleep next to one another, but interspersed among the seniors. St. Benedict
On arising, they will quietly encourage one another, for the sleepy like to make excuses. St. Benedict.
If, however, anyone is caught grumbling, let him undergo more severe discipline. St. Benedict
Care of the sick must rank above and before all else. St. Benedict
The sick who are weak may eat meat, but when health improves, they should abstain from meat as usual. St. Benedict
Let there be complete silence. No Whispering, no speaking-only the readers voice should be heard. St. Benedict
Brothers will read and sing according to their ability to benefit the hearers. St. Benedict
A generous pound of bread is enough for a day whether for on one meal or for both dinner and supper. St. Benedict
Above all over indulgence is avoided, lest a monk experience indigestion. St. Benedict
Let everyone abstain entirely from eating the meat of four footed animals. St. Benedict
We believe that half bottle of wine a day is sufficient for each. St. Benedict
Since monks can’t be convinced not to drink wine, let us at least agree to drink moderately. St. Benedict
Idleness is the enemy of the soul. St. Benedict
When they live by the labor  of their hands, they they are really monks. St. Benedict
The of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. St. Benedict
All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. St. Benedict
Monks must not complain about the color or coarseness of clothing, but use what is available in the vicinity. St. Benedict
For bedding the monks will need a mat, woolen blanket and light covering as well as a pillow. St. Benedict
A monk discovered with anything not given him by the Abbot must be subjected to very severe punishment. St. Benedict
The evil of avarice must have no part in establishing prices. St. Benedict
If any ordained priest asks to be received into the monastery, do not agree too quickly. St. Benedict
The monks keep keep rank in the monastery according to the date of their entry, regardless of age. St. Benedict
Absolutely no where shall age automatically determine rank in a monastery. St. Benedict
Some priors, usurp tyrannical power and foster contention and discord in their communities. St. Benedict
At the door of the monastery, place a sensible old man who knows how to take a message. St. Benedict
At the door of the monastery.. place a sensible old man whose age keeps him from roaming about. St. Benedict
  • Skippy

    G’day Kevin,
    I was in primary school at a time when nuns were allowed to hit students. I always thought this was ok. You knew the rules of the school, & if you broke them you were punished (hit with a feather-duster). Just like in society, if you break the law, you get fined or go to jail. It all made sence and order out of a chaotic world. Years later, after lengthy study in psychology, I found out how very dangerous it was to the mental health of children, which changed my mind about the corporal punishment completely. The nuns at my school followed St. Benedict’s rule of punishment, much to the fear of every student. I was one of their “targets”. While the boys always got hit on both hands, while the girls were lucky enough to get away with just one awful stinging hand. At a time when I was fine with it all, there were two instances which crossed the line to abuse. One wasn’t even from a nun. My thoughts now, even years after becoming friends with the principal, is this: I highly disagree with St. Benedict, & don’t know how this man who was so gung-ho on punishment ever became a saint. Those nuns “chose” to enter an order where St. Ben’s punishment ruled. The children of my school did not choose, nor were we ever told about him. Although I still have fond memories of those days (minus the punishment) those nuns had absolutely no right to practice St. Bens rules on anyone, let alone children. Why they followed a man’s rule of punishment, when they could have followed Christ’s rules of love & mercy is beyond me. When Jesus was on earth, He said: “Let the children come to me”. Somehow, I don’t think he was holding a feather-duster. Gerri

    • Kevin Knauss

      While this is no defense of corporal punishment centuries after St. Benedict wrote about it, but from reading the history of the time, there were some unruly characters that were admitted as novices to the order.

      We are talking about men who were illiterate and learned to survive by taking from those who were weaker than themselves. This probably was the social norm in many communities were skirmishes and wars were as commonplace as reality TV shows are today.

      I suspect St. Benedict felt it was better to inflict punishment to save the soul than to allow transgressions to pass and ultimately disrupt the whole community. However, there is no excuse for a literal application of behavioral modification commonplace in 4th century with children or adults in the 20th or 21st century.