Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction
(please scroll down for daily reflections)

We wanted the Rule of St Benedict (RB) to pulse through the website as it does through our life, hence the decision that the daily portion of the Rule, read in most Benedictine monasteries and by many individuals, should feature on the Home Page. The version selected is that of Dom Justin McCann of Ampleforth published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1937 and used by kind permission of the Ampleforth Abbey Trust. There are several reasons for this choice: first of all, we feel it still reads as an elegant translation, then we wish to celebrate cooperation between the Ampleforth and Stanbrook communities over many years, and thirdly, perhaps the old-fashioned ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ can actually help us approach the Rule of St Benedict thoughtfully. For all its relevance, RB remains an ancient text which needs careful ‘unpacking’.

To accompany the extracts of the Rule we hope to post regular reflections, from members of the Stanbrook Community and Stanbrook Oblates. These do not aim to be scholarly commentaries of which there are many excellent editions available. Rather, the reflections allow us to re-visit the Rule, to try to listen to its familiar voice anew, and to share thoughts via this forum.

Your comments are welcome via

Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37

The daily reflections for September are by Lorraine Canning (please scroll down)
There will be a weekly reflection from Sr Laurentia

Reflection on RB 4: The Tools for Good Works

I always feel a sense of relief when reading the start of this chapter in the Rule as it’s a reminder that ‘all’ we have to do to be committed disciples of Jesus is to love God and our neighbour. Of course, that is a very tall order and a challenge which lasts a life-time but we do not have to rely on our own resources. St John reminds us that God loved us first (I John 4:10), and it is with that love poured int our hearts – which we can also call the Holy Spirit – that we love God and neighbour. The final ‘tool’ – never to give up on God’s mercy – is a great encouragement.

It can be helpful, then, to see the long litany of ‘tools’ in this chapter as examples of the myriad ways we can practise that love throughout the days, weeks and months of our lives, rather than as seventy-odd other things we have to master!

Abbess Laurentia McLachlan (1866-1953) used to say that people tend to complicate the spiritual life, when in fact it involves simply trying to love God all day long. When we love someone we generally don’t need a whole complex programme of what to do, when and how. Rather, the love is the ground, or seed-bed, from which many good actions spring up.

‘The Way of Benedict: Eight Blessings for Lent’ by Laurentia Johns OSB is due to be published by SPCK on 19 December 2019.

15th September

Above all, St Benedict urges his abbots always to keep in mind the responsibility which they hold for others’ souls.  Yes, it is imperative for them to help others amend in the ways that have been described but it may be that this is an invaluable exercise too in cleansing themselves of their own faults.  However, they do have to remember to do so with good grace, always seeking God’s ways, and in the knowledge that on the Day of Judgement an abbot will have to give account of all the souls committed to him. 


What a fine example for all of us to emulate today, whether we are parents, grandparents, supervisors, managers, directors, owners or whoever.  Even when we’re responsible for just the physical and emotional needs of others, let alone spiritual; if only we could keep more in mind that others’ choices reflect, to some extent, our own interaction with them, then we may be able, slowly and quietly, to influence a society that currently feels quite fraught, fractured and in need of healing.


16th September – Chapter 3

Having learnt something of the qualities expected of a man chosen to be abbot, it is worth noting (in both translations that I’m currently following) that St Benedict describes him as ruling over his monastery.  Within that community, the Abbot holds responsibility and exercises authority, and yet St Benedict hopes that he will do so with both prudence and justice.


If there is a particularly important issue to discuss then he must call the entire community together in a process of consultation.  Yes, it is true that the abbot is responsible, at the end of the day, for decisions made; yet, he’s strongly advised to listen to all those around him.  For it is known that a clearer course of action can often be revealed to the younger, or newer, members of a community rather than those whose lives have been immersed in the same place for a long period of time.


The brethren, on their part, are being asked to be humbly respectful in the ensuing discussions and not prone to obstinacy.  By giving the abbot authority and allowing a mechanism for all voices to be heard it is hoped that once the abbot’s judgement is made then all will obey.  Again, something for us as laity to contemplate; in how we’re involved in the decision-making situations of our lives.


17th September

In this way everyone, abbot and disciples, will follow the Rule as master, rather than their own hearts.  Once again, the abbot is reminded that at the end of time he will have to give an account of his judgements to God whilst the monks are warned against insolent disagreement, either inside the community or outside the monastery, else they will undergo discipline following the same Rule.


If, on the other hand, the business to be conducted is of lesser importance then St Benedict suggests that the advice of seniors alone would be sufficient.  There is nothing new in considering the wisdom in seeking others views and opinions on a subject.  For it was back in ~200BCE the Book of Ecclesiasticus stated that you would not regret it if you did all things with counsel.  In this way, St Benedict reveals, time and again, a perceptive quality of understanding, both of individual human nature and then man’s communicative interaction with others.  It would appear that he’s hoping to arrange things, at all times, with harmony and respect.


18th September – Chapter 4

For four days now St Benedict will declare, in short expressions, how we as Christians should strive to live, which I’ve always found to be a good starting point in examining my own conscience.  I never seem to get very far though, before being drawn up short, and feel that 76 Tools of Good Works are more than enough to last a lifetime.


The first nine tools essentially deal with the Ten Commandments but it is interesting that Benedict does not include honouring your father and mother.  I wonder whether in renouncing life, in order to follow Christ, that a detachment takes place in a monastic’s life thus giving rise to a different set of relationships?


Three tools then follow which deal with bodily discipline before the Corporal Works of Mercy are outlined and finally two tools which remind us that God’s Wisdom does not necessarily equate with the Wisdom of the World.  For many unbelievers, or even those struggling to accept certain tenets of our Faith if they have not been well grounded, are often unable to see or understand exactly what is being taught. It may be that a misunderstanding of language, due to a lack of knowledge or experience, may lie at the heart of much of the malaise within our current society. 


An imprint of God is placed upon each soul at Baptism but if that small gift of Faith is not nurtured and an understanding developed, both in terms of comprehension and actions, then those individuals find it hard to recognise and interpret God’s presence among us.  In the same way,  those outside of our Church, but who are of a spiritual disposition, may be able to tune-in to the Creative nature of our Universe whilst still struggling to accept and describe that experience in the ecclesiastical terminology that we are more used to.  I, therefore, wonder what the right balance is between maintaining the language of our beliefs and adapting it, without dumbing down, in order to engage pastorally a wider audience?


19th September

Today, St Benedict presents us with 22 additional Tools of Good Works which provide practical advice for a robust spiritual life lived out via our actions.  Fifteen of the tools are precautions; written negatively and beginning with the word Not.  The other seven, interspersed throughout, more positively encourage us in ways of behaviour that display our Christian love for our fellow man.  In the words of Bishop Robert Barron, love is about willing the good of the other and these tools help us to consider the other and how we may approach our interaction with them. 


Verse 41 simply states the importance of placing our hope in God which is where difficulties can arise in comparing a religious setting with a secular one.  This is not easy to do but whatever is meant to be will be and once we have tried, then things need to be left to run their course.  Any good within ourselves must be acknowledged as gifts from God but evil is something that everyone is capable of, at certain times in their lives, and this must be acknowledged too.  In reality, many of us want to serve God but need first to rid ourselves of sin before we can truly and freely love others unconditionally.  Once again, conversion and turning to love God more deeply is a lifetime’s work.


20th September

It strikes me that the third section of the Tools of Good Works deals more directly with spiritual issues than either of the first two.  Accepting our own mortality and remembering that one day we shall be Judged, should help to guard our actions on a daily basis.  The desire for everlasting life should be sufficient incentive to help us amend our ways, for God sees all anyway.


St Benedict, therefore, instructs us to hold our thoughts and speech up against the light of Christ; he is our guide and can be encountered in both holy reading and prayer.  Perhaps, for myself, I could begin by discarding all those things that do separate from Christ.


21st September

And finally, we come to hear how the tools of the spiritual craft are exercised in the workshop of the monastery, and the stability of community life.  Benedict provides twelve supplementary instruments that underpin all Christian life but poignantly hold greater sway within the enclosure.  The impetus for our efforts, therefore, lies in the hope that one day we may be able to give account of ourselves and be rewarded as our Lord has promised.


Lorraine Canning