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

Sept-Dec. there will be a weekly reflection from Sr Laurentia. Please scroll down.

Reflection on RB 31:10 (written for the website)
‘Let all the goods and tools of the monastery be regarded as sacred altar vessels’

If chapter 30 of the Rule, on reproving boys, is obsolete, the same cannot be said of chapter 31. Benedict’s admonition to the cellarer (RB 31:10) that all the goods and tools of the monastery should be regarded as sacred altar vessels is highly pertinent for us today faced with the urgent need to take better care of our planet.

This verse prompts reflection not only on how we relate to material objects but also on the relationship of the ‘sacred’ to the ‘profane’ This latter word is derived from the Latin, ‘pro’ and ‘fanum’ which in the culture of ancient Rome referred to things/activities which took place outside or in front of (pro) the temple (fanum).

‘When God will be all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28)

The Book of Zechariah gives a wonderful image of how things will be at the end of time when, as St Paul would write much later to the Corinthians, the Son of God’s mission will be complete and ‘God will be all in all’. As part of Zechariah’s prophesy concerning the Day of the Lord at the end of time we read that the bell of every war-horse will be inscribed ‘Holy to the Lord’ and that the pots in the house of the Lord shall be like bowls before the altar, while ‘every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts’ (Zech 14: 20-21).

We cannot be sure whether Benedict drew on an earlier source for his RB 31:10 (similar phrases appear in St Basil, and St John Cassian) but he would surely have been familiar with this passage from Zechariah which envisages an end of the separation of ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ as a characteristic of the new Jerusalem. This is developed more fully in the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament where, remember, there is no temple at all, for ‘its temple was the sovereign Lord God and the Lamb’ (Rev. 21:22).

The Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, foretold by the prophets, transforms humanity’s relationship with all creation. By entering our material world and taking on our flesh, the Eternal Word restored the harmony of pre-fall Eden where there was no temple either.

So why do we still need churches, chapels, and sacred places? As fragile humans, we are not yet fully in the heavenly state. It is so easy when ‘everything is holy’ for us to act as if nothing were holy, so we still need special places set apart that help us cultivate the sense of the transcendent which pervades all of God’s creation, which was made ‘good’ (Gen. 1: 4 ff.)

Worshipping idols
Of course, as well as acting irreverently towards creation, humans can also fall prey to the opposite tendency of idolatry, worshipping created matter (or nature – ‘pantheism’) rather than the God who created the cosmos. This struggle was at the heart of the iconoclastic controversy of the 8-9th centuries. It began in 726 when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered the destruction throughout the empire of all religious images and icons, it seems in response to allegations that veneration of these was idolatrous. Sacred art was virtually banned for the best part of a century until iconoclasm was finally rejected as official imperial policy in 843. To celebrate the re-instatement of the veneration of icons the Eastern Church instituted a feast, ‘The Triumph of Orthodoxy’ (‘orthodoxy’ meaning ‘right teaching’ ) which is still kept on the first Sunday of Lent in Eastern Churches.

Instrumental in bringing about this reversal of official policy was another monk – St John Damascene –  who, in his three treatises ‘On the Divine Images’, spells out in detail how the Incarnation changes our relationship to matter.
‘I shall not cease to venerate matter,’ he wrote, ‘since through matter my salvation was accomplished,’ (On the Divine Images, 1. 16.)

Damascene also distinguished clearly between the ‘veneration’ (proskynesis, literally a ‘bowing down’) humans show towards material objects: icons, altars or statues, on account of what they symbolize, and the ‘worship’ (latreia) which is due to God alone. I sometimes wonder what a Martian, uninstructed in these finer points, might make of our bowing before stone altars today. Would they think we were worshipping some stone god? Of course, for us the altar is a symbol of Christ who in the Eucharist is victim, priest and sacrifice.
What would those same Martians think if they saw us communing so often and so intimately with our phones, carrying them around with care and speaking to them?!

St Benedict prescribes deep bows in honour of the Blessed Trinity (RB 9:7) but also wants the monks to bow to guests (RB 53: 7) in recognition that Christ is welcomed in them. And we have seen his approach to material objects in RB 31:10, that they should be shown the same reverence as sacred altar vessels.

So in these middle chapters of the Rule of Benedict we are offered a balanced, right ordered approach to life which recognizes and gives honour to God, our neighbour and material creation appropriately.
©Stanbrook Abbey

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