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 secretary@stanbrookabbey.org.uk



Website Reflections January-May 2022

For this cycle we shall share some fruits of conversations three of us are involved in as part of the formation of two candidates for oblation. Postings will not attempt to cover the whole Rule and may not match the reading of the day but we hope may be of some interest. Do feel free to respond via the email secretary@stanbrookabbey.org.uk

The first reflection on ‘Structures and Institutions’ came about when one of us noticed that in the Prologue 45-46, where Benedict says he is going ‘to establish a school of the Lord’s service’ the vocabulary includes the word ‘institution’. This made us reflect on to what extent the Benedictine monastery is an institution and then to notice our responses to that word/concept.
One of us had a generally positive attitude to institutions, another was less enthusiastic, chary of fossilisation and quenching of the spirit, while a third took a middle path. After some discussion we have agreed the following and will be looking out as we read the Rule for places where Benedict seems to build in anti-fossilisation strategies.

 

Some thoughts on Structures/institutions, Letter/Spirit

Whether at a conscious level or not, many people are perhaps  attracted to the Benedictine life by the way it overcomes or resolves forms of duality as well as extremism – Patricia has mentioned ‘moderation’.

Unmistakably traditional – as any set up must be that has handed down its way of life over 1500 years, it remains nevertheless a radical/ progressive way of living the Gospel.
Founded before the major splits in Christendom between the East and the West and those later ones of the Protestant Reformation, the Rule’s context is more like the situation of the Early Church – which is not to say a bed of roses. For example there was still some disunity over the nature of Christ – was he human or divine? He is never called ‘Jesus’ in the Rule...
But we need to beware of projecting contemporary divides into the Rule.

The basic unity which is found in the Rule which pre-dates many of our contemporary divisions grows out of the deep inner unity at the level of the heart which it tries to inculcate and foster. So the way of life of the Rule (its ‘conversatio’) can be called ‘monastic’ when we take ‘monos’ to mean ‘one’, ‘unity’ rather than ‘alone’.

Maybe we need to try and unburden our hearts of the baggage around words like ‘institution’ and simplify our thinking back to basics. When Benedict uses the word in the Prologue he seems to be thinking of setting up structures which support the kind of Christian life he wants to build. Take silence for example. We can all agree that it’s a good and desirable thing but unless you have some sort of guidance in a group about how they are to safeguard silence, it will be eroded or disintegrate entirely.

There is, as Di has pointed out, always the danger of fossilisation when structures no longer serve the purpose for which they were set up. But Benedict makes allowance for this by giving the abbot and monks freedom and flexibility to adapt and change.

The vows he establishes as part of the Benedictine structure:
 stability – balanced by ‘conversatio’ with ‘obedience’/listening to help us discern when to change and when to maintain a tradition, are meant to ensure that the monastery operates as an integrated, incarnational body, neither all skeleton nor all amorphous spirit but a structure enlivened by the Holy Spirit. And in so far as the Rule itself is inspired by the Holy Spirit and full of scripture, the letter too is Spirit filled.
In our increasingly polarized world, Benedictines have the gift and task of trying to bring people together, to avoid taking up extreme positions (without being ‘wishy washy’) and to bring out the human values in every situation, and to do this more by example than preaching, though there’s a place for that as well.

S. Laurentia, Patricia and Di.
January 2022





 

 




 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 





The  abbot may select monks to become priests . They are subject to the same strictures concerning humility and ranking according to entrance date when not performing priestly duties as the newly admitted priests discussed in August 14th's 60th chapter  of the Rule. St. Benedict also specifies that priests must follow the portions of the Rule concerning the behavior of deans (chapter 21) and priors (chapter 65).  Priests who become too proud to do so will first be admonished and corrected by the abbot within the monastery, then referred to the diocesan bishop, and  finally expelled from the monastery.

These last few chapters reflect not only St Benedict's experience with monks, but the experience of many a workplace or other organization with disruptive people and people who let promotions or appointments to special roles go to their heads. May we be wise enough to deal effectively with people who fit those categories and humble enough to accept correction  when we start behaving badly. I know I've sometimes found that difficult.

 

 

 

 



 

 

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August 13th

St Benedict now turns to parents who offer their children to be brought up in the monastery. He is at pains to clarify that these children should be given no expectation of monies or property coming to them when they reach adulthood and are given the opportunity to decide whether to be professed as monks or not.



 

August 14th

If a priest enters the monastery, he's still subject to the Rule. He may celebrate Mass and pronounce blessings only with the abbot's permission. In other activities and business of the monastery, the priest's rank is determined by his date of entrance. However, in chapter 2 it was noted that the abbot may modify anyone's ranking according to his judgment of their worthiness of life.  The readings for August 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th contain further instructions on monastic ranking.