Glimpses into Benedict, his Rule, and Benedictine monasticism, from Columba Stewart


These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Columba Stewart, OSB, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998)

The whole Orbis Traditions series of which this book is a part is outstanding–short, affordable paperbacks that are meaty, wise, and quotable. And Stewart’s is the best of the series out of the 4 or 5 I’ve read so far. You will find here (1) a nutshell biography, (2) a lively exegesis of various sections of the Rule, and (3) succinct and penetrating observations on the distinctives of the Benedictine way: the lectio divina, the “work of God” (liturgy), silence, personal prayer, humility, obedience, and much else that I, at least, found illuminating.

Columba Stewart is a Benedictine monk of St John’s Abbey and teaches Monastic Studies at St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. My former student and t.a. Erica Olson, now a Ph.D. student at Fordham University in New York, took classes with Stewart and was impressed with both his knowledge and his warmth and humanity to everyone around him.

Not every characteristic of medieval Benedictine practice that Stewart describes would still be found in today’s Benedictine houses, although there’s a great deal of continuity. And Stewart does trace the changes over the centuries in each major area of practice. But because these notes were first prepared for my Bethel Seminary class “Medieval Wisdom for Modern Ministry,” I’m focusing here mostly on the medieval material.

Chapter 1: Understanding Benedict

Benedict wrote his rule as a revision and reduction (by 1/3 the length) of an older document by an early 6th-century Italian monk known only as “the Master.” Though relying heavily on this earlier document, Benedict’s Rule shows Benedict to be “both a skilful editor and original thinker”; for example, in the sections written by Benedict, “Augustine’s emphasis on charity shines through.” (19)

Biographical material on Benedict, 21-28. Snippets:

Gregory’s Dialogues the only source on Benedict.

The details are too many to go into. He was born around 480 or 490 “into a free family in the region of Nursia (now Norcia), north-east of Rome,” and “sent to study in Rome.” There, however, “this lad from the provinces was scandalized by the worldliness of life in the capital,” and responded by “renouncing his studies, family and inheritance ‘to please God alone’ in the monastic life.” (22)

“He found solitude nearby at Sublacus (modern Subiaco; the name refers to artificial lakes created by Nero, now destroyed). In this region of steep wooded hills and cold streams, Benedict found a small cave in which to lead the anchoritic life.” (23)

“That cave at Sublacus was B’s monastic crucible, in which he faced the usual temptations of flesh and spirit.” (23)

“Others recognized his holiness, and monks of a nearby monastery prevailed upon him to become their spiritual father. Still young and inexperienced, he played the role of zealot and enforcer in a community unprepared for change. It was a disaster. Gregory comments, ‘they found it hard to let go what [24] they had thought about with their old minds in order to ponder new things.’ Blaming one another for having nominated this fanatic to be their abbot, they finally agreed on one thing: to poison him.” (23-4)

“When the rebels proffered him the poisoned carafe, he made the sign of the cross in blessing and it shattered. Rising to take leave of the conspirators, he remarked upon the incompatibility between them, advising them to ‘go and look for a father according to your own tastes, because after this you cannot count on me’ (Dial. 2.3)” (24)

“Gregory . . . notes that B’s talents were wasted on such a hopeless situation. The reality was surely more painful and formative than Gregory allows. B was not the first cenobitic leader to have a disastrous first run. Pachomius, the Egyptian monk considered the originator of the cenobitic life . . . after months of misery . . . finally chased the first members of his monastery out the gate while brandishing an iron bolt.” (24)

Stewart points out that Benedict’s “compassionate remarks about the monastic superior in Chapter 64 of the Rule” no doubt came out of “the seasoning and wisdom of his own experience”—good and bad. (24-5)

“Benedict’s return to solitude was short-lived, for . . . he established around himself in the valley of Sublacus twelve monasteries of twelve monks each. Each monastery had a spiritual father, but some monks B kept near himself for special instruction.” (25)

“Benedict’s struggle against sin and temptation continued. As the Life of Antony reminds us [writes Stewart], the vividness of the Enemy’s attacks increases as one grows in virtue. Gregory claims that B reached the stage of direct combat with the ‘master of evil’ . . . and needed a change of venue for the struggle. Troubles with an envious neighbouring priest contributed to B’s desire to move on, which he did probably around 530. He chose the mountain top of Casinum, familiar to us as Monte Cassino, where a temple of Apollo stood in a sacred grove. B razed both temple and grove, built two oratories on the site, and began to preach to the local populace. It was the beginning of Benedictine pastoral outreach. The devil, Gregory tells us, could not bear such an incursion on his territory, and was reduced to plaintive appeals: ‘Oh cursed one, not blessed one: what business have you with me, why do you persecute me?’ (Dial. 2.8). The question, familiar from the Gospels, had also been addressed to Antony the Great by the devil, who had come to complain about the crowds of monks invading his territory in the desert (Life of Antony, ch. 41).” (25)

“The community B established exists to this day. . . . The great abbey on the hilltop, rebuilt after its destruction in WW II, gives us little idea of the modest complex B would have built using materials [26] from the razed temple.” (25-6)

Gregory relates a number of incidents in B’s life, including a number of purported miracles, that we don’t have time to get into here. Befitting a saint, B also had a remarkable death, which Stewart paraphrases from Gregory’s account:

“His death was marked by a vision granted to his disciples of a pathway rising to heaven strewn with carpets and ‘shining with innumerable lights’ (Dial. 2.37). The death itself, Gregory tells us, occurred din the oratory of the monastery. After receiving communion, he died standing with his arms lifted in prayer by the hands of his brothers.” (27) This is a fitting picture, says Stewart, of a monk who “had begun as a solitary and zealot” and “had become a thoroughly social monk.” “He died relying on his brothers’ strength for the prayer he could no longer offer alone.” Concludes Stewart, “The account rings true to what we find in the Rule.” (27)

So we’ll turn to Stewart on the Rule.

Stewart identifies “two fundamental insights” that he says “govern all that B writes of the monastic life.” These are, first, that “the divine presence is everywhere,” and second, that “Christ is to be met in other people.” (27-8)

From the first insight, that God is present everywhere, comes “B’s emphasis on listening and on lectio divina: these are ways of mindfulness, of attuning the spiritual senses to the divine presence.” (28)

“At times the stress falls on God’s mindfulness of us, for B tells us that God is watching us always and everywhere. But equally, he emphasizes the obligation to make oneself known to God, the superior and spiritual elders. The ideal is mutual awareness, not penal supervision.” This also points to another key theme, says Stewart: “The imperative of openness, of transparency before God and others,” which “links B to a central theme of the early monastic tradition.” (28)

Now, briefer notes:

“His Christology was ‘high.’ He speaks comfortably of Christ as God, and indeed never uses the name ‘Jesus.’ He had a robustly orthodox sixth-century understanding of a divine saviour.” (28)

“B’s utter faith in the divine Son of God casts into even sharper relief his insight that this divine Christ is to be found and even adored in other human beings. His incarnate presence was not limited to Jesus of Nazareth, but remains among us in the monastic superior, the sick, the guest, the poor: a list so inclusive as to signify Christ’s presence in all whom one meets. This is why in many monasteries the members process into the church in pairs, bow together to the altar, and then bow to one another in veneration of Christ.” (29—what a wonderful image!)

“The sick are served as Christ, according to Christ’s own command (Matt. 25:35-40). Similarly, guests are welcomed as Christ. . . . Humility is to be shown to guests in a bow or prostration, which for B were not merely formal gestures.” (29) In his chapter on humility, which Stewart calls “the very heart of his spiritual theology,” he depicts the monk as “standing with head bowed in total acknowledgement of sinfulness, as if already before Christ in judgement (RB 7.62-6).” This is a “picture of someone who no longer has anything to hide from the Lord.” (29)

So, Benedict had his monks give, as the first response to a guest who has come, not “can I help you?” but adoration of the Christ who has just arrived. And “B has the superior and community sing this verse after washing the feet of the guests: ‘We have received, O God, your mercy in the midst of your temple’ (Ps. 48:9). On the basis of this recognition, the practical needs of food, rest, and lodging can then be addressed.” (30)

Chapter 2: Ways of Prayer and Mindfulness

“The ‘divine work’ is the liturgy of the hours, and by extension, all prayer.” (31)

“Ancient nuns and monks were awash in biblical words and images. They read the bible assiduously, had it read to them daily, memorized huge chunks of it, sang it at the canonical hours of prayer, repated it with heart and mouth while working or travelling.” (31)

“The prayerful encounter with the Bible called lectio divina, ‘sacred reading,’ is the hallmark of Benedictine spirituality.” (32)

The Work of God

“The backbone of Benedictine prayer is the daily series of communal liturgical gatherings B calls the ‘Work of God.’ In the Rule he lays out a detailed pattern of eight such ‘offices’ per day. He expected his monks to rise early, while it was still night, for a comparatively long service of psalms and readings called Vigils. . . . In the long nights of winter there was time after the vigil office for study and prayer; in the summer the dawn office of Lauds (“lawds”) followed almost immediately. B provided for four brief offices scattered throughout the day (Prime, Terce [“terse”], Sext, None [rhymes with “bone”]), an evening office (Vespers) and a brief bedtime office (Compline [“COMP’-lin”]). It would seem that his monks spent between three-and-a-half and four hours per day in common prayer.” (32) [I found the pronunciations at http://www.fisheaters.com/hours.html.]

Benedict allowed flexibility on how this all would be implemented, but he did insist that a monastery should complete a full “cycle through the Psalter each week. (RB 18).” (33)

B also allowed for an interval of silent prayer after each psalm in the Liturgy of the Hours. This, he said, should be brief, to keep monks for nodding off during extended silences. (33)

“At the Work of God, B notes, we stand in the sight of God and the angels. This is always so, of course, bu is especially true at the Work of God, when there must be a special effort that ‘our minds are in harmony with our voices’ (RB 19.7). The theological implications of standing already in the heavenly choir would have impressed B’s early readers, who had a livelier sense than we do that Christian life is preparation for Heaven.” (33; emphasis mine; note this example of the medievals’ acute awareness of the brevity of our mortal lives compared to the length of eternity.)

This liturgy was being expanded by the early ninth century, at which time the Rule of Benedict was being imposed on the monasteries of Charlemagne’s empire. At that point, “numerous elements were added to B’s framework. Most significant . . . was the addition of a daily community Mass. The culmination of this process was the kind of elaborate liturgy associated most famously with the French abbey of Cluny. In such monasteries the choir monks or nuns would spend most of their time in church, leaving the manual work to lay brothers or sisters and to hired labour.” (34)

Then, “the Cistercian reform of the 12th century,” most famously involving Bernard of Clairvaux, worked to “reclaim the balance of prayer and manual work prescribed by the Rule.’ (34) Nonetheless, even the Cistercians “relied heavily on the work of both lay brothers and hired hands.” By that time, “B’s original model was gone for good,” such that “many monasteries in the late M.A. . . . neglect[ed] or even abandon[ed] the full round of daily offices.” (35)

Lectio Divina

“B expected his monks to spend up to three hours a day in lectio. Ancient reading was hard work, placing demands on both mind and body. It was done slowly and always vocalized, even if sotto voce. B knew that the monks of his monas-[37]tery would find lectio difficult, and he even delegated seniors to ensure that their brothers really were using the time allotted for lectio rather than for entertainment or gossip (RB 48.17-20). If worse came to worst, B conceded that the hopeless cases could be gien some work to do so that they would not distract others by their restlessness (RB 48.17-23). During the M.A., lectio was typically done in common, ‘so that seeing one another they could encourage one another.’” (37)

B saw lectio as “an opportunity for awareness of God’s presence.” He understood lectio “to include both ‘meditation’ and reading (RB 48.23). He meant not the imaginative meditation . . . found . . . in Jesuit spirituality, nor a mantra-based meditation, but the slow, prayerful recitation of biblical texts. This kind of meditation was linked to memorization and lectio time provided the opportunity to commit the Bible to heart for use throughout the day. . . . In B’s days monks and nuns would not have had the luxury of a personal psalter or prayer book; memorizing the psalms for liturgical purposes was a necessity rather than an example of spiritual athleticism. . . . A 14th-century Benedictine urged his readers to remember each evening’s common reading so that throughout the night, [38] whether desiring sleep or prayer, they would have something to ruminate lest the devil find them at loose ends.” (37-8)

Aside from the Bible, which was the obvious staple of Benedictine lectio divina, “at Vigils daily there were readings from early Christian commentaries on the Bible. The reading at meals may have included non-biblical works,” and “each night before Compline there was common spiritual reading which could include” the early Eastern monastic author John Cassian’s seminal book Conferences “or other monastic and theological literature (RB 42.3-7).” (38)

In all reading, “the focus was conversion of heart rather than intellectual curiosity, though mind and heart obviously have to work together in the project of monastic living.” (39)

More recently, Stewart notes (and this relates, I think, to the new monastic experimentations among Protestants) that a lot of books have been published on lectio, “many by non-monastic writers.” I know of one, for example, by the Twin Cities Emergent leader Tony Jones, written especially for young people. Sometimes, Stewart cautions, lectio is “presented as a method or technique of prayer” (what, Protestants write about something as a method or technique? Perish the thought!). But it is really, he says, “it is . . . a kind of anti-technique, a disposition more than a method. Therefore it is hard to describe or teach because it varies so much from person to person, shaped by temperament, individual needs and ways of thinking. Some people,” he writes, “read slowly but steadily. Others ponder a word or phrase for the whole time. Others sweep the pages, trawling [40] for morsels of nourishment. Much depends,” he adds,” on the text being read, for some books of the Bible are denser in spiritual content than others.” (39-40)

“Fidelity to lectio is a daily reminder that we cannot bypass the Word. Listening in lectio . . . deepens awareness of God’s presence everywhere. . . . Because lectio is a challenging discipline,” he adds,” it demands regularity and focus. B gave the best hours of the day (in the forenoon) to lectio. Most people find that they need to establish a set time each day given over to lectio in the common schedule. . . . The experience of most people is that lectio works best at the start of the day or at the end so that it does not have to compete for mental and emotional space with everything else. Having a regular place for lectio also helps to consecrate that part of the day. It is not surprising,” he concludes, “that time and place, the key elements of Benedictine stability, are the keys to lectio.(40)

Stewart offers some final directions on this practice. He says we need to distinguish lectio “from study directed toward a particular goal or accomplishment. Lectio,” he says, “does not rush toward a deadline or a product.” It is meant to be “a conversation with God about one’s life.” So, “to foster that conversation, some people [use] structured exercises of reflection on their reading or take notes. Others find lectio time valuable precisely because it is not structured. They find their lectio of the Bible flowing naturally into lectio of life or natural beauty.” Whatever the case, “Both skimming and speed-reading,” he says, “are antithetical to lectio divina.” (41) In the end, “the challenge . . . is keeping a mental grip on the biblical words heard or [42] read in the course of days flooded with other kinds of verbiage and imagery.” (41-2)

Benedictines and Learning

The stereotype of Benedictines as scholars bent on preserving and fostering learning is, says Stewart, “only partly accurate.” His monks did raise and educate children within the monastery, since some brothers joined very young. And “after his day intellectual work became increasingly prominent in monasteries.” Some of this was pragmatic, “Benedictines had to be taught how to read and what to read.” Many newcomers were illiterate, and “even the literate required guidance in biblical, spiritual and theological subjects.” This meant schooling in Latin grammar, in particular.

There was some ambivalence in Benedict, as in his sources, toward learning—especially pre-Christian classical literature. “Jerome’s nightmare in which he was accused before the judgement seat of God of being a Ciceronian rather than a Christian is the most vivid example of a tension found in many other monastic texts. None the less, the copying of manuscripts and the composition of original works of theology, biblical commentary or natural science developed naturally from B’s emphasis on lectio.” (42)

But “whatever form monastic writing of the Middle Ages took, whether discourse . . . poetic and dramatic . . . or visionary . . . it tended to stay close to the Bible and the liturgy, and to be concerned primarily with growth in the spiritual life.” (43) And in fact, “monastic theologians were often uneasy with the rise of the Schools [and the Scholastic theologians] in major cities during the 12th century. That different kind of theological exploration, more analytical and speculative, shifted the centre of gravity of Latin theology from lectio divina to academic disputation.” (43) Of course, there was overlap, and some monastic writers, like Anselm of Canterbury, contributed themselves to the development of scholasticism. “After the 12th century, however . . . the centrality of monastic theology to the western Church ended. Benedictines more and more found their way into the Schools. By the 14th c., both Benedictine and Cistercian male communities were even required to send a certain percentage of young monks off to houses of study at the major universities.” But, concludes Stewart, “it was never the case that most Benedictines were scholars.” What does keep coming out of monasteries, however, is “good spiritual theology, generally on a popular level.” He especially highlights the work of Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, Maria Boulding (whose vibrant translation of Augustine’s Confessions is well worth getting), and Joan Chittiser, among others. (44)

Eucharist

Surprisingly, “there is no explicit reference in B’s liturgical code (RB 2.8-20) to the celebration of the Eucharist. . . . Almost certainly there was not a daily celebration of the Eucharist in B’s monastery. His monks probably received communion daily from the reserved sacrament. . . . On Sundays they may have gone to the parish church . . . though B’s allowance of clerics in the monastery (RB [46] 60 and 62) suggests that the monks probably did have their own Sunday celebration.” (45-6)

What did increasingly happen after Benedict’s time was a sort of “entanglement” (Stewart’s word) of monastic and clerical life that eventually led to “the two-class system of choir monks and lay brothers which structured male monastic life from the M.A> until Vatican II.” Benedict opened the door for this by allowing, as the Master’s rule did not, priests to join the monastery (RB 60). He was nonetheless “wary of clerics because of possible challenges to the absolute authority of the abbot,” though he shows “great respect for the priesthood.” (46)

And over the course of time, “daily celebration of the Eucharist in monastic communities” became common. Some of these were “Masses for the dead and for various other intentions,” and some were “’private’ Masses . . . celebrated by each priest at the numerous side altars in the monastic church.” There’s no doubt that all of this created a “balance of Divine Office and Eucharistic liturgy . . . significantly different from that envis[ioned] by B.” (46)

Personal Prayer

“Whatever form of personal prayer Benedictines choose, it is always to be grounded in the reality of the self embraced by a merciful God.” Gregory’s account of B’s life suggest that through such prayer, he became “able to see the transfiguration of all things by the loving light of God.” (47)

B made room in the monastery’s “oratory” (the main room where the Divine Office was sung together) “for personal prayer, whether immediately following the common offices or at other times.” He insisted that “such prayer should be quiet (lest it disturb others), tearful and focused. (RB 52.4).” (47)

B also “mentions that his monks will pray for another, for those undertaking community tasks, for those in trouble, [and] for and with guests.” (48)

In short, “personal prayer and common prayer were different moments in the one great experience of communion with God. In his twelfth degree of humility (RB 7.62-6), B describes someone who has completely internalized the virtue of awareness of God. As if already standing before the judgement seat of God, such a person constantly says in the heart the prayer of the tax collector from Luke 18:13: ‘Lord, I am a sinner, not worthy to look up to heaven’” If you know the Eastern ‘Jesus prayer,’ you’ll immediately recognize the similarity: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (48)

“Whenever B wrote about the experience of prayer, he wrote about tears. . . . With growth in humility came ever-deeper awareness of one’s own sinfulness, as well as compassion and tears for the sins of other people. Such mindfulness meant deep feeling, and deep feeling meant tears. This was not overwrought pathos, for the tears of sorrow were mingled with tears of joy celebrating the forgiveness secured in Christ. A monastic Christian,” writes Stewart, “is like the Prodigal Son at the festive meal, keenly aware of failure and irresponsibility, overwhelmed by a love that not only receives back but celebrates the return.” (49)

B was not alone in this emphasis. Stewart notes that tears “pervade the early monastic literature. One great monk was said to have wept off his eyelashes. Tears were often described as the bread of the monastic life. . . . [In short,] Ancient people knew the therapeutic value of tears that modern science has rediscovered.” (49)

Silence

The short chapter on silence in Benedict’s Rule seems very harsh, but Stewart notes that his sharpest words about silence “apply when noise would have been most disruptive: during the (unamplified!) table reading in the refectory, at night, in the dormitory and oratory.” (50) But more than just avoiding annoyance in a setting in which potentially dozens of men were living out their entire lives within a relatively small space, there was another reason for Benedict’s sternness on the matter of silence. At a number of points in the Rule, it is clear that Benedict knows “uncontrolled speech is dangerous.” (51) Gossip and complaining eats away at community. And the more one talks, the more one is tempted to talk unproductively.

Chapter 3: Obedience and Humility

“For Benedict, as for the whole tradition before him, the key to monastic life was accountability to God and to other people.” (53)

“The best kind of self-awareness,” says Stewart, “the kind leading to deeper and deeper awareness of God, occurs in the company of others. For most people, to become truly individual before God requires immersion in the common life.” (54)

And this accountability, for Benedict, meant obedience. “As part of the very first sentence of the Rule, he writes: ‘by the labor of obedience you will return to the one from whom you retreated by the laziness of disobedience’ (RB Prol. 2) (54) Note, too, that Benedict not only starts but also closes his Rule with discussions of obedience.

Obedience requires listening. In fact, “the Latin word behind ‘obedience’ means ‘listening.’” And while “the fundamental conversation is that between each human person and God,” in which “the word is spoken through the Bible and in prayer,” monastic life expands that conversation. It is “based on the Christian recognition that God’s word to each of us can be mediated in human relationships as well, provided that they are grounded in attentive listening and prayer.” (54)

Though Benedict’s words on obedience may seem at times harsh and oppressive, in fact everyone, including the abbot, must be obedient. “All alike stand before God and under the authority of the Rule.” (55)

Moreover, Benedict’s teaching on obedience is thoroughly couched in language from and about Christ. “Five of the six scriptural quotations in B’s chapter ‘On Obedience’ (RB 5) are from the NT. The most important of them is John 6:38, which recurs in the chapter ‘On Humility’: ‘I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (RB 5.13, 7.32). By living in a monastery under a spiritual mother or father, Benedict claims, [monastics] imitate that obedience of Christ. . . . The disciple, like Christ, lays aside . . . self in order to be totally open to the word offered (RB 5.4,7,15).

To do obedience well, of course, “love must be the driving force, the kind of love that ‘holds Christ more precious than all else (RB 5.2,10). Without love, obedience is impossible: Christ, after all,” says Stewart, “was a beloved son, not a masochist. Given such love, obedience becomes natural.” (55)

Humility

“Benedict’s chapter on humility is the longest of the Rule and in many ways its heart.” Stewart notes, and this is true, that the “ladder” image doesn’t really work: there is really no evident progression among most of the steps, and a number of them are more qualities or aspects of monastic obedience than steps. What we really find here is that Benedict finds it “impossible to disentangle humility from obedience.” (56) In fact, Stewart finds the same problem in the threefold “Benedictine vow formula,” which uses three terms to describe the monastic life—conversatio morum, obedience, and stability—that all mean more or less the same thing. “Conversation morum,” by the way, means not “conversion,” as many people translate it, but simply “living the life of a monk.”

The “worm” language in the seventh step of humility is, as Stewart says, “wrenching for modern readers.” But here “the key, as so often in the Rule, lies in tracking the biblical quotations which follow: ‘I was exalted but now I am humbled and confused’ (Ps. 88:16, Latin) and ‘it is good that you have humbled me, so that I could learn your commandments’ (Ps. 119:71).” Stewart finds in these two verses “the entire trajectory of monastic compunction: from false sens of self (exalted) to painful self-recognition (helpless, confused), which is the only place where listening to God can happen (learning your commandments).” (57)

The language is certainly harsh, and could be misused by “those intent on oppression.” But at bottom, these exhortations of humility “promise freedom from the burden of creating and maintaining a (false) public image.” (58) I’d say these are wise words—and worth the price of the book, alone!

Mutual Obedience

“Benedict tempers the more exclusively hierarchical approach of his predecessors and opens the way for modern focus on monastic community.” In chapters 71-72 Benedict talks about the mutual rather than hierarchical obedience required of all monks, up to and including the abbot. Here we hear Benedict’s own voice, not an edited version of the Master’s rule. In these chapters, Benedict “levels the relationship completely.” In chapter 72, on “Good Zeal,” “obedience becomes fully mutual as the members of the community act with ‘most fervent love,’ vying to show their respect for one another, to bear one another’s weaknesses of mind and body, to be obedient to one another, to prefer to benefit others rather than oneself. The whole Rule, says Stewart, is epitomized in the chapter’s final words: ‘let them offer the love of brother or sister selflessly to one another. Let them fear God lovingly, love their superior with sincere and humble love, prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ: and may he bring us together to everlasting life’ (RB 72.8-12).” (59)

This section echoes things B has been saying all along. In chapter 3, he has said the abbot should make decisions in consultation with the whole community. In the chapter on sleeping arrangements, he “urges the monks to encourage one another to arise for the Work of God.” Throughout, he is convinced of “the presence of Christ in the other which drives service of the sick and the guest.” (59)

Stewart says much more about the ins and outs of Benedict’s Rule and the Benedictine life. But I wanted to give you a taste of the wisdom of Benedict, filtered through the wisdom of this modern Benedictine. There is something deeply human and psychologically astute about this Rule, for all of its “alien” qualities in the ears of modern readers.

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