Tag Archives: Benedict’s Rule

The wisdom of Benedict: God in all, and Christ in the other

Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order

Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order

At this point in the draft of Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis, I move from general remarks about monasticism to a reflection on the specifically Benedictine form that has long dominated Western monasticism. This is a distillation of the wonderful work of Benedictine scholar Columba Stewart:

We need something like monasticism because community is necessary for growth

The overwhelmingly dominant form of coenobitic monasticism in the West after the 9th century was the Benedictine form. When we talk about Benedict of Nursia’s (480 – 534/7) Rule, my students are conflicted. He insists on rules and disciplines, actual obedience, humility – all those things we free, democratic, individualistic Americans find so difficult. Benedict structures his monastic rule in a communal way that builds on the relational wisdom of Antony, but feels constricting to us. “For Benedict, as for the whole tradition before him, the key to monastic life was accountability to God and to other people.”[1]

Why is he so insistent on a lifelong community commitment?

First, because we hear God through each other – and this requires not just attentiveness but obedience

Benedictine scholar Columba Stewart identifies two fundamental insights in the Rule: First, “the divine presence is everywhere,” and second, “Christ is to be met in other people.” I’d call these the sacramental and the communal principles.[2] “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.”[3] Continue reading

Is everyday work spiritually second-class? Not according to these Christian thinkers

Refocused Vocation

Thanks to Leadership Journal for asking me to write the following. It’s now up at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/

Refocused Vocation

Over the centuries, it’s been distorted, but history also sharpens our view of every Christian’s calling.

Chris R. Armstrong

In the first history class of each new year at Bethel Seminary, I have my students talk about their sense of calling. Many of them tell a similar story: “I quit my job to go into the ministry.” What drove them to this decision was a sense of frustration and meaninglessness in their daily work. They didn’t see their workas pleasing to God or useful in the kingdom. The frequent assumption is that ordained ministry is where people are really working for God.

If that’s true, where does that leave the vast majority of Christians, who by the end of their lives will each have spent an average of 100,000 hours in non-church work? Can they see secular jobs as a holy vocation? Can non-church work be a means to serve others, giving cups of water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (Mt. 25)—which (for example) parents do every month, whether through a paycheck or in the work they do in the home? Those in secular work often feel like only those doing things of significance in ministry positions will get to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This sense that ordinary work is spiritually second-class isn’t so much taught as caught. Continue reading

Monastic habits for non-monastics–Glimpses from Dennis Okholm

Cover of "Monk Habits for Everyday People...

A fascinating modern exploration of Benedictine ways

The following are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007). Along with works by Kathleen Norris, Phyllis Tickle, Leighton Ford, Karen E. Sloan, Tony Jones, and a growing group of other Protestant authors, Okholm’s book explores medieval monasticism–especially the Benedictine tradition. The forward is by Kathleen Norris.

As with the David Bell and Jaroslav Pelikan “glimpses” and the glimpses of Benedict and Francis by Columba Stewart, William Short, G. K. Chesterton, and Mark Galli, I thank my t.a., Shane Moe, who transcribed these and inserted  brief contextual tags where helpful. Page numbers are at the beginning of each excerpt. The designation “Q” means I wanted to save the text as a quotation, for use in teaching and writing. D means the definition of a term. “U” means I want to use an idea or statement in my teaching:

Q, 9 (from Kathleen Norris’s forward to the book, on Ockholm’s discussion of Protestants being attracted to monasteries): “He demonstrates that it is not just another case of Americans shopping around for their spirituality, but a genuine reclaiming of the taproot of Christianity, a reconnecting with a religious tradition and way of life that predates all of the schisms in Christendom.” Continue reading

Society sacralized from Rome’s fall to Charlemagne (400 – 800 A.D.)–glimpses from Bernard McGinn

Map of territorial boundaries ca. 450 AD

Image via Wikipedia

What follows are some acute observations on the Christian landscape of the early Middle Ages from Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1994). For those interested in the monastic culture of the Middle Ages or the ins and outs of medieval spirituality, this is a wonderful text. McGinn has solidly mastered all that he writes about, and he communicates it in terms understandable to the nonspecialist reader.

The notes that follow are taken from Chapter 1, “The Making of Christendom.” Each note begins with the page number.

17        “The changes in Christian spirituality between 400 and 800 are especially significant for understanding the development of medieval Latin mysticism. No one disputes that these centuries saw the end of ancient Christianity, tied to the world of the late Roman city, and the birth of early medieval Christianity, more often than not rural and monastic in character. . . .” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Medieval monasteries in the history of hospitals

It’s often the “just-right source” that opens up a topic for me, and as I teach it, for my students. In the Resources for Radical Living course, I will be profiling the history of Christian practices of medical healing (that is, not including “faith healing”). An excellent source on this topic just came to me via the wonderful almighty inter-library loan system (thank you Mark Nygaard in the Bethel Seminary library), and I’d like to share a bit of it with y’all. [For more of the story beyond what follows, see here and here.

Guenter B. Risse of the Department of the History of Health Sciences, UC San Francisco, provides fascinating insights into the many stages of medical practice within Christian communities from the earliest years of the church onward in his compendious book Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (Oxford University Press, 1999).

To take just one example: I have seen it said in a number of places that the hospital was a medieval Christian invention. What follows are some excerpts from Risse on health care within medieval monasteries, from chapter 2: “Christian hospitality.” “Invention” is likely too strong a word to use of medieval developments in care of the sick–the Cappadocian father Basil the Great (330 – 379) was setting up something like ancient hospitals in Caesarea to address famine and disease in that city, and there were earlier pagan models that bore some resemblance to what later became hospitals. However, we can see from early on in Benedictine monasteries many of the rudiments of modern hospitals:

“From the start, providing hospitality and healing the sick became key responsibilities of European monasteries, reflective of both the inward and worldly missions they had assumed. As in the East, early Christian welfare in Europe targeted voluntary and structural paupers—there were few distinctions between them—as well as pilgrims. Continue reading