Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with the help of Christ, keep this little rule written for beginners. (Rule of Saint Benedict 73:8)
The culture of the 21st century is not much different from that which Saint Benedict experienced in A.D. 500. As a young man he had traveled to Rome for his education. The barbarians had overrun Rome just a quarter century before. Young Benedict could not withstand the moral depravity of the culture and he fled. At first he tried becoming a hermit, but many young men heard of him and pursued him for mentoring. Eventually, Benedict accepted that living in community was a preferable approach for sustaining a Christian lifestyle. He began to gather some of these young men around him, and over time he produced his rule for Christian community: The Rule of Saint Benedict.
For 1500 years this “little rule for beginners” (RB 73:8) has been a guide to assist those who hasten toward Christ. It is not a substitute for the Gospel: it is practical guidance for living the Gospel in Christian community. Whenever the Church has practiced the discipline of monastic spirituality, the Church has flourished. When monasticism has waned, so has the spiritual discipline of the Church, and both Church and society have suffered. At its core the Rule of Saint Benedict is a guide in the art of Christian living for those who follow it. People throughout history have pursued the Rule of Saint Benedict in hard times for the same reason that the young men of the 6th century sought out Benedict himself. These people have seen that the way of life presented in the Rule provides guidance for embracing the truth of the Gospel, and in that they find hope in dark times.
But what does the Rule of Saint Benedict actually say? How can the precepts of this ancient Rule be applied to life in the 21st century? You may say, I don’t live in a monastery or nunnery, how is a rule for monks relevant to someone living in secular society? These are questions that the meditations which follow will seek to answer.
In the Fellowship of Saint Benedict we follow a four-month rotation of daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict. Following this schedule we read through the Rule three times a year, thus fulfilling Benedict’s exhortation that the Rule “be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.” (RB 66:8) In the meditations which follow I will post the section of the Rule appointed for that day* and offer a brief meditation. This is not an academic examination of the Rule; it is a reflection on Benedict’s instruction to anyone “hastening toward our heavenly home.” For a more instructional examination of the Rule, I would refer you to a previous set of meditations which took a more critical look at the Rule. You can find those writings at https://www.cotres.org/fsb-meditations. There are also numerous books and articles on line offering detailed examination of the Rule which you might find helpful. In contrast, these meditations target how we may best apply the Rule of St. Benedict to our lives lived in the secular world.
Saint Benedict declares in the Prologue of the Rule that he is establishing a “school for the Lord’s service” (v. 45). So, let us go to school together to learn from the founder of western monasticism. This is divine instruction that has 1500 years of experience behind it. Though we may not live in a monastery, we can still practice this monastic spirituality, albeit in a new way, bringing from the storehouse what is old and what is new (Matthew 13:52).
If you would like more information about the Fellowship of Saint Benedict, please visit our web site at http://www.cotres.org/fsb.
* The version of the Rule of St. Benedict in these meditations is my own paraphrase. As I do not know Latin and could not translate the original, I compared four translations of the Rule and conflated them, giving what I hope is the clearest sense of Benedict’s intent in the Rule.