To be read: January 10, May 10, September 10
The Abbot who is worthy to be over a monastery, ought always to be mindful of what he is called, and make his works conform to his name of Superior. 2For he is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, since he is called by a title of Christ, 3according to the saying of the Apostle: “You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba (Father)”(Rom 8:15). 4Therefore, the Abbot should never teach, prescribe, or command anything contrary to the instruction of the Lord. 5His commands and teaching should be instilled like a leaven of divine justice into the minds of his disciples. 6Let the Abbot always bear in mind that he must give an account in the dread judgment of God of both his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. 7And let the Abbot know that whatever lack of profit the master of the house shall find in the sheep, will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. 8On the other hand he will be blameless, if he gave all a shepherd’s care to his restless and unruly flock, and took all pains to correct their corrupt manners 9so that their shepherd, acquitted at the Lord’s judgment seat, may say to the Lord with the Prophet: “I have not hid Thy justice within my heart. I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation” (Ps 39:11). “But they have despised and rebelled against me”(Is 1:2; Ezek 20:27). 10Then, at length, eternal death will be the crushing doom of the rebellious sheep under his charge.
We now begin an extended look at the qualities of an abbot. We do not live in a monastery. We are not subject to the rule of an abbot. How is this relevant to those of us living outside the cloister? St. Paul tells us through his first letter to Corinth, “you have countless guides in Christ, [but] you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (4:15). We all have people to whom we are called to submit in the Church, men who have become our fathers in Christ through the Gospel. These men have become our abba, and Benedict gives us guidance in how to relate to them.
For those of us who are in positions of authority, it would behoove us to listen carefully to the cautions of our father Benedict regarding the execution of the office of abbot. For, the abbot is “always to be mindful of what he is called…” and “Let the Abbot always bear in mind that he must give an account in the dread judgment of God of both his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples.” The ones placed in responsible and authoritative positions within the Church answer for themselves and for those over whom they exercise that authority. In light of this it is important that we accord respect and obedience to those in authority over us in the Church, for they carry the title of Father not by their own worth but by the calling and worthiness of Christ. As Paul tells Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching…” (1Tim. 5:17).
This then, is a two-way street. The abbot is responsible for the flock, and the disciples are responsible to carry out obedience to the father. And though the father is responsible for his flock, “he will be blameless, if he gave all a shepherd’s care to his restless and unruly flock, and took all pains to correct their corrupt manners.” Ultimately, we will all answer for our work. Were we rebellious or obedient to the authority placed over us? Those in authority in the Church not only need our obedience, they need our prayers and support. Their task is one that requires faithfulness and care. They need our love and the love of God.