Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 2:16-22

To be read: January 12, May 12, September 12

Let the abbot make no distinction of persons in the monastery. 17Let him not love one more than another, unless it be one whom he finds more exemplary in good works and obedience. 18Let not a free-born man be given higher place to one born a slave, unless there be some other reasonable cause. 19But if for a just reason the Abbot deems it proper to make such a distinction, he may do so in regard to the rank of anyone whomsoever; otherwise let everyone keep his own place; 20for “whether bond or free, we are all one in Christ”(cf Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8), and we all bear an equal burden of servitude under one Lord, “for God shows no partiality among persons”(Rom 2:11). 21We are distinguished with the abbot in this respect alone, if we are found to excel others in good works and in humility. 22Therefore, let the abbot show equal charity for all, and impose a uniform discipline for all according to merit. 

In verse 20 of this chapter, the RB1980 translation reads that we all “share alike in bearing arms.”  That was perplexing to me the first time I read it, because to “bear arms” in America has a much different meaning than what I believe Benedict intended here.  The Verheyen translation (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/benedict/rule.html) is a bit clearer, and that helped make sense of this verse and the entire short passage quoted above.  That translation reads, “and we all bear an equal burden of servitude.”  Benedict is talking about treating all people with equal respect.

“God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:11), and neither should the abbot.  And by extension, if we are to be like Christ, and re-present Him to the Church and world, then we must also refrain from showing partiality.  We need to treat all people equally.  The abbot is commanded to “make no distinction of persons…”  There are, however, exceptions.  If one person shows greater diligence “in good works and humility” he may be “distinguished with the abbot…”  And the abbot may find one “more exemplary in good works and obedience.”  But this is a practical consideration for the good of the community.  Benedict was not promoting the sin of favoritism.

Under no circumstances is the abbot, nor are we in the modern parish, to show partiality to one person over another because of “rank” in the secular world.  Rich and poor, white and black, male or female, all are to be welcomed equally.  St. Benedict quotes the last half of Galatians 3:28, but the first half of that verse is instructional to this theme: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female…”  We are to receive anyone who comes through the door of the Church as Christ Himself, showing no partiality.  This, however, can be problematic if it becomes obvious that the individual is walking in sin.  We accept the person, but not the sinful behavior.  So, just as the abbot is to “show equal charity for all, and impose a uniform discipline for all…” we are not to tolerate sinful behavior, and neither can we complain when we are shown discipline for our faults.

We are not cloistered saints.  Nevertheless, the teaching of this portion of the Rule has much to say to us about living in community.  We are all part of the Body of Christ, and that requires us to learn to love the unlovable, and as our baptismal vows demand, “to respect the dignity of every human being.”

One thought on “Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 2:16-22

  1. It is very helpful that you are using several translations, I too had some confusion about bearing arms. Some of the medieval monks were quick to pick up the sword in their zeal. This chapter is somewhat sketchy about church procedure, which had changed somewhat over the years and it is important to know the contest. Thanks for your scholarship. James R.

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