To be read: January 13, May 13, September 13
In his teaching the Abbot should always observe that principle of the Apostle in which he says: “convince, rebuke, and exhort”(2 Tm 4:2), 24that is, mingling gentleness with severity, as the occasion may call for, let him show the severity of the master and the loving affection of a father. 25He must sternly rebuke the undisciplined and restless; but he must exhort the obedient, meek, and patient to advance in virtue. But we charge him to rebuke and punish the negligent and haughty. 26Let him not shut his eyes to the sins of evil-doers; but on their first appearance let him do his utmost to cut them out by the root at once, mindful of the fate of Eli, the priest of Shiloh (cf 1 Samuel 2:11-4:18). 27The well-disposed and those of good understanding, let him correct at the first and second admonition with words alone; 28but let him chastise the wicked and the hard of heart, and the proud and disobedient at the very first offense with stripes or other bodily punishments, knowing that it is written: “The fool is not corrected with words”(Prov 29:19). 29And again: “Strike your son with the rod, and you will deliver his soul from death”(Prov 23:14).
The abbot must exercise discipline with his monks, but Benedict notes that he must mingle “gentleness with severity, as the occasion may call for…” One size does not fit all. Each of us approaches life, both spiritual and temporal, in our own unique way, and God recognizes our uniqueness, dealing with us lovingly and tenderly, but firmly. The abbot must reflect the Father’s love for his children, showing “the severity of the master and the loving affection of a father.”
Benedict once again calls for some measures of discipline that seem harsh and outdated to our modern ear. He says that the abbot should “chastise the wicked and the hard of heart, and the proud and disobedient at the very first offense with stripes or other bodily punishments…” He is to do this for the good of the individual as well as the community. He should “not shut his eyes to the sins of evil-doers…but cut them out by the root at once…” Though the practice of corporal punishment is no longer acceptable, we do need to root out evil from the Body of Christ. Alas, that is much more difficult in today’s Church. If one does not want to change, he or she need only find a more tolerant church, one which will turn a blind eye to the practice of ill behavior. And sadly, there are dozens of such congregations in any metropolitan area.
But for those pursuing Christ, discipline from the elders of the Church should be welcome. For “God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7). And why should we submit to such discipline? “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:1). As ones who seek to follow the way of Christ in accordance with the precepts of the Rule of St. Benedict, but are doing so in the secular society, discipline is key. To be able to submit to the authority of Christ manifest in the ecclesiastical authority of the Church is important. Without those checks and balances on our behavior we can be tempted to fall into the worldly patterns of the society around us. The discipline may seem painful rather than pleasant at the time, but as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews points out, it will yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”