Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 28

To be read: March 5, July 5, November 5

If a brother has often been corrected and has even been excommunicated for a fault and does not amend, let him receive a more severe correction, that is, let him receive corporal punishment. 2But if even then he does not reform, or should become puffed up with pride, or even defends his actions, which God forbid, the Abbot must act like a wise physician.  3After he has applied soothing lotions, ointments of admonitions, the medicine of the Holy Scriptures, and finally the harsh rod of excommunication and the blows of the lash, 4and if he sees that even then his pains are of no avail, let him apply an even better remedy: his own prayer and that of the brothers, 5so that the Lord who is all-powerful may work a cure in that brother.  6But if he is not healed even in this way, then finally the Abbot must dismiss him from the community, as the Apostle says: “Put away the evil one from among you”(1 Cor 5:13); 7and again: “If the faithless one departs, let him depart”(1 Cor 7:15); 8lest one diseased sheep infect the whole flock. 

Verse 1 once again brings into the exercise of discipline the act of corporal punishment.  But the heart of this chapter is found in the second verse.  If the brother at fault “does not reform, or should become puffed up with pride, or even defends his actions, which God forbid, the Abbot must act like a wise physician.”  The following verses describe, in medical terminology, the attempts that need to be made for restoration of the lost soul.  Ultimately, “if he is not healed even in this way, then finally the Abbot must dismiss him from the community.”  This is not the simple excommunication of which we have spoken before, this is a lifetime ban from the community for an egregious breaking of relationship.  The RB1980 uses much stronger wording than other translations of the Rule.  Verse 6 in that familiar translation says, “finally, the abbot must use the knife and amputate”.  Amputation is clearly a final act.  You don’t put the amputated limb back on the Body.

Again, all of this may sound harsh to our modern ear, but as was noted two chapters ago, such an amputation is a necessary step to preserve the Body.  In physical terms, when a human limb becomes severely infected or gangrenous, it needs to be removed to protect the rest of the body from poisoning.  If the infection were to get into the blood stream then as the blood flows to the various organs of the body it carries that poison with it.  The Eucharist is the blood stream of the Body of Christ.  The nutrients, that is the grace, that we receive when partaking of the Body of Christ, are transmitted to the whole Body.  All who receive the Holy Eucharist are partakers of the one Body (1 Cor. 10:17).  When one member of that Body is poisoned, and presumes to come to the Eucharist, the whole Body can quickly become infected.  The poisoned limb must be removed.

Every effort must be made to preserve all of the parts of the Body.  However, as Benedict says, if “he does not reform…the Abbot must act like a wise physician,” and amputate.  It is an extreme measure, but one that must be taken to preserve the health and well-being of the Body of Christ.

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