To be read: April 20, August 20, December 20
In the election of an Abbot let this always be observed as a rule, that the one placed in this position be the one whom the whole community with one consent, in the fear of God, or by a small part of the community with sounder judgment, shall elect. 2But let him who is to be elected be chosen for the merit of his life and the wisdom of his teaching, even if he is the last in community rank. 3But even if the whole community should by mutual consent elect a man who agrees to connive at their evil ways (which God forbid) 4and these irregularities come to the knowledge of the Bishop of the diocese to which the place belongs, or to neighboring Abbots, or Christian people in the region, 5they must not permit the conspiracy of the wicked to succeed, but appoint a worthy steward over the house of God, 6knowing that they shall receive a bountiful reward for this action, if they do it with a pure intention and godly zeal. If on the other hand, they neglect to do so, they may be sure it will be counted as sin.
The Rule of St. Benedict was most likely compiled over an extensive period of time in answer to various questions and situations which arose in the growing community. As the movement spread and new houses formed, there were situations which arose that required attention (cf. RB 59:6, 65:1-3). For example, chapter 2 deals with the role of the abbot, and the personal qualities of the abbot mentioned here (e.g. “the merit of his life and the wisdom of his teaching”, etc.) were previously stated in that earlier chapter. But what happens if the abbot becomes disabled, or dies, or for unknown reason leaves the community? What would be the process for replacing him? And with the abbot away on community business, who is in charge? When the community was small and tight-knit these questions had not arisen. But as the movement grew and spread, issues that faced other houses were brought back to the mother house and additions to the Rule became necessary. Chapters 64-66 address some of these considerations.
So, how does the community select a new leader? There are essentially two modes for the election of a new abbot. First, “the whole community with one consent”, or if the situation calls for it, “a small part of the community with sounder judgment, shall elect.” But Benedict is not unaware of man’s fallen nature and the wickedness that can take root in a community. He warns that if the community were to “by mutual consent elect a man who agrees to connive at their evil ways”, action must be taken by “the Bishop…or neighboring Abbots, or Christian people in the region…” And Benedict says that “…they must not permit the conspiracy of the wicked to succeed, but appoint a worthy steward over the house of God…” Benedict is apparently reacting to problems that have already arisen in the monasteries, and now he is seeking to provide solutions. Regardless of which mode is employed, the goal of the community is to seek the mind of Christ in the election, that a man of merit and wisdom may be placed in this role of leadership for the community.
So, what does this have to say to us as a community outside the confines of the monastery? We, too, have leaders, and we also are capable of “conniving” to place the person we desire in leadership positions. As was pointed out in the meditation on chapter 3, we have allowed worldly models of government to take precedence in Church affairs. The Church is not a democracy, and we are not to follow manmade rules of government. Benedict calls for the Body to return to the Holy Spirit driven decision-making model of Acts chapter 15. The goal of such a gathering is to seek the mind of Christ, not the will or conniving of man.
This chapter reminds us that without vigilance, and fidelity to prayer, we can all fall into the trap of seeking our own will ahead of the will of God. Once we open that door, it is easy for us to begin to try to influence others and connive to secure our will. But with stability, fidelity, and obedience we can call one another to account, and together seek the mind of Christ in order to do His will.