Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 70

To be read: April 27, August 28, December 28

Let every occasion for presumption be avoided in the monastery. 2We decree that no one may be permitted to excommunicate or to strike any of his brothers, unless the Abbot has given him the authority. 3“But let those who transgress be taken to task in the presence of all, that the others may fear” (cf 1 Tm 5:20). 4Children, up to the age of fifteen, however, should be carefully cared for by all, 5provided that it be done within due limits and with discretion. 6For if anyone should presume to chastise those of more advanced years, without the command of the Abbot, or should unreasonably treat the children, let him be subject to the discipline of the Rule; 7because it is written: “what you would not have done to yourself, do not do to another(Tobit 4:16)

We should not take on responsibility that is not given to us, or defend one who we may think is being unfairly burdened or treated.  That is the sin of presumption.  And the sin of presumption encompasses issues of corrective discipline as well.  Benedict says that “no one has the authority to excommunicate or strike any of his brothers unless he has been given this power by the abbot” (70:2).  Ultimately, the watchword of these chapters is that we show deference and respect for one another.  

In a community, whether inside the monastic walls or outside, we need order.  In the Church community there are those who have been chosen and anointed by God to oversee and bring order to the life of that community.  These are those who have been called to “Holy Orders”.  When members of the community try to usurp the role of the clergy and exercise discipline of their own making, they bring disorder to the life of the communal family.  Discipline can be delegated, as Benedict explains in verse 2 above, but no one should “presume” to claim that authority for himself or herself.  That is the sin of presumption, and as Benedict charges, “Let every occasion for presumption be avoided…”

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