Rule of St. Benedict

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Rule of St. Benedict lecture series

AI Summary: 





May the Holy Spirit, O Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful by even the sprinkling
of His dew, through Christ our Lord.
Pray for the benedict, pray for us.
Well, in our attempts to envisage the kind of life for which the ruler of St Benedict
provides, we have, I believe, on the basis of his own words, begun to see the kind of
people he expects his monks to become, as a result of the interior dynamism which leads
them to respond to the core of the monastic life at all, and the three-fold rhythm of
daily life, which forms them, body and soul, as the workmen of God, as the conclusion of
chapter 7 thinks the ideal monk will be.
We have in our last two talks seen how this kind of school implies a lifelong initiation
into the world of the scriptures, or perhaps we might reasonably say, the work of God in
the world, as seen through the eyes of the Gospel and the New Testament.
And we've seen that this initiation, like all training, even in the humane arts, has
both its creative and its ascetic side.
Benedict seems to be explicitly reluctant to make this formation any more consciously
ascetic than of its very nature it necessarily is, if it's genuinely lived.
This little rule for beginners, as it thinks of itself to be, is consistently modest in
everything except one, as far as I can see, namely, its boldness in believing in the Gospel
teaching about God's love and mercy, and its corresponding disbelief in the motivation
of what must technically be called servile fear, as opposed to that holy fear or reverence
for the mystery of God, which is the binning of both profound wisdom and love.
I believe we shall find this coming out most clearly in the two chapters on which I wish
to reflect today, numbers 53 and 58, on the reception of guests and on the procedure for
receiving brothers.
For these reflect Benedict's attitude to people coming from the world outside the monastery,
with all kinds of different motivations and needs.
In fact, exactly the kinds of differences of which Benedict constantly shows himself
to be aware in dealing with life inside the monastery.
He shows himself to be neither less generous nor less observant about those who come from
And should anyone wish to experience, in the least time-consuming way possible, the contrast
between the mentality of the writer or of the master and Benedict, they could hardly
do better than sit down and read, to my mind, truly ghastly chapter 79 of the Master's Rule,
which turns several unconvincing somersaults to appear to be charitable towards the rivals.
But just as in the provision for the sick, it cannot rid itself of the suspicion that
they may be even malingerers, so in the provision for its guests, it's so concerned with the
possibility that they may be thieves, they're not even allowed to go to the bathroom at
night without someone being around to see what they're up to.
If any of these unfortunate people should be persevering enough to survive all these
humiliations and restrictions, they can then, it appears, be considered for admission to
the monastery, who has always given them such a very chilly welcome.
What a relief it is, after that, to turn to chapter 53 in the Rules of Benedict, which
opens with a statement as bold and almost as insistent as that of chapter 6, verse 6
on the sick, and with a similar allusion to the great judgment scene of chapter 25 of
the Gospel of Matthew.
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he will say, I was
a stranger and you took me in.
Nearly all writers who comment on this chapter seem to refer to the hermetical and desert
tradition which evidently lies behind at least the opening section of Benedict's chapter.
But I confess that I was a little puzzled as to how any allusion should be organized
until I consulted Pef Stoutier's careful edition of the Lives of the Monks in Egypt in Greek.
There in chapter 8 on Abbot Apollo, the writer tells us at line 37 that he also often spoke
to us of the reception of brothers.
You must reverence the brothers who come, for it's not them but the Lord your God you reverenced.
You have seen your brother, says the scripture, you've seen the Lord your God.
This phrase is not, of course, to be found in canonical scripture, though it's quoted
by Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria.
And Pef Stoutier tells us that this phrase is in fact replaced by Rufinus in his Latin
translation of this work, or rather a version of this work, by the very phrase from Matthew
25 in the old Latin version which Benedict also quotes.
I must say that knowing this I find it difficult not to believe that Benedict had remembered
Rufinus when writing his own chapter.
For it's certain that it's the Latin and not the Greek Benedict would have known.
Any other memory of this work which may have been in Benedict's mind is a great deal less
secure, but there's one I think which occurs to me on account of Benedict's Latin.
And so I shall mention it here, since it may have been known to some of you as it was to
me among the very first things about desert life one ever read in the translation of
that wonderful book, The Desert Fathers, by Helen Wadham.
In sentence 3, Benedict writes,
Once a guest has been announced, the superior and brother should hasten to meet him with
all the courtesy of love.
If you look at Barbie in 1980 you'll see that's not quite what it says.
This is a mixed translation, as I quote, since only Basilius Steidler seems to be brave enough
to write, hasten, Benedict's okuro, which undoubtedly originally meant just that.
I can guess that Justin McCann would have pointed to the weakening of late Latin words
in defence of the more conventional go-to-meet, which is what 1980 gives and what McCann himself
also gives.
Though I'd just remind you, of course, that this is always a problem when you're translating
a text where you know the language is changing a lot, unless you can establish exactly what
it means.
Just think of the terrible things that have happened to nearly all words of exaggeration
in most modern languages, the words colossal and terrific and so on.
Terrific is quite lost in its original sense, but it's no longer about terrifying things at all.
At any rate, as it stands, I find myself thinking of Rufinus's history, number 21, both on account
of okuro and humanitas, which comes immediately to verse 9.
Here at any rate is Rufinus, doubtless this time with a personal reminiscence, because
in fact he did go to the deserts of Egypt before translating and working on this work.
As soon as they knew that strange brethren were coming straightway, they poured out like
a swarm of bees, each from his cell and ran to meet us, joyous and eager.
After this there was a visit to the church and a foot washing, as is the rule, but of
their humanity, their courtesy, their loving-kindness, what am I to say?
It's a passage one doesn't forget.
That, with perhaps some element of charming exaggeration, is not far, I think, from the
total atmosphere of Benedict's chapter, but first we must look a little closer at what
it has to say.
The second sentence repeats the all of the first one, but it does so in a rather interesting way.
We note in chapter 4, among the tools of good works, Benedict has preferred to give the
New Testament command to honour everyone, to the Old Testament command to honour one's
father and mother.
And yet, as we've seen in relation to other matters in the rule, part of this honouring,
loving and receiving of others, involves a recognition of the differences of their person
and their needs.
In fact, if we reflect on this, this is in some ways the condition of love, being personal
love, to be authentic loving at all.
I believe this is what Benedict has in mind when in the second sentence he says that proper
or fitting honour must be shown to all.
And then it occurs to him, quote, the concluding chapter of the letters to the Galatians, which
we heard Hal read last night, especially those who share our faith.
He had, of course, his translation read what's usually been the old one, the household, the
faith, and buildings.
It's perhaps good to remember the whole sentence from the Galatians, from which today the slightly
embarrassing thing about the household of faith comes.
As we have opportunity, do good to everyone, but especially those who share our faith.
So it's very nearly, Benedict has very nearly that same kind of, he's very certainly following
the thought of the letter there.
Especially those of the household of faith, for I think there's no doubt that shared belief
gives us a particular kind of responsibility towards those who come to us.
Perhaps especially nowadays, I think, when these fellow believers sometimes have problems
with which their parish clergy are unable or occasionally unwilling to try to cope.
In fact, as perhaps some of you knew, I think it was after giving you the fourth talk in
this series, I was called by Rosa to go to the parlour about exactly a case of that kind,
when they had come a very long way, because he couldn't get his parish priest and other
people to help him about something he needed help about.
But Benedict's quite special preference is clearly enough expressed in verse 15,
Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims,
because in them, more particularly, Christ is received.
As the concluding phrase of the sentence indicates, Benedict thinks that the rich are quite formidable
enough to be able to fend for themselves, don't they?
His primary concern is for the most vulnerable, and not perhaps only in body, for though genuine
physical poverty comes to the door of every monastery still, I don't forget, for instance,
my sudden fright on putting on my light in a house I was visiting for the first time
many years ago, must be more than 20 years ago, and being hailed by an unfortunate man
in the garden two storeys below, or my relief on seeing the shadow of someone from the ground
floor going out to help him promptly, as chapter 666 of the Rule of the Porter envisages he should.
In fact, Benedict does say, if a poor man cries out, you go.
But although these things do occur, and need our attention and care, there are of course
many others who come suffering from a spiritual poverty which is just as urgent.
But it's perhaps for this reason, I think partly because this is a more subtle thing,
that just as the porter is required to be a wise old man, so, whether old or not, is
the guestmaster, and those responsible for the guesthouse.
According to verse 22 of chapters 53, the house of God should be in the care of wise
men who will manage it wisely.
And also in 23, perhaps not forgetting that, Benedict puts a restriction, no one is to
speak or associate with the guest unless he's bidden.
We should doubtless note the deliberate reference to the guest quarters, that there's a deliberately
deliberate reference here to the guest quarters of the house of God, in which, as we remember
from chapter 31 on the sermon, no one is to be disquieted or distressed by irregularities
or unreasonableness.
The whole house, like its tools and properties, is in the service of God.
Doubtless too, it's for this reason, that the first body of the guestmaster himself
is, as verse 21 of chapter 53 tells us, to be God-fearing.
This awareness of the nearness of God, in all these proceedings, is woven into a little
ceremonial for reception of guests, which forms the middle part of this chapter, primarily
appropriate to Mediterranean countries, and which perhaps no mastery has carried out in
all its details for many centuries.
I know certainly in the houses of this lone congregation, it's still been customary to
wash the hands of guests before lunch.
Here too, we have one of the very few allusions to the reception of the devil.
All the others, as we shall need to see presently, arise in the heart of the monk.
And certainly, I can't imagine why we should need to suppose that allusions arise on occasion
only from the side of the arriving guest.
For the mutuality of the experience of hospitality is emphasised by the use directed in verse
14 of a lovely verse, which is, of course, still used for the introvert verse of Candlemas Day.
O God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple.
We have.
I think that undoubtedly the sense is that both sides, both the ones who receive and
the ones who come, are receiving the mercy of God.
Underpinning this sense of gratitude on part of both receivers and givers of hospitality
is the humility required of the givers in verses 6 and 7.
All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure.
By a bow of the head or prostration, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed
in them.
Perhaps it is indeed this sense of the limitations of the monks themselves that leads them to
share first with the guest, not their own thoughts, but the most precious thing they
have, the word of God.
I suppose here it happens because people generally first come to the liturgy and hear it there.
Only after that do they show them all humanity.
Most of the modern books note that the word humanity, at least in this context, means giving
people a meal, which one might imagine they're rather sorely in need of by this time.
But I feel sure that in the light of the passage from Refiners, which I quoted earlier, there's
no reason why it shouldn't also mean something wider than that.
I'm pretty sure Helen Waddell must have been looking at the word humanity.
I haven't been able to check it, but I think she must have been.
Indeed, I'm sure that this really must be there.
It would be indeed worrying if the conduct of the guesthouse of a monster were less humane
than Benedict himself invariably is.
We may smile at some of the details, but the spiritual priorities suggested in this chapter
will, I think, always deserve our serious attention.
So, I suppose, will chapter 58, if the monsters continue to exist at all.
This chapter, dealing with the discipline or procedure of receiving brothers, begins with
a sentence which may sound like the expression of an attitude exactly the opposite of that
considered appropriate to the arrival of guests.
The translation of the Obby of 1980 gives it its full force in English.
Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry.
But in fact, I believe it to be an extension of Benedict's desire that we should give
everyone the reception that is proper to them.
To many newcomers who feel attracted to the life as something that might be possible for
them, a monastery inhabited by monks who are genuinely striving to live its life, may well
appear to be something like the Garden of Eden.
Attractions of this kind can be grave illusions, and those who experience them and the communities
to which they wish to come can be saved a great deal of time and trouble if they take
seriously Benedict's immediate citation of the first letter of John.
We need to test the spirits that move them, see whether they come from God.
We may note that, as in similar matters, Benedict chose no English to invent artificial difficulties.
Nothing is as envisaged, like Francis imagines, happening to himself and Brother Leo when
they arrive at the convent where they are going, as described in the delightful chapter
about perfect joy in chapter 8 of the Fioretti.
I suppose you all know that chapter, the one where Francis says, you know, what begins
with Brother Leo saying, where is perfect joy?
And Francis says, well, suppose when we arrive at the convent near the angel we were just
going to, the brother says, get away you scoundrels and tramps, we're having nothing whatever
to do with you, and when we say, we really are your brothers, he comes out with large
sticks and beats us up, and throws us about in the snow, and so on.
If you want to know where it is, there is perfect joy.
But anyway, Benedict has nothing like, has nothing of that kind in mind.
Quite ordinary delays and difficulties are allowed to arise, sufficient to disclose whether
the aspirant has any patience at all, a virtue which, as we remember, is one of the supreme
virtues mentioned at the end of the prologue, as being required for living the life of the
rule, and experiencing its fruits.
Anyone who is unable to wait a few days suggested by the text, is very unlikely to discover
how to be patient for a lifetime.
The cantate must show some signs of being able to push against little not unreasonable
After all, its motivation is love for him, which is prepared to yield to his persistence
if it otherwise seems to be right to do so.
I've often said to Walt Bryant, because it's something I've observed in lots of places
all the time, sometimes it's a great unkindness to let some people come and
stay as long as they do.
But anyway, if the person who has got through the door, does show some kind of persistence,
at that point his new situation is recognized by his being admitted to the visage, which
Benedict's visage has separate quarters where they can meditate, not I think precisely
study, as RB1980 translates.
For to translate it like that here is a misleading modern word, I think.
They're going to be able to meditate, eat and sleep in this place.
I want to pause on that word meditate, because I think if we consider its relation to the
whole balance of monastic life, we shall see that it is the most vital part of the initiation
of the novice into the life of the monastic school as Benedict envisages it.
And it's one of the reasons why the novice may need from time to time the help of the
senior who is skilled in winning souls, as the rule directs novices ought to have.
In order to avoid, as I explicitly declared my intention to do when we began, the difficulty
of getting too bogged down in history about the subject of the Latin word meditatio, let
me just say very briefly something that everybody who uses these things nowadays knows.
Namely that it was a regular practice for novices to learn by heart the Psalter and
other things required for use in choir.
And in some ways, what the word meditatio very simply means in lots of these contexts
is simply going over the words.
Do remember that somebody like St Danbrose, who was so startled and amazed, aghast at
his fellow students, was a thousand years ahead of his time in reading with his eyes
Everyone normally read at this period with their lips, so there was murmuring like the
sound of bees going on in the cloister.
That was what meditatio primitively means, amongst other things.
But I think we should be quite mistaken to dismiss the whole subject at this point, as
though this were the sort of thing that nobody nowadays, for obvious reasons, really needs
to do.
We have books and lights in all directions.
For meditation certainly has another dimension.
It is, I think, the initial fostering of this dimension which makes Benedict's requirement
that the mission should be separate, an otherwise provision which ought not likely to be dismissed
without a sense of obligation to find a substitute for it.
For the novices do need some protection from the kinds of involvement in certain aspects
of the life of the monastery which they're going to have to be able to carry virtuously
when they're ready for them.
And the foundations for doing that are going to have to be laid in the extra facilities
for extended meditatio in its deeper dimensions, which the novitiate phase is meant to provide.
I may perhaps be permitted to say, in parenthesis, I'm eternally grateful for having been locked
in a division which no one was permitted to leave or enter without the permission of a
novice master 40 years ago.
For I've never since had quite the time or opportunity, at a stretch, to assimilate a
very few fundamental texts very thoroughly.
It was then that the rules of Spendidic really became what my constant companions have been
for me ever since.
Just going over and over a very few very fundamental texts, very quietly taking them in, and knowing
in some fashion that all I can recite by heart, of course, in that.
But you will inevitably still be wondering what this deeper dimension meditation of which
I'm speaking really is.
This time I cannot point you to anything I've ever written myself that comes anywhere near
a splendid long talk by Dom André Louvre, called The Word Beyond the Liturgy, which
has been translated into English in Cistercian Studies, the last number of 1971, the first
of 72.
It's a wonderful, long talk given to the monks of Wavremont, not so far from where I was
living in Belgium.
If I may just quote a very few sentences, Dom André says,
The living bond which links the liturgy to its beyond is clearly apparent to anyone who
reads the ancient monastic texts, setting aside all modern problematics.
In the most ancient text, Opus Dei, which we were talking about, of course, previously,
means all the monks' spiritual life, and even simply the monastic life.
In time, it came to mean almost exclusively the life of prayer arranged around reading
the word, psalmody and silent prayer.
But the wider comprehensive meaning is never completely abandoned.
When Benedict speaks of the Opus Dei, he means primarily celebration by the community.
But he does not exclude what we call here its beyond, which for a monk reveals itself
especially in the inner liturgy of the prayer of the heart.
This is learnt in the communal celebration.
It's there that the young monk strives to find the place of the heart, the living sanctuary
of the spiritual liturgy.
Liturgical celebration and inner liturgy, each continually referring to the other, form
the soul of monastic life to such a degree that both are called by the same name, Opus
Nothing is to be preferred to the work of God, says Benedict, not to indicate that he
prefers liturgical prayer to inner prayer, but that the activity of prayer, individual
or communal, is the essence of the monastic life.
Well, where does the novice master come in on all this?
Not, it's to be hoped, as much as some novice master might like.
It's typical of Benedict that he gives very objective guidance.
The task of a man who is to be skilful in winning souls, and looking after them with
careful attention, is to be concerned with signs which in the long run cannot be failed.
The inner springs of the ear are left to the seeks of God, which is why meditation must
be given the maximum room to expand, and no courses of classroom talks can be a substitute
for this.
After the general consideration of discerning whether the man truly seeks God, even perhaps
we ought to say plain God, in relation to the story I told you in our first talk, the
master is given three signs to look for.
Eagerness for the work of God, and for obedience, and for triumphs.
These signs are important because they're all indications of a capacity to grow and
develop in this kind of a school.
And perhaps it's here that the place for some study and all classroom work comes into
the picture.
Most novices will come with relatively little sense or knowledge of the liturgy, and need
to learn both about it, and how to perform it, and some of this may be rather a triumph.
But it's not meant to be a trial to the rest of the community, and about this benedict
is quite specific in chapter 38, about the weekly reading, where verse 12 says, brothers
will read and sing, not according to rank, but according to their ability to benefit
their hearers.
These of course are not the only areas of the common life, about which both study and
attention will be required.
And not all of this will be equally easy to everyone, and often indeed involve humiliations.
But as the chapter on obedience has reminded us, God loves a cheerful giver.
And a willingness to undertake and cooperate with all this will be an obvious indication
of the sincerity in the seeking of God, which the novice may otherwise profess.
Even, if I may add again of course, the seeking of playing God.
I think that's very much, Harold Abbott was very shrewd about that.
I think that in a certain way, the kind of test of the life is not spiritual excitement
about anything, but one's capacity to accept what has to be done, here and now, and find
God in that call, and in the fulfillment of it.
I own Camaldi's Constitutions in chapter 7, section 2, give a wide range of things that
could and should be done, or worked at, as Americans would say.
And I do not need to specify these, I think, more nearly here.
It's perhaps sufficient to recall something we mentioned in our first talk, that much
of the formation of this kind of life has to be taught, and or inculcated, without the
expectation of immediate comprehension.
Practical wisdom is essentially related to experience.
I'm quite sure that a lot of this is very important to be taken seriously.
A really untrained novice will be likely to be a trial to himself, as well as to everyone
And even the most positive element of training, trials and difficulties, will come.
It's perhaps then that the novice master's skill in winning souls will be tested.
Since he's the obvious person to help them with their thoughts, especially those that
unsettle them most deeply.
And he'll sometimes have to remind them where the devil comes into the picture.
He, that is the devil, is mentioned, of course, for the first time in Prologue, verse 28,
in connection with dashing temptations in their beginnings against the law of Christ.
I bet you'll remember that from the prologue.
Verse 38.
in this conclusion, this is typical, of course, coming back to the thing we've constantly
been noticing about the Lord.
The Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, His holy teachings.
Therefore, our lifespan is lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend our misdeeds.
As the Apostle says, do not hope the patience of God is leading you to repent.
And indeed, the Lord assures us in his love, I do not wish the death of a sinner, but that
he turn back to me and live.
Brothers, now that we've asked the Lord who will dwell in his tent, we've heard the instruction
of dwelling in it, but only if we fulfil the obligation of those who live there.
We must then prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience.
Have I got the reference wrong?
It looks as though I know.
Doesn't it?
I think rather do.
It comes a little bit earlier.
Yes, it does.
I'm sorry, I wrote 37 and 38 instead of 28.
What I want is 28.
Bennett says that the one who walks without blemishes is the one who comes into the kingdom
of God.
He's quoting, of course, the Psalms.
Who has not wronged his fellow man in any way, nor listened to slanders against his
He has foiled the evil one, the devil, at every turn, bringing both him and his promptings
far from the side of his heart.
While these temptations were still young, he caught hold of them and dashed them against
the rock of Christ.
He's mentioned again in chapter four.
It's very important, I think, in the context we're thinking about.
I'm sorry, in chapter one, verse four.
I'm sorry, it's time to fatigue.
Chapter one, verse four, where, in connection with those who are mature enough to become
hermits, we're told they have been trained in the community to fight against the devil.
They've built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brothers
to the single combat of the desert.
Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil.
So that's the common training that life gives him.
He's mentioned again, in a little chapter of 54, about whether a brother should receive
little gifts, which, if the severe decides that someone else should have the thing given,
perhaps, of course, he needs it more, the brother should not be distressed, lest occasion
be given to the devil.
As in Ephesians 4, verse 27, where it's obvious that the hook there used by the devil is anger.
You'll see if you look up that text.
And finally, there's the sad sense of verse 28 of our present chapter 58, where, if,
after his profession, the monk should have ever agreed without the devil's suggestion
to leave the monastery, which, God forbid, he can be stripped of the tobing of the monastery
before he'd be cast out.
So Benedict's chapter does, in fact, combine clothing with profession, as was common even
among the friars for many centuries.
Of course, I remember, for instance, that Dominic's successor, Master General of the
Preachers, perceived the habit and made it his own profession on the same day, in fact.
And it wasn't by any means uncommon, that kind of thing, at that time.
Meanwhile, at the early stage of the story, as far as the rule is concerned, and still,
of course, much earlier than anybody would have it today, anyway.
This bit, of course, is what so easily determines what happens at the end.
The novice master has been looking for perseverance in his purpose, in the novice.
When that's this point, then the rule is read to him a second time.
And he's allowed to go a stage further in his relation to community.
We're not told about anything else specific said about the life, except the reading of
the rule.
Which, of course, is a very great thing, if you really give yourself to it.
As a way of avoiding historical details, I don't intend to discuss here the practical
details of Benedict's arrangements in these matters.
Nobody does them like that quite nowadays, and haven't done for a long time.
And simply draw attention to two things that affect, I think, the whole picture of entry
into life in this school.
First, as I've just been saying, Benedict's stipulation at the end of chapter 66, where
he's piled a few things together, it's a chapter and a quarter, actually.
There are two sentences that come at the end, where Benedict says that the master should
have everything that's necessary for life, his own enclosure, a mill, water, and a garden,
and so on and so forth, and all places where the crops can be planted.
They're all supposed to be there, so that people don't need to roam about.
And then finally, he says, we wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that
none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.
And I suppose it is really, just really, either actually working with oneself, or going over
and over again, until one really does know it by heart.
Then the things one needs to remember about it come back, instantly, I think.
The second point I'd make about this development is that all the way through the story, and
perhaps even before its beginning in the monastery, the work of chapter 7 of the rule is understood
to be going on.
In fact, most astution commentators would think that perhaps the first two steps already
happened before the novice entered the monastery.
Well, remember what Benedict is saying in verse 5 of chapter 7.
It's a very important image.
If we desire to astain speedily that exultation to which we climb by the humility of the present
life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder which Jacob saw.
Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will
raise it to heaven.
We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation
has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.
Well, as you'll remember, it was originally my intention to look again at these steps
in the light of where we are now.
But instead, I think I prefer to ask the much discussed question as to what it is the monk
promises by his profession before God and the saints, if he perseveres so far.
Now, from the point of view of ecclesiastical law, no one does.
He commits himself to poverty, chastity and obedience.
That's not precisely what Benedict says in chapter 58.
And what is also a much, unfortunately, much discussed phrase for various texts has been
disputed in this time.
When all is said and done, leaving aside the technicalities of the words Benedict uses,
there can be no doubt that the central feature of what is promised is that conversion of
heart in returning to God by the labour of obedience, which at the beginning of the prologue
we are invited to undertake within the framework of this rule.
That's why we put ourselves in the school at all.
Nearly all the books one can turn to on this subject, even those by monks themselves,
tend to leave one's head going round in a kind of muddle about vows and promises.
Which would, of course, certainly have been a mystery to Benedict himself, who didn't
yet have to worry about the traditions and technicalities of canon law.
Even the reflections on this subject, which I think are most accessible and most in harmony
with the general sense of things which our fresh look at the rules has been showing
us, is not quite innocent to these troubles.
But it's worth picking one's way through them.
It may come as a surprise, but the piece I have in mind is the chapter entitled Change,
in Esther Duvall's little book in the Honour Rule called Seeking God, which I mentioned
A chapter she heads with a quotation from verse 20 of the prologue,
Lord in his love shows us the way of life.
By his promise, she says, novice binds himself to live the whole monastic life, according
to the rule, in obedience and perseverance to the lifelong process of being transformed
as he follows Christ.
The reality which it expresses is as old and as new as the gospel itself, and it's not
to the monk alone that its demands, in their ultimate meaning, apply.
It's because of this equivalence between rule and gospel that I've quoted these words,
for they say, I think it's slightly important words, exactly what the monks of St Mary's
York said they felt bound to do when they went out to Fountain's Abbey in the 12th
And many other people said the monks are the same kind of thing.
And they've rightly been quoted by my old teacher Richard Sullivan at the beginning
of the chapter on the Cistercians in the Penguin book I mentioned in our first talk.
I suppose I can really say that this is the basis of all Benedictine reform.
It's another look at the rule, all the time.
All reforms start with looking at the rule again.
And the general tendency is to feel, no, we aren't doing quite here what the life of the
gospel demands.
We have to go and do it in this particular way.
Mr De Waal goes on to say, to realise that the whole of one's life must be open to change,
ask not for a static keeping of the rule, but for an open and free response to the challenges
with which God will face us.
It means a constant letting go.
St Benedict will not allow us to evade change, and he has no illusions about what is involved
in facing up to growth.
Maturity comes only by confronting what has to be confronted within ourselves.
Stability means I must not run away from where my battles have to be fought,
but I have to stand still where the real issues have to be faced.
Obedience compels me to re-enact in my own life that submission of Christ himself,
even though it may lead to suffering and death.
And all the time the journey is based on the gospel paradox of losing life and finding it.
An anxious preoccupation with my personal spiritual growth is disastrous.
I believe all this is a very just insight into the spirit of the rule,
whose dynamism is never hindered by very fussy details.
And it's for this reason that I've long felt it's perhaps the only religious rule that's
flexible enough to be able to survive this century, if God so wills.
Audre Lorde has said much the same thing in a rather poetic way,
in something that hasn't been translated.
Its light illuminates the dusk of the second medallion and heralds the dawn of the third,
whose stirrings we sense in our hearts that are maybe a bit disquieted,
but at the same time never despairing of the mercy of God.
Well, that's what I'm going to say to you before Christmas,
but perhaps you'd like to ask me to say some things.
At this particular point, I'm afraid I don't know whether I can do very much more for Christmas,
because the other kinds of demands on me are rather heavy.
But there are one or two things that people might feel I ought to have talked about.
One of the things that I deliberately haven't done is talk about penal code in the rule.
Largely because that's the one bit of the rule, I suppose,
which people haven't been keeping for centuries,
because, well, for all kinds of reasons.
I suppose the last time when something of the sort of strangeness was in use,
I suppose in the incumbention of Sam Moore,
was one of the problems, and I think John Mabillon had,
and one of the people I should like to talk to about this after Christmas,
perhaps later, it may be important for us to do that,
was that he was very concerned about a case of a labourer who had come and been put in prison,
bored of escape, and I'm afraid, in spite of all of John's wonderful help to him,
he did, as John Mabillon has done very badly in the end,
he was really rather scared of him.
But anyway, I think we just have to recognise that in this rule,
of course, there are things which do hang down each time,
but I hope I've been able to show,
convincingly, without pulling anybody by the hair,
that it is a very wonderful thing, looked at in any terms,
as a way of life, and a particular realisation of the immediacy of the Gospel existence,
where you are.
It seems to me this is a great thoughtless force and strength of the rule,
and that's why so many people who are not professed as monks,
like Mrs Duvall, find it so helpful,
she in her case, as a housewife, bringing out a family of sons,
found it marvellous.
I see it as an eminently sane and healthy way to live.
It is, yes, yes.
Has anyone ever done a psychological study of the rule,
just to show how spiritual contact, for instance,
with Mrs Duvall, how that's applied today?
I haven't seen anything about it,
of course, as you know, the chief work that's been done,
at least a series of essays that have been done on Duvall,
a series of studies published in the 18th coming of time,
I don't know which I read, I've looked for it,
but I don't think I can find it out,
which of course is the following thing to say,
but it can, yes, it's quite a useful argument,
it's something that I would like to think about eventually,
but I'm not quite sure I can promise to think about it after Christmas,
it needs too much careful preparation and thought,
and in fact, as I've quoted,
I think the only mentions of the devil which occur in the rule,
which are, of course, they are significant ones,
they're just enough to know what the,
one is clearly concerned with anger,
and I suppose some of the other ones are concerned with lust,
but the thing that Mrs Duvall writes about,
there is so much interest in chastity,
he mentions only once, in the,
well twice, in fact, in the rule,
and that is in chapter four,
of the good works,
one of the good works,
interestingly good works is Love Chastity.
It's the whole life of the passions,
and especially, I suppose,
if you look at the general context of the prologue,
it's that business of having one's own,
it's this continual force of the appropriate,
what is property, what's mine,
it's as against what God wants,
that's the real structure of the rule,
I think, all the time,
it's continuously that,
I think it's continuously that,
giving up of one's image of oneself,
which, of course,
from a psychological point of view,
it's a great obstacle to growth,
if somebody identifies with some image
of what they're supposed to be,
and will not become what they're clearly meant to be,
then they are just really opposing the work of God,
as well as their own person.
Very similar to the rule of Ignatius,
where he stresses particularly,
he uses the word self-affirmation,
which is the same thing as the giving up of one's own will,
and obedience is the big thing in that.
But I suppose, of course,
the problem about Ignatius that has,
I've spent a lot of time with Ignatius in my time,
but I think one of the problems about Ignatius
is that he's much more easily understood
in a rather disciplinary and negative sense,
rather than the sorts of views where Benedict's using.
It's clearly, he's so aware
of the fact that people are different and so on,
that he has this double sense of the word,
what is proper.
I mean, that's to say,
there is the sense of what is proper,
as being my own, as not George's,
and there's the other one,
which is, I can't help that,
because that's what I see or think,
and what you stress today,
his rule emphasizes much more than others,
is God, the boldness in believing in God's love and mercy.
Yes, yes, of course,
that's why I think André was quite right
to finish this little thing.
It's actually a little essay.
He exhibited a series of essays
to a little volume called St. Benedict's Day,
and he finishes with that,
which of course is the last of the tools of good works,
never despair of the mercy of God.
Can you go out a little bit more with that image,
because I know we've spent some time
before talking about the whole image of the monk,
and sometimes that kind of acclaim
to what we conceive to be the image of the monk.
Yes, well, I suppose, yes,
obviously, I think, I hope,
what I've tried to do here,
because inevitably the beginning is so very compressible,
which is a useful thing to do,
but then it's really hard.
What I suppose I've been trying to do
is to show that the text of the rule
is the way it's done,
in order to get down that kind of thing,
because, in fact,
it's concerned with leaving
the real dimensions of God very mysteriously.
And it isn't even being very, very insistent
on certain kinds of attitudes,
except those which are required of the common life.
One of the things I haven't, of course, mentioned at all,
are various kinds of apologies that go into the rule,
including the one about which I don't know very well.
Apologies, I can't remember.
I can't remember.
Apologies, I can't remember.
I can't remember.
Most times I just have a son,
a son in fact,
which is not very,
which is precisely what I mean by something
It's not a very interesting thing
to do with what it's about to do.
It seems to me that if you like,
the image of the rule is generally
built up by what's upon it, isn't it?
Rather than things like the rule
mimicking itself,
there are descriptions of the idea
of a massive lie,
which are formalising itself now.
I don't think there's much trace of that kind of thing here.
Unless, of course, you see,
after all, the last step of humility
in Chapter 7 is true,
a description, in one way,
suggests a description of what a man looks like.
But I think,
it's why I said today,
I think the signs the novice master is asked to look for
can't be feigned.
There, you can't bring about these signs
by the way you appear, I think.
I don't think you can appear to be concerned
with the word of God, inquire.
I don't think you can appear for a very long period of time
to be a lead when you want.
I don't think you can appear to be able to accept anything
if you're a leader.
I think even the most humble-biting kind of people
will be somehow flawed someday,
soon or later,
if they're putting it on.
If you can't take a direction in any sort of way,
I think you will bow to it as well,
My thing is not to rape you in 17 minutes,
but if I was a volunteer farmer,
I came to Ireland when I was myself,
and I was going to say,
this is a long year.
And that was,
I, one day, we had to,
we had some prep sessions coming to the farm,
but I was quite one of the problems
about having an enclosure initiative,
you have to have people coming,
go, go to it.
And we, I think,
said the day before,
this was something I read on there,
the day on there.
And when we reached the door of the initiative,
and our dean unlocked the door,
I turned around and saw,
the man behind me was a white-haired sheep.
And so I turned and said,
oh, can you actually kill a man
with your glasses off?
And then, to my horror,
I realised he was actually living with rage.
White with rage.
I've never seen a man so freaked out at all.
Because I'd done just the wrong thing.
I don't even know whether I'd done something like that,
but of course, it would be impossible
if I'd done one there.
He was living with rage.
But I think that I mentioned this kind of story,
because I think that's the kind of thing
that always happens,
somewhere or other.
If you play this game
of pretending to be something you aren't,
you're bounding yourself away sooner or later.
Father, you know,
when you talk about the novitiate
and how the novices are taken apart,
Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Why do you think that the whole idea of
philosophy or whatever,
that the best thing for someone
to enter the monastery
is to be thrown immediately
into the activity of the monastery?
Well, obviously, this is a modern conflict, isn't it?
Between one thing and another.
It seems to me that all I have to say is that
obviously, in the position I am,
I can intersect with the modest kind of way.
And in any case, one has to,
there's an importance to the conflict,
that somehow or other,
I think it would be wise to insist that
if somebody's going to have to make
a rather important life transition
in a short period of time,
they do at least have to have some means
of being somewhat more concentrated
in their way of thought,
being taught, the way of living their life,
then they can easily get,
if they're doing the kind of things,
you can easily ask a man
who's been doing this for about 20 years,
we'll get used to going to the choir,
and we won't bother them,
somebody knows what you want to do,
he owns the place,
and obviously he knows what he should.
That's not going to be problematic.
But when people very just come to the house,
they do, I think, need some more concentration.
So being thrown in the middle of the porridge,
to begin with,
is, I think, not really fair.
Some people survive,
some people survive anything,
of course, but it doesn't mean it's that cruel to do.
But as you can see,
Bennett hasn't got quite an extreme for this,
because everybody is, in fact,
coming and going to choir,
and they're all doing a lot of music together,
even though they're on holidays.
But he didn't come alive,
even though he was living in a separate building
when he was here.
Do you know how widely the militias
are separate living nowadays, very much?
In America?
In America, no.
No, I've been passionate in America,
Mine still is.
I've shifted very quickly, yeah.
Exactly, yes.
I think the tendency is,
of course, to feel, nowadays,
people feel that it's the best that people have
to come alive.
I think I know, well,
when I was in the Christian Church,
even nowadays,
they use that phrase,
and now it's in their name,
that they're going to be dead.
What did you realize in the experience?
I mean, I'd say,
did you do papers there, John?
Well, I was trying, yeah,
I'm a disciple of my own personal group,
but that's also very helpful, too,
because that's where I...
See, I think, on the straight and narrow,
this is a two-sided thing,
that's why I think,
it's taken me to have some attention towards it, yes?
Yes, it does,
but we were totally isolated,
even from the junior age,
and we were just on the same level.
Yes, yes, certainly.
My division, 40 years ago,
taught so,
and not only were we locked in all the time,
and my father thought it was very good for me,
if anyone, even father,
and he had to revert,
when I was to come in.
But see, for us,
when we moved to the philosophy,
it was a total shock.
Yeah, we weren't prepared,
and all of us,
as having come from a division setting,
with a kind of freedom
that they had as philosophers and theologians,
and a lot of them,
you know,
lost, I don't know if you'd call it,
lost their faith,
but they lost whatever...
They saw us coming,
the theologians and the philosophers,
they disappeared from the airship.
Yes, that, of course,
looks as though the mission training
wasn't quite satisfactory.
the idea of having accepted the mission
taught us to prepare people for a life they get to lead,
it shouldn't be just to keep the novices forever.
We had had two years beyond the mission by that time.
Yes, a couple years,
but it was still part of the mission.
Thank you.
Because, I know,
in the Christian Brotherhood,
they did exactly what they were doing,
preparing us for the life
that we were going to lead,
because, again,
there was a part of the mission
where we visited different schools,
and lived in the community,
so that we became aware
of what kind of lifestyle
was going to be involved,
that kind of thing.
But it was that concentration
on liturgy and scripture,
and on the rule,
those three main things,
for the four years,
it was extremely beneficial.
Yes, oh yes.
For whatever was going on.
Yes, yes,
I think, certainly,
it certainly seems to me,
I think,
whatever form this takes,
whether it takes
a form of physical separation,
or ideas,
so to say,
of course,
our particular circumstances
in this house at the moment
are very difficult to deal with,
I think,
in one way,
it has to do with the logical question,
of course,
because we are so few
to do everything inevitable,
everybody must do something
from the heart.
Well, recalling the novitiates,
we were physically removed
of the main,
the mother house of Los Angeles,
the novitiate was in Santa Barbara,
and the only two professors
that we spoke to
were the novice ministers
and her associates.
Even the superior
of the novitiate house
had nothing to do with us,
and we just were kept.
I think Mr. McConnell,
you were a fairly common
in all institutes
at that period,
I think you were.
well, certainly,
I wasn't allowed to speak to my father,
or him,
he to me,
without my father's permission.
But when you look at the novitiates
across the board today,
I don't think this particular
place is very uncommon.
Oh no,
of course,
by no means,
I knew from there.
In fact,
I think we're
very much more observant
about what's done
than most people are.
But obviously,
I don't think,
if this is something
it seems to you common,
which is also a kind of abstract
idea about it,
I simply felt it necessary
to say that it seems to me
what the rule suggests,
in some way,
does have to be acknowledged.
In some,
there are,
it's desired,
when people begin,
they should be
consciously given a bit more
leisure for
for their personal promotion,
and then,
to be able to have later on,
if that can be done.
But obviously,
in many ways,
insofar as a monster is
like the life of a family,
and the heart,
very much like the life of a house,
not like a mortal,
the fact of having to take part
in common work,
even under
rather unfavourable conditions,
is a very important kind of testing,
but maybe a very positive
if you can get through it.
I think,
Do the Trappists assume
that they're living this rule
more strictly?
I suppose you can say,
very simply,
what the,
at least in its original form,
as you know,
many Trappists at the moment are
now concerned to see it
in that way.
I suppose the original
assertion form,
in the time of St Bernard,
it was
the reading rule,
which has been very common
but the thing it doesn't deal with
is the possibility of receiving
boy or blades,
there are no boys in the house,
as there were in the gate area
of St Gareth,
very successful in the 10th century,
which is the justification
for so many monasteries,
particularly American ones,
having large schools nowadays.
That bit of the rule
falls away,
so that the life is more strictly
that of community,
whatever services it gives
so they're not actually
involved so much
in the house itself.
I think that's a bit of the chief,
the chief aspect of the rule,
which I gather
my latest contact
with a multitude of people
amongst the Trappists,
that at the moment
there's a rather strong reaction
against something
which they should know
they have loosened up on,
namely letting people
lead their own mythical life.
So perhaps another day
it will come again,
once again,
and not an exception in this way.
And they think it'd be
a fairly normal thing,
people should have
at least some sort of
I gather the general Trappist
thinking will be gone against this.
And this way of course,
I'm afraid,
I must say that
they're in the best position,
because the first aliens,
a very hostile alien,
who were alienated,
and that's normal
for all those early lifers,
they were very, very concerned
with the experience of common life.
This was one of the things
they got out of them,
and I hope I've portrayed that
sufficiently well,
one of the things they got out of them
was the strong sense.
But I say it's very interesting
that the modest master
hadn't did satirically
them at all,
they only did the rule,
that's what they get out of it,
that's what they get for it,
how they're going to live.
The others are not all kind of
ugly, but that's the rule itself,
that was the main training.
And I think this is really
what that first generation did
in a very vivid way.
I'll never forget,
of course, the time when I was
able to deal with these things,
and in England,
I was rather specially privileged,
because we've got so many
remnants of assertion libraries,
and I was able to piece together
the libraries of certain houses
as far as they still exist.
Sometimes, for instance,
a monastery very near,
near River Avery's monastery,
not River itself,
another monastery not very far away,
about five miles away,
I was able to assemble together
in one day,
several books,
which would have been in the
monastic library at that time.
And it's fascinating
how very closely they were used,
especially the lives of fathers,
desert fathers,
they were cut with a knife,
they really were literally
cut with a knife,
and they obviously were used
by people who were working
in the fields,
because they all built their own
monasteries at that point too.
So they were very much used,
and very few books
were very intensely used,
very, very carefully annotated
in many cases too,
in 12th century hands.
That first generation
read very few books,
they wouldn't have more than
a shelf of modern life,
but they read them very,
very closely indeed.
And they got a very great deal
out of this.
So that's why they were able
to quote both the scriptures
and certain patristics,
texts and stories,
almost verbatim,
what I've said about
the first bit of Benedict's chapter,
I guess it's quite clear
he didn't look up any books
to write it,
he simply wrote it down in his head.
How did that happen?
I don't know,
Benedict was not related
to the peasants,
no, I mean was the life
Well, what is very interesting
you see is that it was,
I suppose in one way,
the only thing Benedict's father
actually did
was make it slightly softer
for the monks
by giving them
a rather longer night
than some others would have had.
Abbott Butler is very interested
in this,
in his Benedict monasticism,
he mentions it
being very practical,
mind you,
as he was,
he observed what went on
when he was coming and going
to Rome,
he noticed that
even in modern times,
it ended,
it began very early
in the morning,
he'd come home
before it was actually light at all.
So if you like the horror of it,
you think of the times
when things occur,
the monks are living
very much the same kind of way
as he did in Abbott's time.
In fact it was one of the things
I found when I first became
a home by myself
in Belgium,
that means I adopted
a very important,
and also again,
this was a problem for my people
when I was,
I adopted
essentially the same kind
that they seem to do,
and of course I found
I liked a lot of them,
and be saying my visuals
in the church,
at the same time,
speaking my,
all my visuals,
can't be couched in.
So everybody thought
that makes,
that gave us a bond,
I mean,
we didn't have to talk
about the liturgy,
it's been,
we all do it together,
we live the whole life together.
We live in our gardens
at the same time,
and so on,
and so are the monks,
where all the,
all the simply,
all the very easily
living in groups
where they,
where they were getting
little bit more sleep
than they're supposed to,
all the time.
Makes a big difference.
Yes, exactly,
and you'll remember,
of course,
the very first
stricture of the law,
that no celibate
had to go higher rank,
on any basis,
except for if you're in
even though they took
I think they both were,
and appear to be,
because in one way,
what one appears to be is,
as you know,
that's one of them,
why is it one of them now,
they seem to be
what we appear to be,
and they certainly appear
to be very close
to two people,
and they really do
make a difference to mine.
I've taken two points
from it now.