For the January-May 2017 reflections on the Rule we shall re-visit the very first set by Sr Laurentia, posted in 2014, with some slight variations around Easter time.
Just to remind you that the complete text of the Rule (RB37) as used on this website is available above or in the Scriptorium section of the website via the last drop-box in the list: RULE OF ST BENEDICT.
Please scroll down below introduction to find the reflections.
Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction
We wanted the Rule of St Benedict (RB) to pulse through the website as it does through our life, hence the decision that the daily portion of the Rule, read in most Benedictine monasteries and by many individuals, should feature on the Home Page. The version selected is that of Dom Justin McCann OSB published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1937 and used here by kind permission of the Ampleforth Abbey Trust. There are several reasons for this choice: first of all, we feel it still reads as an elegant translation, then we wish to celebrate cooperation between the Ampleforth and Stanbrook communities over many years, and thirdly, perhaps the old-fashioned thees and thous can actually help us approach the Rule of St Benedict thoughtfully. For all its relevance, RB remains an ancient text which needs careful unpacking.
To accompany the extracts of the Rule we hope to post reflections, initially from members of the Stanbrook Community. These do not aim to be scholarly commentaries of which there are many excellent editions available. Rather, the reflections allow us to re-visit the Rule, to try to listen to its familiar voice anew, and to share thoughts via this forum.
Your comments are welcome via email@example.com
Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction
1 May, Chapter 73: That the full observance of justice is not established in this Rule ‘Whoever you are then, hastening to your heavenly homeland, keep with Christ’s help this little Rule we have sketched out for beginners and, under God’s protection, you will arrive.’
Many another author might have ended a rule such as this on the summit of chapter 72. After all, what could be a better place to finish than eternal life with the Trinity? But Benedict, humble, self-effacing, saintly and practical, has left us instead this chapter, a kind of anti-epilogue with a clunky title which shows his reluctance to have the last or definitive word: ‘the full observance of justice is NOT established in this Rule’. Yet it is, arguably, the most Benedictine chapter of the whole Rule. Pointing beyond itself, RB 73 directs readers to the Scriptures, and to the ever-bubbling stream of Early Christian writings which never cease to water succeeding generations with the grace of newness. St Basil’s Rule (4th Century) is mentioned specifically, and the Conferences are generally regarded as those of St John Cassian (d. c.435) but the Rule abounds in allusions to patristic sources, notably St Augustine’s writings but others too as we saw, for instance, in chapter 49 on Lent where Pope St Leo’s legacy predominates.
At the same time and very subtly, this final chapter leads us back to the Prologue of which there are many intimations in the vocabulary and phrasing, for example ‘hastening’ in verses 2 and 8 (cf. Prologue ‘running’ vv. 13, 22, 44, 49) and the whole thrust of returning to the Father-Creator.
Then there is the voice. In the first 4 verses of the Prologue – St Benedict’s own words – we are addressed in the second person singular. Throughout the rest of the Rule, the writer has invariably used the second person plural to address readers. Now, at the end, St Benedict once more speaks to each one of us personally:
Postscript: Your Word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path (Ps 118 v. 105)
We began these reflections shortly after Christmas when Christ the Word and Light of the world had just been born in the depths of winter. We are bringing them to a close in the full light of Christ’s Resurrection when the whole cosmos is rejoicing in re-birth and re-creation. In between we have simply followed St Benedict’s Gospel-centred words day by day as he suggests in RB 73. This journey we have made together is a little parable of the Benedictine way where faithfulness leads to glory (cf. Prologue 7). Like any Christian journey, it is not an easy one but with grace and the guidance of Gospel and Rule, it is eminently possible. In RB 68, St Benedict has even suggested how we can cope with the impossible!
The next set of reflections is due to appear in September. Over the summer months, we invite you to reflect on the Rule yourself, perhaps with the aid of some of the books recommended below.
One last point. These reflections were first written against the backdrop of the laying of the foundations of our new abbey church. Reading the Rule afresh then, I was struck by how it falls into almost exactly two halves: the first 35 chapters are all concerned with building up the life of the monastery, of establishing and nurturing its spiritual foundations. From chapter 36 on, there is more of an outward focus, an outreach to the sick, guests, newcomers of all kinds in a steady flow of new life which in turn builds up the community. Faithfulness leads to fruitfulness. My prayer is that this same dynamic will flow from our hillside in Yorkshire to help build up God’s Kingdom: true contemplation always has a missionary thrust.
Sr Laurentia Johns OSB, Easter 2017
©Stanbrook Abbey 2017
If you have enjoyed looking at words and patterns in the Rule you will probably benefit from Sr Aquinata Böckmann’s approach, eg in her Perspectives on the Rule of St Benedict (2005), pub. Collegeville.
Dom Hugh Gilbert’s books: Unfolding the Mystery (2007) and Living the Mystery (2008) and The Tale of Quisquis, published since has become a bishop.
Gregory Collins OSB: Meeting Christ in his Mysteries (2010) pub. Columba.
Maria Boulding OSB: Gateway to Resurrection (2010) pub. Continuum, is shot through with the Paschal dimension of Benedictine life.
Anything by Michael Casey OCSO!
1 May, Chapter 73: That the full observance of justice is not established in this Rule
‘Whoever you are then, hastening to your heavenly homeland, keep with Christ’s help this little Rule we have sketched out for beginners and, under God’s protection, you will arrive.’