Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37

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 secretary@stanbrookabbey.org.uk


 

 

 

Chapters 43-47, Satisfaction for Faults: Overview
In the Rule of the Master, St Benedict’s template, the chapter on penance follows immediately that about excommunication for faults (chapters 13 & 14). As you’ll recall, the Penal Code of RB runs from chapters 21 -30, so there is quite a gap before these chapters on satisfaction for faults. Some commentators see this as a weakness in RB or at least one of St Benedict’s less happy editorial moves compared with, say, the way he made a unified whole of the  Liturgical Code. But I wonder whether the disjointedness between sin and penance as set out in the RB isn’t more true to life in some ways. For while the liturgy is – at least at a deep level and in intention even if not always in performance – a unifying action, sin is by its very nature divisive and likely to spring up unexpectedly.

Then, it is not always possible to make amends for failures straightaway: in terms of personal relationships there is usually a process to be worked through. So by including a large chunk of ordinary life: meals, material goods, sleep, between the Penal Code and the section on satisfaction for faults, Benedict gives us the context for both and builds in a time lag which replicates reality.

What can we draw from these chapters? We live in a culture where people are acutely aware of their rights. This is good but can become unhealthy if it encourages an attitude of always looking for someone else to blame for our ills. The capacity to admit our own faults and failings without lapsing into negativity can be liberating.
©Stanbrook Abbey 201
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24-27 March, Chapter 44 ff. ‘How the Excommunicated are to make Satisfaction’

This chapter describes the ritual for return to the fold after excommunication. The Master had scripted a dialogue between abbot and penitent monk for such occasions but St Benedict prefers his penitent to remain silent or simply to ask for prayers, possibly wordlessly, in the gesture of prostration. This throwing of oneself at the feet of abbot and community re-enacts the ritual of profession by which the monk freely bound himself to the community (see RB 58).
We probably find such acrobatics a bit over the top but there is a place sometimes for the larger than life gesture in making amends for offences. Actions can speak more eloquently than words.
©Stanbrook Abbey 2017

Chapter 45: Of those who make mistakes in the Oratory

It is still customary in many monasteries for mistakes made in chanting or reading to be acknowledged in choir during the Office. This is a remarkably freeing experience. You make a mistake, you acknowledge, it is pardoned by the superior, you get on with the office, and all the while the rest of the community is – unless your mistake has thrown them horrendously off course – continuing to sing or at least to pray. While everyone’s contribution counts, the liturgy, the prayer of the Church, Christ’s prayer, is bigger than any individual mistake. Like a strong river in spate it carries on and carries us.
©Stanbrook Abbey 2017

 

Chapter 46: Of those who offend in other matters

This is not the ‘Big Brother’ chapter it might seem, rather it makes concrete that phrase ‘personal responsibility’ which can so easily trip off the tongue. Everyone really is responsible for everything, as Dostoyevsky claimed. Benedict shows pastoral sensitivity here. We can drop a plate by accident but if we keep on dropping them then there could be a deeper reason than clumsiness.

Although the chapter is concerned mainly with what we might term structural damage, it’s worth pondering the wider implications. If we want to chip away at the blame culture in which we live, we have to start small and at home by admitting our mistakes, for example by being thankful when people correct our typos and being prepared to retract comments we later discover to have been false.
©Stanbrook Abbey 201
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Chapter 47: Announcing the Hour for the Work of God

Prevention is better than cure. Just as St Benedict wants his monks to be well provided with all necessities so as to stave off the need for grumbling, so he wishes the times for the Work of God to be announced very clearly and reliably. He makes this the abbot’s responsibility to perform or delegate to one conscientious brother. The Master’s system is a little more complex, entrusted to the deans of the deanery doing the cooking in any given week. One might expect something of a conflict of interest here!
©Stanbrook Abbey 2017