(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Benedict was born in the region of Nursia, northeast of Rome; the traditional date of 480 cannot be far from the truth. He went to Rome to study and underwent a religious conversion that led him to renounce the world. He first joined some ascetics at Enfide, east of Rome, and then, for three years, lived in complete solitude at Subiaco. He was later joined by many disciples for whom he established twelve monasteries. Persecution led him to withdraw to Monte Cassino, eighty miles south of Rome, where he established what became a large, flourishing cenobium. He gained a widespread reputation as a holy man, endowed with special charisms. He died around the middle of the century.

The Rule is made up of a rather extensive prologue and seventy-three chapters, the last few of which seem to have been added to a completed text and show a somewhat different influence from that of the Rule of the Master, which seems to have been the main influence on the Rule. The influences of Basil the Great and John Cassian are evident, and they are referred to in the Rule, the latter implicitly.

The prologue is a paternal admonition, rich in spiritual teaching. Benedict writes the Rule for the one who wishes to return to God by the way of obedience. This calls for repentance and good works. Benedict seeks to establish a school of the Lord’s service that is moderate in its demands but that will lead to the heights: “As we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run in the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” It is through patience that we share in the passion of Christ and merit to share in his kingdom.

In the first chapter the holy legislator speaks of the different kinds of monks: hermits or anchorites, who live alone; sarabites, detestable men who live in small groups and do their own will; gyrovagues, who spend their lives going from one monastery to another; and cenobites, who live in community under a rule and an abbot. These latter are the strongest, and for them Benedict writes his Rule.

Therefore, in chapter 2 Benedict immediately speaks about the abbot, the spiritual father who is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery and has supreme authority. He is, however, always to remember that he must answer to the Lord, and he is to seek constantly the advice of the brethren: “Everything is to be done with counsel.” The abbot is to be elected by the brethren. He, in turn, names his prior—his second in command—and a cellarer, who administers all the temporalities under the direction of the abbot.

Benedict next devotes four chapters to basic monastic spirituality. Chapter 4 is a concise catalog of the “instruments of good work,” going from the decalogue to the ultimate piece of advice: If...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Benedict of Nursia. The Rule of the Master. Translated by Luke Eberle. Cistercian Studies 6. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1977. This more extensive and less balanced rule is considered to be Benedict’s most proximate source. A study of it brings out Benedict’s moderating wisdom.

De Vogue, Adalbert. The Rule of Saint Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Cistercian Studies 54. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1983. This concise commentary, written by the foremost scholar in Benedictine studies of his time, bases contemporary interpretations on the most solid scholarship and shares a depth of spiritual wisdom that can come only from a prolonged, serious living of the Rule.

McCann, Justin. Saint Benedict. New York: Doubleday, 1958. A widely accepted, objective study of the life of Saint Benedict.

Rees, Daniel, et al. Consider Your Call: A Theology of Monastic Life Today. Cistercian Studies 18. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1983. A large group of qualified scholars from the English Benedictine Congregation here collaborate to explore the living of the Rule.

Wathen, Ambrose G. Silence: The Meaning in the Rule of Saint Benedict. Cistercian Studies 22. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1983. Beyond its value as a thorough study of a basic element of Benedictine spirituality, Wathen’s volume is useful for its comparative introduction to all the Western monastic rules that preceded Benedict’s.