Posted March 27, 2007
Excerpts on St. Benedict and Benedictine Monasticism
Taken from Christian History and Biography
Christianity for Beginners
by Carmen Acevedo Butcher
Benedict’s entire life was a series of risings in the dark. He was up before 2 A.M. singing the divine office — the daily chanting of the Psalms in Latin. This music is still the heart of Benedictine life. Many times in the profound quiet after midnight, while most peasants, politicians, children, fishermen, high-born ladies, servants, teachers, and bakers were sound asleep, lights fired up in Benedict’s monasteries, and the man in a simple tunic began his day with a Psalm: “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.”
Benedict knew that praising God is the best medicine for a flawed, poverty-stricken world. It requires rejecting arrogance, nurturing community, and understanding that even the oldest seeker of God is always a beginner. The epilogue of his Rule reminds us of this truth: “Whoever you may be rushing to your heavenly home, follow — with Christ’s help — this little rule we’ve written for beginners. Only then, as God watches over you, will you ultimately reach soaring heights of doctrine and integrity.”
St. Gregory the Great would have seen this as the best lesson taught by Benedict’s life: There is always more to learn. We are all always beginners. Kindness is never complete.
By Hugh Feiss, OSB
In his prologue, Benedict invites the reader to listen to the voice of God calling him or her to service in prayer, faith, and good works.
. . . . A life of listening — to Scripture, to the writings of the church fathers, to the abbot, and to each other — required of the monks certain fundamental attitudes: the humility of a creature seeking to live in the presence of his Maker, the receptivity of a disciple “in the school of the Lord’s service” (Benedict’s definition of a monastery), and the silence of one who is slow to speak and ready to learn. While Benedict didn’t require perpetual silence, he wanted monks to use sign language to ask for things during meals, because monks listened to public reading while they ate. At night, he wanted strict silence.
The monks were to express obedience, silence, and humility in virtuous action. In chapter four of his Rule, Benedict listed some 70 “instruments of good works,” beginning with the Lord’s command to love God with all one’s heart and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The list includes the Ten Commandments, ascetic practices, forgiveness, sincerity and restraint in speech confession of sins, and placing one’s hope solely in God.
These are not tools to earn salvation but ways to serve the Lord. Benedict cautioned that those who use these instruments rightly should “not become elated over their good observance, but realize that the good things in them come not from them but from the Lord.” He went on to cite the apostle Paul: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).