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Posted November 4, 2004

Book: Regular Life: Monastic, Canonical, and Mendicant Rules
Selected and Introduced by: Daniel Marcel La Corte and Douglas J. McMillan
Medieval Institute Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan, pp. 164

An Excerpt from the Preface:

The phrase “regular life” refers to the lives of men and women who follow a written Rule of life. Those living under a Regula or Rule are generally called monastics, from the Greek word monos, which translates as “alone.” Most often, those people following a Regula are lay people, not priests, who withdraw from the world to devote their lives to God, either in community or in solitude. The Rule is a way of organizing one’s life with this spiritual purpose in mind. Monks, nuns, monasteries, and Rules have existed from almost the very beginning of Christianity. There are, of course, also ascetics in other religions, and ascetic Jewish sects (Nazarites and Essences) predated and co-existed with Christianity. These Rules are interesting in themselves and indispensable for an understanding of medieval culture.

The purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to the Rules of life of the major religious orders within the monastic, canonical, and mendicant traditions. We present the most important Rules of religious life, mainly as developed in western Europe, and we offer selections from these Rules and other documents to illustrate the ideals established for the members of various orders through the fourteenth century. . . .

. . . . Monasteries are experiencing increased visitors and retreatants each year, welcoming people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds to experience something of the monastic life. Regular life was a major factor in the medieval and modern history, and has been the inspiration of creative writers from before Chaucer to the late twentieth century. A clue to its enduring fascination lies in this passage from the most famous and influential of the medieval Rules, that of St. Benedict: “Whoever you are, if you wish to follow the path to God, make use of this little Rule for beginners. Thus at length, you will come to the heights of doctrine and virtue under God’s guidance. Amen.”

An Excerpt from the Book:

From the Rule of St. Benedict

Of Discretion

How necessary discretion is for monks is shown by the mistake of many, and indicated by the downfall of some, wh beginning without discretion and passing their time without a sobering knowledge, have been unable to complete a praiseworthy life; since, just as error overtakes those who proceed without a path, so for those who live without discretion intemperance is at hand, and this is always the opposite of virtues which are place in the mean between each extreme. Its onset is a matter of danger, when beside the straight way of discretion our foes place the stumbling-blocks of wickedness and the offences of various mistakes. Therefore we must pray God continually that He would bestow the light of true discretion to illumine this way, surrounded on every side by the world’s thickest darkness, so that His true worshipers may be able to cross this darkness without error to Himself.

. . . Thus between the little and the excessive there is a reasonable measure in the midst, which ever recalls us from every superfluity on either side, and in every case posited provides what is universally fixed by human need, and spurns the unreasonable demand of superfluous desire. And this measure of true discretion, weighing all our actions in the scales of justice, in no wise allows us to err from what is just, or to suffer a mistake, if we ever follow straight behind the leader. For while we must always restrain ourselves from either side, according to that saying, “Keep yourselves from the right and from the left (cf. Deut. 5:32). We must ever proceed straight forward by discretion, that is, by the light of God while very often we say an sing the victorious psalmist’s verse, “My God enlighten my darkness, since in Thee I am rescued from temptation. For temptation is the life of man on earth” )Ps. 18:29;Job 7:1)

Table of Contents:


Regular Life: historical background

Rules for Eastern Orders of monks and nuns
Rules for Western Orders of monks and nuns
Reformed Orders of monks and nuns
The call of the desert in the high middle ages: primitive monastic models
Rules for Orders of canons and Canonese/nuns
Rules for Orders of friars, nuns, and lay persons

The Rules
The life of Antony
The letters of St. Antony the Great
The life and regimen of the Blessed and Holy Syncletica
Pachomian Koinonia I: The first Sahidic life of Pachmius
St. Basil: The long rules
The Conferences of Cassian
The Rule of Augustine
St. Caesarius of Arles
The rule of the master
The rule of St. Benedict
Rule for monks by Columbanus
The rule of a certain father to the virgins
The Carolingian Reform
Benedict of Aniane, by Ardo
The Cluniac Refore
The foundation charter of the Order of Cluny, Sept. 11, 909 A.D.
The twelfth-century monastic renewal
The Carthusians
The life of St. Gilbert
The Cistercians: Early Cistercian documents
The military orders: The Knights Templar and the Hospitallers
The Knights Templar: The Primitive Rule
The Hospitallers
The Mendicants: Francis, Clare, and Dominic
Introduction to St. Francis, The Rule of 1223 and The First Rule of the Third Order
Introduction to St. Clare of Assisi, The Rule of St. Clare
The Dominican Friars