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St. Benedict of Nursia, c.480-c.543

The founder of Western monasticism, Saint Benedict, was born at Nursia near Spoleto. While still a student at Rome, the young Benedict discovered that the only way he could escape the evils of his world was in seclusion and religious devotion. At the age of fourteen, he left Rome and lived in a cave near Subiaco, where he lived for three years. His piety led to his being appointed the abbot of a neighboring monastery at Vicovaro. Finding the morals of the monks not to his liking, Benedict left the monastery. There were still many people who sought his guidance and from the most devoted, he founded twelve small monastic communities. He eventually established the monastery at Monte Cassino, near Naples. In 515 he is said to have composed his Regula Monachroum, which became the Benedictine Rule and common to nearly all monastic communities.

Included here is a short extract from the Rule of Saint Benedict. A list of internet resources is included as well.

 

The Rule of Saint Benedict (530)

Chapter. 1. The kinds of monks: There are four kinds of monks. The first kind is that of the cenobites, those who live in a monastery according to a rule, and under the government of an abbot. The second is that of the anchorites, or hermits, who have learned how to conduct the war against the devil by their long service in the monastery and their association with many brothers, and so, being well trained, have separated themselves from the troop, in order to wage single combat, being able with the aid of God to carry on the fight alone against the sins of the flesh. The third kind (and a most abominable kind it is) is that of the sarabites, who have not been tested and proved by obedience to the rule and by the teaching of experience, as gold is tried in the furnace, and so are soft and pliable like a base metal; who in assuming the tonsure are false to God, because they still serve the world in their lives. They do not congregate in the master’s fold, but dwell apart without a shepherd, by twos and threes, or even alone. Their law is their own desires, since they call that holy which they like, and that unlawful which they do not like. The fourth kind is composed of those who are called gyrovagi (wanderers), who spend their whole lives wandering about through different regions and living three or four days at a time in the cells of different monks. They are always wandering about and never remain long in one place, and they are governed by their own appetites and desires. They are in every way worse than the sarabites. But it is better to pass over in silence than to mention their manner of life. Let us, therefore, leaving these aside, proceed, with the aid of God, to the consideration of the cenobites, the highest type of monks.

Chapter 2. The qualities necessary for an abbot: The abbot who is worthy to rule over a monastery ought always to bear in mind by what name he is called and to justify by his life his title of superior. For he represents Christ in the monastery, receiving his name from the saving of the apostle: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” [Rom. 8:15] Therefore the abbot should not teach or command anything contrary to the precepts of the Lord, but his commands and his teaching should be in accord with divine justice. He should always bear in mind that both his teaching and the obedience of his disciples will be inquired into the dread Day of Judgment. For the abbot should know that the shepherd will have to bear the blame if the Master finds anything wrong with the flock. Only in case the shepherd has displayed all diligence and care in correcting the fault of a restive and disobedient flock will he be freed from blame at the judgment of God. . . . Then shall be punishment fall upon the flock who scorned his care and it shall be the punishment of death. The abbot ought to follow two methods in governing his disciples: teaching the Commandments of the Lord to the apt disciples by his words, and to the obdurate and the simple by his deeds.  And when he teaches his disciples that certain things are wrong, he should demonstrate it in his own life by not doing those things. . . . Let there be no distinction of persons in the monastery.  Let the abbot not love one more than another, unless it the one who excels in good works and in obedience.  The freeman is not to be preferred to the one who comes into the monastery out of servitude, unless there be some other good reason. . . . For whether slave or free, we are all one in Christ. . . . Therefore, the abbot should have the same love toward all and should subject all to the same discipline according to their respective merits. . . . That is, he should suit his methods to the occasion, using either threats or compliments, showing himself either a hard master or a loving father, according to the needs of the case.  Thus he should reprove partially the obdurate and the disobedient, the meek, and the gentle he should exhort to grow in grace.  We advise also that he rebuke and punish those who neglect and scorn his teaching. . . .

The abbot should always remember his office and his title, and should realize that as much is intrusted to him, so also much will be required from him.  Let him realize how difficult and arduous task he has undertaken, to rule the hearts and care for the morals of many persons, who require, one encouragement, another threats, and another persuasion.  Let him so adapt his methods to the disposition and intelligence of each one that he may not only preserve the flock committed to him entire and free from harm, but may even rejoice in its increase. . . .

Chapter 3. Taking counsel with the brethren: Whenever important matters come up in the monastery, the abbot should call together the whole congregation, and tell them what is under consideration.  After hearing the advice of the brothers, he should reflect upon it and then do what seems best to him. . . .

Chapter 5. Obedience: The first grade of humility is obedience without delay, which is becoming to those who hold nothing dearer than Christ. so, when one of the monks receives a command from a superior, he should obey it immediately, as if it came from God himself, being impelled thereto by the holy service he has professed and by the fear of Hell and the desire of eternal life. . . .

Chapter 6. Silence: It is the business of the master to speak and instruct, and that of the disciples to hearken and be silent. And if the disciple must ask anything of his superior, let him ask it reverently and humbly, lest he seem to speak more than is becoming.  Filthy and foolish talking and jesting we condemn utterly, and forbid a disciple ever to open his mouth to utter such words.

Chapter 7. Humility: The sixth step of humility is this, that the monks should be contented with any lowly or heart condition in which he may be placed, and should always look upon himself as an unworthy laborer, not fitted to do what is intrusted to him. . . . The seventh step of humility is this, that he should not only say, but should really believe in his heart that he is the lowest and most worthless of all men. . . . The eighth step of humility is this, that a monk should follow in everything the common rule of the monastery and the examples of his superiors. . . .

The twelfth step of humility is this, that the monk should always be humble and lowly, not only in his heart, but in his bearing as well.  Wherever he may be, in divine service, in the oratory, in the garden, on the road, in the fields, whether sitting, walking, or standing, issued always keep his head bowed and his eyes upon the ground.  He should always be meditating upon his sins and thinking of the dread day of judgment, saying to himself as did that publican of whom the Gospel speaks: "Lord, I am not worthy, I a sinner, so much as to lift my eyes up to Heaven" [Luke 18:13]; and again with the prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled everywhere" [Ps. 119:107]. . . .

Chapter 8. Divine worship at night [vigils]: During the winter; that is, from the first of November to Easter, the monks should rise at the eighth hour of the night; a reasonable arrangement, since by that time the monks will have rested a little more than half the night and will have digested their food. Those brothers who failed in the psalms or the readings hall spend the rest of he time after vigils in pious meditation. From Easter to the first of November [morning prayers] shall begin immediately after daybreak, allowing he v=brothers a little time for attending to the necessities of nature. . . .

Chapter 22. How the monk should sleep: The monks shall sleep separately in individual beds, and the abbot shall assign them their beds according to their conduct. If possible all the monks shall sleep in he same dormitory, but if their number is too large to admit of this they are to be divided into tens or twenties and placed under the control of some of the older monks. A candle shall be kept burning in the dormitory all night until daybreak. The monks shall go to bed clothed and girt with girdles an cords, but shall not have their knives at their sides, lest in their dreams they injure one of the sleepers. They should always b in readiness, rising immediately upon the signal and hastening to the service, but appearing there gravely and modestly. The beds of the younger brothers should not be placed together, but should be scattered among those of the older monks. . . .

Chapter 33. Monks should not have personal property: The sin of owning private property should be entirely eradicated from the monastery. No one shall presume to give or receive anything except by the order of the abbot; no one shall possess anything of his own, books, papers, pens, o anything else; for monks are not own even their own bodies and wills to be sued at their own desire, but are o look to the father [abbot] of the monastery for everything. . . .

Chapter 48. The daily labor of the monks: Idleness is the great enemy of the soul, therefore the monks should always be occupied, either in manual labor or in holy reading. . . . When h ninth hour sounds they shall cease from labor and be ready for the service at the second bell. After dinner they shall spend the time in reading the lessons and the psalms. During Lent he time from daybreak to the third hour shall be devoted to reading, and then they shall work at their appointed tasks until the tenth hour. At the beginning of Lent each of the monks shall be given a book from the library of the monastery which he shall read entirely through. One or two of the older monks shall b appointed to go about through the monastery during the hours set apart for reading, to see that none of the monks are idling away the time, instead of reading, and so not only wasting their own time but perhaps disturbing others as well. . . . Sunday is to be spent by all the brothers in holy reading, except by such as have regular duties assigned to them for that day. And if any brother is negligent or lazy, refusing or being unable profitably to read or meditate at the time assigned for that, let him be made to work, so that he shall at any rate not be idle. . . .

[Source: Oliver Thatcher and Edgar McNeal, eds., A Source Book of Medieval History (New York: Scribners, 1905), pp. 434-438, 440-442, 445-447, 454, 457, 459, 461-462, 467-468, 471-47.]

Internet Resources
Gregory I (Dialogos), Life of St. Benedict (Paul Halsall)
Invention of the Relics of St. Benedict
(Paul Halsall)
The Order of Saint Benedict

Rule of Saint Benedict
(Catholic Encyclopedia, includes the full text)

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