In his hagiographical work Dialogues Saint Gregory the Great seems to place the central focus of this work on one man: Saint Benedict of Nursia. Though only book two is specifically dedicated to telling Benedict’s story. It is nonetheless quite clear that all the other lives contained in the Dialogues only partially meet the requirements of holiness and that they are perfected in the man “blessed by grace and blessed by name” (benedictus = blessed).
Even today Saint Benedict continues to bless the lives of many. Benedictine congregations have spread around the world and many spiritual seekers have joined themselves to a particular monastery as Oblates of St. Benedict. Even in our own Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) there may be found a significant number of Oblates of St. Benedict (the ACC does not lack Oblates but is painfully short on Benedictine Monastics).
Those of us who take the Holy Rule as a meaningful guide to life would do well to consider a phrase from the closing chapter of the Rule. In Chapter 73 our Father Benedict writes something of absolutely crucial importance. It is worth quoting him here:
But for anyone hastening on to the perfection of monastic life, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which will lead them to the very heights of perfection.
There is much to be unpacked in this terse but extremely rich passage. What is a monastic life? A life lived in a monastery? The life of a hermit in the desert? One will surely be pardoned for making this erroneous assumption. St. Macarius the Great, as Fr. Bunge informs us (Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16) that a monastic is one who continuously (night and day) converses with God, is oriented primarily toward God, and owns nothing in this world. In other words a monastic is one that is always and all times times fully receptive toward God, places God first at all times and in everything, and is not unduly attached (enslaved) by things.
Who are the holy Fathers? and what are their teachings? St. Benedict is quite clear. The holy Fathers are the biblical authors, as well as Sts. John Cassian, Basil (the Great) and other holy Catholic Fathers. Here Benedict points to the tradition which goes back to Origen as his doctrines were understood and practiced by the Desert Fathers (of 4th century Egypt). Their teaching is simply Christianity which requires the shedding of vice and adoption of virtue, knowing God by mediation of Scripture and creation, knowing God intimately without mediation. Christianity is a way of life where the biblical pattern of liberation from Egypt, trial in the desert, crossing into Judah, entering Jerusalem, and climbing mount Sion are lived by each. Each biblical place and story is as it were a guide from the world of sin, sickness, and death (Egypt) to intimate union with the Trinity (mount Sion). This way of life is Christian because our Lord says I am the Way (John 14, 6).
A life informed by the Holy Rule, for an Oblate as much as for a monastic, is a life in accordance with the teaching of the holy Fathers. But this is too simple and needs further unraveling. This series of posts is intended to lay out the beginnings of monastic life accordng to the teachings of the holy Fathers. For those of you that read German I wholeheartedly recommend to you Fr. Gabriel Bunge’s Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter and for those of you that do not I recommend you check this blog from time to time …
Fr. Gregory Wassen