… under a rule and an abbot … (RB 1,2)

Both Oblates and religious of the Benedictine Order are under authority (RB 1, 2). Most obviously the Rule of St. Benedict. But for monastics both lay and religious there is also the Abbot or spiritual father (or the Abbess & spiritual mother). The abbot is steeped in the tradition and the teaching of the holy fathers and is of stable character having been formed over many years of practice in the spiritual life. The abbot in his turn forms the monastics under him according to the same principles that he was himself trained in. This way the monastics are receiving that which was from the beginning (1 John 1-3) and have communion with that which was from the beginning through the Holy Rule as applied by the abbot (or in the case of laity the spiritual father/mother).

Having a father or a mother in this sense is crucial. It is not, however, easily available. The dangers of being an abbot (or an abbess) unto oneself is that such a traveller on the spiritual road will almost inevitably get lost along the way. These are the sarabaites the most detestable kind of monastics (RB 1, 6). The real monastic lives in obedience to the common rule of the monastery and he follows the example set by his superiors (RB 7, 55). To a novice the Rule is read three times during his probationary period (RB 58, 9, 12, 13) and he freely chooses obedience to the Rule. It is interesting to note that the Rule of St. Benedict is in fact commonly divided in portions for daily reading. These daily portions guide the listener through rule 3 times once a year. Naturally the abbot is himself also bound by the Rule (RB 3, 11; 64, 20).

The monastic community consists of: Abbot, Prior, Priests and Monks (or Nuns of course). They are all no longer free but are bound by the Rule (RB 58, 15), in particular this Rule (RB 58, 9) written and put in place by St. Benedict himself (RB 73, 1).

It might seem to modern readers that the Holy Rule envisions a closed system, where a tightly ordered society of monks slavishly obey the law. Such a view is terribly anachronistic and presumes too much. The great Benedictine reformer St. Benedict of Aniane required that in addition to Benedict’s rule, other such rules were to be read. Iow the Holy Rule was considered to be incomplete and required a broader context for its proper understanding and application. St. Benedict (of Nursia) himself points beyond his Rule to Sts. John Cassian and Basil the Great and he also indicates that his Rule is a place to start rather than the end (RB 73, 1, 8-9). We do not therefore have a closed system in the Rule, but rather a part of a bigger whole. The Rule provides a beginning and points toward an end for us to strive toward. It also provides helpful and necessary guideposts on the way there.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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