In his Dialogues Pope St. Gregory the Great relates the story of St. Benedict seeing a remarkable vision. It follows upon his “forced” all-night meeting with his sister St. Scholastica. Benedict had been unwilling to grant Scholastica’s request to stay with her to “discourse about the joys of Heaven.” As he is about to leave God is willing to grant Scholastica’s request and He sends a rain o heavy Benedict can not return to his monastery but is forced to stay with his sister. The story closes with the following, important, words:
“Therefore, as is right, she who loved more, did more.”
Benedict, in spite of the strict adherence to his “rule” has not (yet) achieved the spiritual maturity of his sister. The end-goal of praktike is love, and love (as Evagrius says) enables spiritual knowledge (reserved for the mature). Scholastica loved more so that the point is not that Benedict did not love, but rather his sister loved more and is therefore in closer union with the God who is “charity” – or love. The implication is that God hears Scholastica because she enjoys a closer union with Him. This makes sense if we consider that spiritual life according to a “rule” commonly follows the pattern where one starts adhering to the rule out of fear to receive its punishments, but as one continues one’s heart becomes wider (Prologue 49) and following the rule becomes easier. Ultimately following the rule (praktike) leads to sweetness of love which is where Scholastica was already at.
At another time – the story of the vision begins – Benedict is (initially) alone in a tower and sees a vision. He is flooded with light. A light brighter than that of the sun. It is the deifying light of Prologue 9. Benedict has here reached the union with God his sister had already achieved before him. Benedict’s heart has been widened so it has become large enough to have God dwelling in it. This is what a rule is for. And this is why obeying the Rule is worth it. By it (the Rule) we are given a means to return to God from whom we had fallen away by disobedience. The author of the Rule is not Benedict himself. In the Rule Benedict never claims to be its author. Rather, reading the Prologue and the Epilogue together we can see that the “Father” demanding we listen to him is related the “holy and catholic Fathers” and that it is their teaching Benedict is trying to convey rather than his own.
Yet the holy and catholic Fathers also do not teach what they have themselves invented. It is not an accident that “father” is one of the titles of Jesus Christ. The Father speaking in Benedict’s Rule is Jesus Christ the True King (Prologue, 3). This would place the origins of the Rule with Him insofar as it conveys the teaching Jesus gave the holy and catholic Fathers. This is even more evident when we read the Prologue of a treatise called Admonition to a Spiritual Son which Benedict is paraphrasing in the first few verses of his Rule. The author of this treatise, which Benedict would have attributed to St. Basil the Great, unambiguously states that:
“These words are not from me, but proceed from divine origins; nor am I instructing you in a new doctrine but those things which I learned from my fathers.”
How can Benedict be so sure that his Rule is in fact Christ’s Rule? Because, as Benedict sees it, the Rule of Benedict is simply taken from Scripture: the Word of God. He is perfectly aware that his Rule is not a citation from Scripure, but he is forcefully claiming that the Rule is correct interpretation and application of Scripture. The Rule is not itself Scripture, but scriptural. Which is why Prologue 8-13 call the reader/listener to “hear” the divine voice which is Scripture! Hearing this divine voice and seeing the divine/deifying light go together. The light is needed to understand Scripture and the Scripture is needed to see the light.
From the study and application of Scripture – living the rule – our hearts are widened, we learn to love, and as loving persons we are united to God and see the world from His perspective (in his light). For the light engulfing Benedict is none other but the divine light of Scripture. The orthodox and catholic approach to Scripture brings the Scripture to life for us. It is not a dead letter for those who spiritually understand (and apply) it. In this scriptural light the creation also opens up and becomes – as it were, and as St. Anthony the Great said – a book testifying to God. Seeing the world gathered together under one beam of the sun, as in Benedict’s vision, is spiritual knowledge (physike as Evagrius would say) and the union with God (loving intimacy with Him) is “essential knowledge” (or to use another Evagrian term: theologike).
May the Rule of St. Benedict widen all of our hearts.
Fr. Gregory Wassen