July 2015: The Rule of St Benedict
(Gather whole group together, or at least as many as have already arrived)
Welcome to Grace.
This evening we are examining the Rule of St Benedict. We will also be having a barbeque which is not very Benedictine at all, consuming as it does the flesh of four-footed animals.
The service part is a sort of Labyrinth, which you will do in groups of about 4 people, either before you eat or after. You will be dispatched in your little groups, at intervals, so that the different groups don’t collide en route.
There are six stations, and at each station one of the chapters of the Rule of St Benedict to discuss.
Before we start - Some Information:
Benedict (A.D. 480-547) was the son of a nobleman, but around the age of 20 he rejected the world and went to live as a hermit. Three years later he was asked to become abbot by some monks, but this was not a great success: allegedly they tried to poison him. He went back to being a hermit, then moved to a different area, and founded 13 monasteries, including Monte Cassino, which is where he wrote his Rule.
St Benedict wrote his Rule at a time when the Old Rome was collapsing. When Benedict was 8yrs old, the Goths invaded. Towards the end of his life, the Byzantines invaded and tried to defeat the Goths. The old proud Rome was being humbled. Even the Latin that Benedict wrote in was no longer the high Classical Latin, but Common Latin, the ancestor of Italian. Benedict based a lot of his Rule on earlier writings: St Basil and St Augustine, among others.
Now Decide – whether you want to do the journey now or later. The first small group gather to me (the rest head off to drinks/ BBQ)
(the small group about to go on the Quest gather round the Blesser):
You are shortly to depart on a journey of Faith, guided by the Rule of St Benedict.
You must travel in groups, as a defence against temptation, as a means preserving your weaker brethren, and because you’re supposed to be having discussions, and discussions don’t work unless you are in groups.
For the duration of this journey I appoint [X] as Abbot/Prior/Dean/Abbess. S/he is to exercise discipline over you, in all humility, and you are to obey them in all things. S/he is to ensure that all [3/4] of you get to talk and express yourselves, without one person dominating the discussion. S/he is to do this by having a care of the more timid brethren and asking them what they think, by rebuking the more vociferous brethren, and by setting the example of humility and speaking last themselves.
Should one member of the party continually talk over the others and interrupt them, the Abbot/Prior/Dean/Abbess is to rebuke them gently before the others. On a second offence they should be rebuked more harshly, and on a third, excommunicated and made to walk separately from the rest. Further interruptions should be disciplined by beating the offender with twigs, or with knotted cords if they are available.
The Abbot/Prior/Dean/Abbess should exercise their office with Reason and Humility, knowing that they will have to render to the Almighty an account of their rule.
There are SIX stations, and at each station, a Chapter from the Rule of St Benedict to read and discuss.
To consecrate you for your journey: a Prayer:
The Lord says in the Gospel, "Whoever listens to these words of Mine and acts upon them, I will liken to a wise person who built a house on rock. The floods came,the winds blew and beat against that house, and it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock"
Therefore, Lord, prepare our hearts and our bodies to do battle under the holy obedience of Your commands; and give us the help of Your grace for anything which our nature finds hardly possible.
(and send them off…)
Let the Abbess make no distinction of persons in the monastery. Let her not love one more than another, unless it be one whom she finds better in good works or in obedience. Let her not advance one of noble birth ahead of one who was formerly a slave, unless there be some other reasonable ground for it. But if the Abbess for just reason think fit to do so, let her advance one of any rank whatever. Otherwise let them keep their due places; because, whether slaves or free, we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28) and bear in equal burden of service in the army of the same Lord.
For with God there is no respect of persons (Rom. 2:11). Only for one reason are we preferred in His sight: if we be found better than others in good works and humility. Therefore let the Abbess show equal love to all and impose the same discipline on all according to their deserts.
Do you think this rule was countercultural at the time it was written?
Do you think this rule was useful for a community? Why?
Is there any way we can apply this rule today?
What are the instruments of Good Works?
To visit the sick.
To bury the dead.
To help in trouble.
To console the sorrowing.
To become a stranger to the world's ways.
To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
When evil thoughts come into one's heart, to dash them against Christ immediately.
And to manifest them to one's spiritual guardian.
To guard one's tongue against evil and depraved speech.
Not to love much talking.
Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
To listen willingly to holy reading.
Is self-discipline always a good thing?
Do you think this rule was helpful to the monks, or helpful to their Abbot?
The sixth degree of humility is that a monk be content with the poorest and worst of everything, and that in every occupation assigned him he consider himself a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet, "I am brought to nothing and I am without understanding; I have become as a beast of burden before You, and I am always with You" (Ps. 72:22-23).
Why do you think Benedict stresses Humility so much throughout his Rule?
Humility is now an unfashionable virtue – Why?
On no account shall a monastic be allowed to receive letters, blessed tokens or any little gift whatsoever from parents or anyone else, or from her sisters, or to give the same, without the Abbess's permission.
But if anything is sent her even by her parents, let her not presume to take it before it has been shown to the Abbess. And it shall be in the Abbess's power to decide to whom it shall be given, if she allows it to be received; and the sister to whom it was sent should not be grieved, lest occasion be given to the devil. Should anyone presume to act otherwise, let her undergo the discipline of the Rule.
Is this Rule about equality? Or about control? Or about separating the nuns from their families?
It seems harsh to us. Given the extreme inequalities in Roman society, might it be useful in preventing discord with an abbey?
What might the equivalent Rule be today?
At the hour for the Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let them abandon whatever they may have in hand and hasten with the greatest speed, yet with seriousness, so that there is no excuse for levity. Let nothing, therefore, be put before the Work of God.
If at the Night Office anyone arrives after the "Glory be to the Father" of Psalm 94 - which Psalm for this reason we wish to be said very slowly and protractedly - let him not stand in his usual place in the choir; but let him stand last of all, or in a place set aside by the Abbot for such negligent ones in order that they may be seen by him and by all. He shall remain there until the Work of God has been completed, and then do penance by a public satisfaction. The reason why we have judged it fitting for them so stand in the last place or in a place apart is that, being seen by all, they may amend for very shame.
We’ve got used to being late for church. Who are we being rude to – God, or each other?
Do you think God minds us being late? Or does God rejoice that we’ve turned up at all?
Has our view of God changed since this Rule was written?
"Everyone has her own gift from God, one in this way and another in that" (1 Cor. 7:7).
It is therefore with some misgiving that we regulate the measure of others' sustenance. Nevertheless, keeping in view the needs of the weak, we believe that a hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each. But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain should know that they will receive a special reward.
If the circumstances of the place, or the work or the heat of summer require a greater measure, the superior shall use her judgment in the matter, taking care always that there be no occasion for surfeit or drunkenness. We read it is true, that wine is by no means a drink for monastics; but since the monastics of our day cannot be persuaded of this let us at least agree to drink sparingly and not to satiety, because "wine makes even the wise fall away" (Eccles. 19:2).
Well at least they had some fun (a hemina is about 500ml).
It seems as though abstinence had been tried and failed, and a compromise reached.
So even the monks and nuns had a tipping point, where obedience had to be tempered with indulgence – and this seems to be the one tipping point – wine.
Why do you think that this was the one tipping point, and not any of the other things (like not getting letters from home, not being allowed outside, etc)?
Welcome back to the BBQ. Please return to the Cellarer to receive your daily hemina of wine. As sick and weak Brethren, you are allowed to partake of the flesh of four-footed beasts. But those of you with greater Faith may wish to stick to vegetables.
Keeping in view the needs of the weak, we believe that a hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each. But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain should know that they will receive a special reward.