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Of the Several Kinds of Monks and Their Lives
It is recognized that there are four kinds of monks. The first are the Cenobites: that is, those who live in a monastery under a Rule or an abbot. The second kind is that of Anchorites, or Hermits, who not in the first fervour of conversion, but after long trial in the monastery, and already taught by the example of many others, have learnt to fight against the devil, are well prepared to go forth from the ranks of the brotherhood to the single combat of the desert. They can now, by God's help, safely fight against the vices of their flesh and against evil thoughts singly, with their own hand and arm and without the encouragement of a companion. The third and worst kind of monks is that of the Sarabites, who have not been tried under any Rule nor schooled by an experienced master, as gold is proved in the furnace, but soft as is lead and still in their works cleaving to the world, are known to lie to God by their tonsure.
These in twos or threes, or more frequently singly, are shut up, without a shepherd; not in the Lord's fold, but in their own. The pleasure of carrying out their particular desires is their law, and whatever they dream of or choose this they call holy; but what they like not, that they account unlawful.
The fourth class of monks is called Gyrovagi (or Wanderers). These move about all their lives through various countries, staying as guests for three or four days at different monasteries. They are always on the move and never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and to the enticements of gluttony. In every way they are worse than the Sarabites, and of their wretched way of life it is better to be silent than to speak.
Leaving these therefore aside, let us by God's help set down a Rule for Cenobites, who are the best kind of monks.CHAPTER 2
What the Abbot Should Be
An abbot to be fit to rule a monastery should ever remember what he is called, and in his acts illustrate his high calling. For in a monastery he is considered to take the place of Christ, since he is called by His name as the apostle saith, Ye have received the spirit of the adoption of sons, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Therefore the abbot should neither teach, ordain, nor require anything against the command of our Lord (God forbid!), but in the minds of his disciples let his orders and teaching be mingled with the leaven of divine justice.
The abbot should ever be mindful that at the dread judgment of God there will be inquiry both as to his teaching and as to the obedience of his disciples. Let the abbot know that any lack of goodness, which the master of the family shall find in his flock, will be accounted the shepherd's fault. On the other hand, he shall be acquitted in so far as he shall have shown all the watchfulness of a shepherd over a restless and disobedient flock: and if as their pastor he shall have employed every care to cure their corrupt manners, he shall be declared guiltless in the Lord's judgment, and he may say with the prophet, I have not hidden Thy justice in my heart; I have told Thy truth and Thy salvation; but they contemned and despised me. And then in the end shall death be inflicted as a meet punishment upon the sheep which have not responded to his care. When, therefore, any one shall receive the name of abbot, he ought to rule his disciples with a twofold teaching: that is, he should first show them in deeds rather than words all that is good and holy. To such as are understanding, indeed, he may expound the Lord's behests by words; but to the hard-hearted and to the simple-minded he must manifest the divine precepts in his life. Thus, what he has taught his disciples to be contrary to God's law, let him show in his own deeds that such things are not to be done, lest preaching to others he himself become a castaway, and God say unto him thus sinning, Why dost thou declare My justices, and take My testament in thy mouth? Thou hast hated discipline, and cast My speeches behind thee. And Thou, who didst see the mote in thy brother's eye, hast thou not seen the beam that is in thine own?
Let him make no distinction of persons in the monastery. Let not one be loved more than another, save such as be found to excel in obedience or good works. Let not the free-born be put before the serf-born in religion, unless there be other reasonable cause for it. If upon due consideration the abbot shall see such cause he may place him where he pleases; otherwise let all keep their own places, because whether bond or free we are all one in Christ, and bear an equal burden of service under one Lord: for with God there is no accepting of persons. For one thing only are we preferred by Him, if we are found better than others in good works and more humble. Let the abbot therefore have equal love for all, and let all, according to their deserts, be under the same discipline.
The abbot in his teaching should always observe that apostolic rule which saith, Reprove, entreat, rebuke. That is to say, as occasions require he ought to mingle encouragement with reproofs. Let him manifest the sternness of a master and the loving affection of a father. He must reprove the undisciplined and restless severely, but he should exhort such as are obedient, quiet and patient, for their better profit. We charge him, however, to reprove and punish the stubborn and negligent. Let him not shut his eyes to the sins of offenders; but, directly they begin to show themselves and to grow, he must use every means to root them up utterly, remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo. To the more virtuous and apprehensive, indeed, he may for the first or second time use words of warning; but in dealing with the stubborn, the hard-hearted, the proud and the disobedient, even at the very beginning of their sin, let him chastise them with stripes and with bodily punishment, knowing that it is written, The fool is not corrected with words. And again, Strike thy son with a rod and thou shalt deliver his soul from death.
The abbot ought ever to bear in mind what he is and what he is called; he ought to know that to whom more is entrusted, from him more is exacted. Let him recognize how difficult and how hard a task he has undertaken, to rule souls and to make himself a servant to the humours of many. One, forsooth, must be led by gentle words, another by sharp reprehension, another by persuasion; and thus shall he so shape and adapt himself to the character and intelligence of each, that he not only suffer no loss in the flock entrusted to his care, but may even rejoice in its good growth. Above all things let him not slight nor make little of the souls committed to his care, heeding more fleeting, worldly and frivolous things; but let him remember always that he has undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall also have to give an account. And that he may not complain of the want of temporal means, let him remember that it is written, Seek first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all things shall be given to you. And again, Nothing is wanting to such as fear Him.
He should know that whoever undertakes the government of souls must prepare himself to account for them. And however great the number of the brethren under him may be, let him understand for certain that at the Day of Judgment he will have to give to our Lord an account of all their souls as well as of his own. In this way, by fearing the inquiry concerning his flock which the Shepherd will hold, he is solicitous on account of others' souls as well as of his own, and thus whilst reclaiming other men by his corrections, he frees himself also from all vice.CHAPTER 3
On Taking Counsel of the Brethren
Whenever any weighty matters have to be transacted in the monastery let the abbot call together all the community and himself propose the matter for discussion. After hearing the advice of the brethren let him consider it in his own mind, and then do what he shall judge most expedient. We ordain that all must be called to council, because the Lord often reveals to a younger member what is best. And let the brethren give their advice with all humble subjection, and presume not stiffly to defend their own opinion. Let them rather leave the matter to the abbot's discretion, so that all submit to what he shall deem best. As it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove the master to dispose of all things with forethought and justice.
In all things, therefore, every one shall follow the Rule as their master, and let no one rashly depart from it. In the monastery no one is to be led by the desires of his own heart, neither shall any one within or without the monastery presume to argue wantonly with his abbot. If he presume to do so let him be subjected to punishment according to the Rule.
The abbot, however, must himself do all things in the fear of God and according to the Rule, knowing that he shall undoubtedly have to give an account of his whole government to God the most just Judge.
If anything of less moment has to be done in the monastery let the abbot take advice of the seniors only, as it is written, Do all things with counsel, and thou shalt not afterwards repent of it.CHAPTER 4
The Instruments of Good Works
First of all, to love the Lord God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength.
2. Then, to love our neighbour as ourself.
3. Then, not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to be covetous.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To respect all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to be fond of pleasures.
13. To love fasting.
14. To give refreshment to the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To come to the help of those in trouble.
19. To comfort those in sadness.
20. To become a stranger to the ways of the world.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
22. Not to give way to wrath.
23. Not to harbour anger for any time.
24. Not to foster deceit in the heart.
25. Not to make a false peace.
26. Not to depart from charity.
27. Not to swear at all, lest one forswears.
28. To speak the truth with heart and lips.
29. Not to return evil for evil.
30. Not to do an injury, but patiently to suffer one when done.
31. To love one's enemies.
32. Not to speak ill of those who speak ill of one, but rather to speak well of them.
33. To suffer persecution for justice sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not to be a winebibber.
36. Not to be a great eater.
37. Not to be given to sleep.
38. Not to be slothful.
39. Not to be a murmurer.
40. Not to be a detractor.
41. To put one's trust in God.
42. When one sees any good in oneself to attribute it to God, not to oneself.
43. That a man recognize that it is he who does evil, and so let him attribute it to himself.
44. To fear the day of judgment.
45. To be afraid of hell.
46. To desire life everlasting with entire spiritual longing.
47. To have the vision of death before one's eyes daily.
48. To watch over the actions of one's life every hour of the day.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash at once against Christ (as against a rock) evil thoughts which rise up in the mind.
51. And to reveal all such to one's spiritual Father.
52. To guard one's lips from uttering evil or wicked words.
53. Not to be fond of much talking.
54. Not to speak idle words, or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. Willingly to hear holy reading.
57. Often to devote oneself to prayer.
58. Daily with tears and sighs to confess to God in prayer one's past offences, and to avoid them for the future.
59. Not to give way to the desires of the flesh:95 and to hate one's own will.
60. In all things to obey the abbot's commands, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, remembering our Lord's precept, What they say, do ye, but what they do, do ye not.
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so; but to be holy first so as to be called such with truth.
62. Daily in one's acts to keep God's commandments.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to be jealous or envious.
66. Not to love wrangling.
67. To show no arrogant spirit.
68. To reverence the old.
69. To love the young.
70. To pray for one's enemies for the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the sun sets.
72. And, never to despair of God's mercy.
Behold these are the tools of our spiritual craft; when we shall have made use of them constantly day and night, and shall have proved them at the day of judgment, that reward shall be given us by our Lord, which He has promised, Which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for those that love Him. Steadfastly abiding in the community, the workshop where all these instruments are made use of is the cloister of the monastery.CHAPTER 5
The first degree of humility is prompt obedience. This is required of all who, whether by reason of the holy servitude to which they are pledged, or through fear of hell, or to attain to the glory of eternal life, hold nothing more dear than Christ. Such disciples delay not in doing what is ordered by their superior, just as if the command had come from God. Of such our Lord says, At the hearing of the ear he hath obeyed me. And to the teachers He likewise says, He that heareth you, heareth me.
For this reason such disciples, surrendering forthwith all they possess, and giving up their own will, leave unfinished what they were working at, and with the ready foot of obedience in their acts follow the word of command. Thus, as it were, at the same moment comes the order of the master and the finished work of the disciple: with the speed of the fear of God both go jointly forward and are quickly effected by such as ardently desire to walk in the way of eternal life. These take the narrow way, of which the Lord saith, Narrow is the way which leads to life. That is, they live not as they themselves will, neither do they obey their own desires and pleasures; but following the command and direction of another and abiding in their monasteries, their desire is to be ruled by an abbot. Without doubt such as these carry out that saying of our Lord, I came not to do my own will, but the will of Him Who sent me.
This kind of obedience will be both acceptable to God and pleasing to men, when what is ordered is not done out of fear, or slowly and coldly, grudgingly, or with reluctant protest. Obedience shown to superiors is indeed given to God, Who Himself hath said, He that heareth you, heareth Me. What is commanded should be done by those under obedience, with a good will, since God loveth a cheerful giver. If the disciple obey unwillingly and murmur in word as well as in heart, it will not be accepted by God, Who considereth the heart of a murmurer, even if he do what was ordered. For a work done in this spirit shall have no reward; rather shall the doer incur the penalty appointed for murmurers if he amend not and make not satisfaction.CHAPTER 6
Let us do as the prophet says, I have said, I will keep my ways, that I offend not with my tongue. I have been watchful over my mouth: I held my peace and humbled myself and was silent from speaking even good things. Here the prophet shows that, for the sake of silence, we are at times to abstain even from good talk. If this be so, how much more needful is it that we refrain from evil words, on account of the penalty of the sin! Because of the importance of silence, therefore, let leave to speak be seldom given, even to perfect disciples, although their talk be of good and holy matters and tending to edification, since it is written, In much speaking, thou shalt not escape sin. The master, indeed, should speak and teach: the disciple should hold his peace and listen.
Whatever, therefore, has to be asked of the prior, let it be done with all humility and with reverent submission. But as to coarse, idle words, or such as move to laughter, we utterly condemn and ban them in all places. We do not allow any disciple to give mouth to them.CHAPTER 7
Brethren, Holy Scripture cries out to us, saying, Every one who exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted. In this it tells us that every form of self-exaltation is a kind of pride, which the prophet declares he carefully avoided, where he says, Lord, my heart is not exalted, neither are my eyes lifted up; neither have I walked in great things, nor in wonders above myself. And why? If I did not think humbly, but exalted my soul: as a child weaned from his mother, so wilt Thou reward my soul.
Excerpted from THE RULE OF St. Benedict by St. Benedict, CARDINAL GASQUET. Copyright © 2007 DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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