The Rule of Saint Benedict
The Rule of Saint Benedict is a book of precepts written by Saint Benedict of Nursia (c.480–547) for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot.
The Rule of Saint Benedict has been used by communities of Benedictine monks for 15 centuries, and thus St. Benedict is sometimes regarded as the founder of Western monasticism. The motto of St. Benedict's Rule is - ora et labora ("pray and work").
The Rule of Saint Benedict is written as a guide for individual, autonomous communities, and to this day all Benedictine Houses (and the Congregations in which they have grouped themselves) remain self-governing.
St. Benedict highlights the importance of peace, prayer, work, sacrifice, humility, frugality, and obedience. His guidelines are to aid those in the pursuit of godliness, and he shares how individuals should relate to each other, authority, and guests. St. Benedict explains the responsibilities of the Abbott, or community leader, in whose care rests the welfare of the community's members.
Benedict's concerns were the needs of monks in a community environment:
namely, to establish due order, to foster an understanding of the relational nature of human beings, and to provide a spiritual father to support and strengthen the individual's ascetic effort and the spiritual growth that is required for the fulfilment of the human vocation.
Christian monasticism first appeared in the Eastern Roman Empire a few generations before Benedict of Nursia, in the Egyptian desert:
Under the great inspiration of Saint Anthony the Great (251-356), ascetic monks led by Saint Pachomius (286-346) formed the first Christian monastic communities under what became known as an Abbot, from the Aramaic abba (father).
Within a generation, both solitary and communal monasticism became very popular and spread outside of Egypt, first to Palestine and the Judean Desert and thence to Syria and North Africa.
Saint Basil of Caesarea codified the precepts for these eastern monasteries in his Ascetic Rule, or Ascetica, which is still used today in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In the West in about the year 500, Benedict became so upset by the immorality of society in Rome that he gave up his studies there, at age fourteen,
and chose the life of an ascetic monk in the pursuit of personal holiness, living as a hermit in a cave near the rugged region of Subiaco.
In time, setting an example with his zeal, he began to attract disciples:
After considerable initial struggles with his first community at Subiaco, he eventually founded the monastery of Monte Cassino in 529, where he wrote his Rule near the end of his life.
The Holy Rule of St. Benedict
Translated by Rev. Boniface Verheyen, 1949
Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.
To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.
In the first place, beg of Him by most earnest prayer, that He perfect whatever good thou dost begin, in order that He who has been pleased to count us in the number of His children, need never be grieved at our evil deeds.
For we ought at all times so to serve Him with the good things which He has given us, that He may not, like an angry father, disinherit his children,
nor, like a dread lord, enraged at our evil deeds, hand us over to everlasting punishment as most wicked servants, who would not follow Him to glory.
Let us then rise at length, since the Scripture arouses us, saying:
"It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Rom 13:11);
and having opened our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with awestruck ears what the divine voice, crying out daily, does admonish us, saying:
"Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 94:8).
"He that has ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev 2:7).
And what does He say?—
"Come, children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Ps 33:12).
"Run whilst you have the light of life, that the darkness of death overtake you not" (Jn 12:35).
And the Lord seeking His workman in the multitude of the people, to whom He proclaims these words, says again:
"Who is the man that desires life and loves to see good days" (Ps 33:13)?
If hearing this thou answerest, "I am he," God says to thee:
"If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile; turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it" (Ps 33:14-15).
And when you shall have done these things, my eyes shall be upon you, and my ears unto your prayers. And before you shall call upon me I will say: "Behold, I am here" (Is 58:9).
What, dearest brethren, can be sweeter to us than this voice of the Lord inviting us?
See, in His loving kindness, the Lord shows us the way of life.
Therefore, having our loins girt with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk His ways under the guidance of the Gospel, that we may be found worthy of seeing Him who has called us to His kingdom (cf 1 Thes 2:12).
If we desire to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we cannot reach it in any way, unless we run thither by good works.
But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest in Thy holy hill" (Ps 14:1)?
After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord answering and showing us the way to this tabernacle, saying:
"He that walketh without blemish and worketh justice; he that speaketh truth in his heart; who has not used deceit in his tongue, nor has done evil to his neighbour, nor has taken up a reproach against his neighbour" (Ps 14:2-3),
who has brought to naught the foul demon tempting him, casting him out of his heart with his temptation, and has taken his evil thoughts whilst they were yet weak and has dashed them against Christ (cf Ps 14:4; Ps 136:9);
who fearing the Lord are not puffed up by their goodness of life, but holding that the actual good which is in them cannot be done by themselves, but by the Lord, they praise the Lord working in them (cf Ps 14:4),
saying with the Prophet: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us; by to Thy name give glory" (Ps 113[115:1]:9).
Thus also the Apostle Paul has not taken to himself any credit for his preaching, saying:
"By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Cor 15:10).
And again he says: "He that glories, let him glory in the Lord" (2 Cor 10:17).
Hence, the Lord also says in the Gospel:
"He that hears these my words and doeth them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house upon a rock; the floods came, the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock" (Mt 7:24-25).
The Lord fulfilling these words waits for us from day to day, that we respond to His holy admonitions by our works.
Therefore, our days are lengthened to a truce for the amendment of the misdeeds of our present life; as the Apostle says: "Knowest thou not that the patience of God leads thee to penance" (Rom 2:4)?
For the good Lord says: "I will not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live" (Ezek 33:11).
Now, brethren, that we have asked the Lord who it is that shall dwell in His tabernacle, we have heard the conditions for dwelling there; and if we fulfil the duties of tenants, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
Our hearts and our bodies must, therefore, be ready to do battle under the biddings of holy obedience; and let us ask the Lord that He supply by the help of His grace what is impossible to us by nature.
And if, flying from the pains of hell, we desire to reach life everlasting, then, while there is yet time, and we are still in the flesh, and are able during the present life to fulfil all these things, we must make haste to do now what will profit us forever.
We are, therefore, about to found a school of the Lord's service, in which we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.
But even if, to correct vices or to preserve charity, sound reason dictates anything that turns out somewhat stringent, do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow.
But as we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God's commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love;
so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the monastery in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom.