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St. Benedict's Rule for Monasteries

by St. Benedict

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Benedict was born in northern Italy around 480, and he spent enough time in Rome to be repulsed by its worldliness. At the age of 15 he withdrew to live the life of a hermit, frequently resorting to drastic measures to discipline his flesh.

According to a biography by Gregory the Great, Benedict was tempted by thoughts of a certain girl until ďassisted by Godís grace, he came to himself; and seeing many thick briers and nettle bushes growing hard by, off he cast his apparel, and threw himself into the midst of them, and there wallowed so long that when he rose up all his flesh was pitifully torn; and so by the wounds of his body he cured the wounds of his soul.Ē

Itís hard to imagine that such a man would institute a more humane rule in monasteries, but such was the case. Before Benedictís Rule, monasteries didnít offer an initiation period (allowing would-be monks to experience the life before committing to it), and the discipline was quite harsh.

Benedictís discipline still sounds pretty steely. For a monk who has committed ďserious faults,Ē Benedict established the following penance: ďAt the hour when the celebration of the Word of God is concluded in the oratory, let him lie prostrate before the door of the oratory, saying nothing, but only lying prone with his face to the ground at the feet of all as they come out of the oratory. And let him continue to do this until the Abbot judges that satisfaction has been made. Then, when he has come at the Abbotís bidding, let him cast himself first at the Abbotís feet and then at the feet of all, that they may pray for him.Ē

For the most part, Benedictís Rule is quite biblical, encouraging humility and selflessness. And itís fascinating to read a document written by a Christian almost 1,500 years ago that still serves as a standard for many monks today.

by Jeff Baldwin