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Posted January 24, 2005

Book: Saint Benedict’s Rule
Translation and Introduction: Patrick Barry, OSB
Hidden Spring, Mahwah, NJ, pp.156

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The wisdom of St. Benedict, the founder of the order that would bear his name, comes vividly to life in this new, sparkling, contemporary English translation of and introduction to Benedict’s Rule, the seminal guide for life in Christian monastic community.

The Rule concerns practical matters — types and characteristics of monastics and their vows; rules and regulations governing authority, administration, and ownership; detailed descriptions of the rights and duties given the entire community.

Practical themes, however, remain secondary to its primary focus on spirituality and on the beating heart of the Rule: Christ in his teachings, Christ in his loving obedience to his father, and Christ in his message of love for and hospitality toward all. Nothing, says Benedict, should be put before the love of Christ. It is upon this foundation that the Benedictine order is and remains anchored.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Inherent Beauty of the Rule

Men and women have been drawn through the ages to Benedict’s Rule by the beauty of a person — the incarnate Son of God — Christ himself. He stands at the center, at the heart of the Rule. He must, St. Benedict insists, be preferred by monks to absolutely everything else. That is the all-embracing precept of great simplicity and power that shines through every page. It is the love of Christ and that love’s power for healing and for leading us from darkness and death to eternal life that draws men and women toward Benedict’s vision today, whether they are monks or nuns or lay people. Benedict’s essential message is a message for all. All Christians who encounter Benedict are encouraged to follow his way because they have been baptized into Christ, and they know instinctively that to follow Christ and be transformed into his likeness is their spiritual birthright.

The Rule, then, is radically centered on the Word who took on our human nature to live among us — the beauty of Christ — and the source of its attraction, the Rule appeals to anyone who reads it in a spirit of serious readiness to recognize the power of love that brought Christ among us. You can tell what this power of love meant to Benedict when he writes in the prologue:

“What gentler encouragement could we have than that word of the Lord calling us to himself in such a way. We can see with what loving concern the Lord points out to us the path of life.”

In today’s developing church, Von Balthasar can write a more vivid meditation on that theme of the incarnation of God’s love for us:

God created a heart for himself and placed it in the centre of the world. It was a human heart and it knew the impulses and yearnings of the human heart, was experienced in all the windings and wanderings, changes of weather and drives — experienced in all the bitter joy and joyful bitterness which any human heart has ever savored. The human heart most foolish, most obstinate, most fickle of all creatures, the seat of all fidelity and of all treachery; an instrument richer than a full orchestra and poorer than a grasshopper’s empty chirping; in its incomprehensibility a mirror image of God’s own incomprehensibility. This it was that he drew from the world’s rib a it slept, and he fashioned it into the organ of his divine love. With this weapon he already stood in the middle of enemy territory, like the warrior in the belly of the Trojan horse, and he already shared fully in the world’s bustle, knew all from within.

Von Balthasar’s language would have been impossible for Benedict, living, as he did, under the threatening shadow of the heresy of Arianism. Yet what Benedict wrote looks forward bravely to the Church’s perceptions of today. The Rule is not a dead but a living document — a document not only of the past but also of the present and the future. Christ is still the center of the Rule, attracting by his truth and goodness indeed, but most profoundly and universally by the irresistible beauty of his self-giving, which we call love. It is so much needed today that it must be expressed in the language of today.

Selected Table of Contents:

Four approaches to monastic life
Guidelines for Christian and monastic good practice
Monastic obedience
Cherishing silence in the monastery
The value of humility
The Divine Office at Night
The celebration of vigils on feasts of saints
The hours of the work of God during the day
Our approach to prayer
The Ideal of true reverence in prayer
The care of the sick in the monastery
Daily manual labor
The reception of guests
This rule is only a beginning