Week 1: What is Benedict’s Rule?

A rule of life is a set of habits or disciplines that help us prioritize the things that we value in our lives.  As you might imagine, for many these habits are rather fluid and flexible as we navigate the different stages of life. Creating a weekly exercise regimen may not have been as much a priority in our teens as it may be as we approach our forties and fifties. 

A rule is something that is very personal.  It is created by you, to feed you with what is important to at this point in your life journey.  Rules may be similar, but they are hardly exactly like someone else’s.  There is no right or wrong way to design a rule of life and you may be like me, who is regularly tweaking it depending on where the Holy Spirit is guiding me.  Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey, a rule of life helps you to:

  • Put Christ at the center,
  • Connect with people,
  • Listen and look for God in everything, and
  • Follow God’s will.

In Benedict’s words, a rule helps “open our eyes to the light that comes from God.”

Benedict of Nursia was born in 479 CE, about 70 years after the fall of Rome.  He entered a world of violence and turbulence.  The sixth century was not much better; it was an age of danger, mass injustice, dislocation of population, and therefore, the apparent collapse of almost all high culture.  It was into this chaos that Benedict invited people into the promise of an ordered, Christ-centered life.

Benedict was born into a family of wealth and prestige; he was sent to Rome to study, but quickly abandoned the life of a scholar by leaving Rome and living as a hermit for several years.  While in isolation, he was sought out by others because of his holiness and wisdom.  He founded the monastery of Subiaco, which still exists today, along with 11 other communities along the hillside.

After being threatened by a local priest, Benedict journeyed to Monte Cassino, Italy.  While here, Benedict tore down several pagan temples within the walls of an ancient fortress to form a new community of monks.  He remained here until his death on March 19, 547 CE.  Scholars believe it was in this Monte Cassino monastery that he wrote the Rule.  The monastery was later destroyed by the Lombards around the year 587, but the Rule is still the foundation for many religious communities and laity around the world.

Benedict wrote the Rule for the monks of his own monastery.  He had no thought of it being practiced by religious communities and laity alike some 1500 years later.  But why not?  Afterall, Benedict’s monasteries became beacons of light and places of learning amid horrific violence and degradation.

In the Rule, Benedict gives directions for the way Monks should live in community including the share of household duties, prayer and study schedules, how to live in community and proper sleeping arrangements, how to deal with personality and authority disputes, liturgy, spiritual direction, and hospitality. At the center of the Rule, however, is Christ, the cornerstone is Scripture, and the focus of the Rule is how to live in right relationship with God, self, and others.

For those of us who are Episcopalian or Anglican, our worship, tradition, and spirituality has been richly influenced by Benedictine practices and thoughts.

Benedict opens the Rule with these words in the Prologue:

Listen carefully, my son [and daughter], to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart (RB Prologue1).

As Episcopalians, we seek spiritual practices to actively block the distractive noises of the outside world, so that our focus can be sharpened towards the Divine presence in our lives.  Across the world today, Episcopalians will hear the invitation to a holy Lent, which contains this instruction,

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word (1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 265).

This rigorous work of self-reflection and constant inner strengthening allows us to grow deeper in our relationship with the Divine in and around us. 

Your soul is a vessel of sacred graces: compassion, harmony, wisdom, love, endurance, humor, patience, healing, and vision.  The fierce work of inner cleansing and the building of stamina lead you (us) to discover these qualities in yourself (ourselves), not as theory but as fact (Entering the Castle, Carolyn Myss, p. 303).

Over the next five weeks we will explore the spiritual practices of stability, obedience, hospitality, holy labor, and finally, how to keep a holy Lent throughout the year. You are invited and encouraged to share comments, experiences, or insights as we journey together.

Author: interioraltar

Episcopal Priest and Rector in the Diocese of East Carolina.

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