Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 1 Verses 1 and 2
Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the
ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving Father’s advice, that by the labour of obedience
you may return to Him from whom you had departed by
the sloth of disobedience.
● Listen, my son, …..
a. The first rule of the Christian life is to listen! The English word ‘listen’ comes
from the Latin ‘obsculta’ (or ausculta), which means: to make sure you hear
what is said so you can carry it out. This requirement is addressed to each
St. Benedict thus links the essence of Christianity with the Shema
proclamation and commandment given by God in Deuteronomy 6: 4 and 5
— “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and
with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (New American Bible)
[Note: the Church traditionally respects Jewish Rabbinic teaching by refraining from printing
or pronouncing the Most Holy Name of God, and instead substitutes it with LORD in block letters.]
Jesus, during His ministry, ratified this proclamation and commandment
(Mark 12: 29 — 31) and added words from Leviticus 19: 18. Thus he made
it clear He was endorsing the essence of the Torah (the Law or Teaching)
for His followers.
Jesus said the first of all the commandments is:
” ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all
The second is this:
‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself’.
There is no commandment greater than these’.”
b. Note how St. Benedict means we should, in fact, be listening, be hearing so
as to be able to obey and thus grow in understanding. The spiritual life of
every Christian is based on this essential teaching.
All of this, as will be well known, is reiterating the central law of Judaism
— the Shema of Deuteronomy 6: 4 and 5. Jews literally surround
themselves with these words, on their doorposts, on their heads, on
their arms thus symbolising their total union with the Word, the
Teaching, the Law of God. Jesus called on His disciples to uphold this
same level of devotion, commitment, and union. All that Jesus spoke
and taught was ratified by the Father in the only commandment delivered
personally by God in the New Testament.
“This is my beloved Son, LISTEN TO HIM!” (St. Mark 9: 7.)
c. To hear and obey the commands of God form the very basis of the
Judaeo-Christian understanding of religion. Only by listening to God’s
Word can we know God. Only when we know God can we love Him and
only then have we the robustness of character to serve Him, obey His
commandments, and love our neighbour as ourself..
d. This positive attitude of listening respectfully and seeking to hear and
understand what you are required to do is at the heart of the Biblical
Vision. There are certain obligations required of you and you are
expected to carry them out with great care and attention to detail.
Failure to do so is a very serious affair.
e. The Christian life is intensely demanding and many people today are
choosing to abandon a way of life which requires such focus, serious
intent, and attention to God’s requirements before we give expression
to our own desires.
f. The Christian disciple takes seriously the wisdom tradition of the Old
Testament as exemplified for example in:
Proverbs 1: 7 — 9
“True wisdom is founded on the fear of the Lord; who
but for a fool would despise such wisdom, and the lesson
she teaches? Heed well, my son, thy father’s warnings,
nor make light of thy mother’s teaching; no richer
heirloom, crown or necklace, can be thine.”
Proverbs 4: 1
“Sons of mine, take a lesson from your father; a lesson that
will make discerning men of you, will you but heed it.”
Proverbs 4: 10 — 12
“Listen then my son, and master the charge I give thee
as thou wouldst have long life. Here lies the road to wisdom,
here is the path that will bring thee straight to thy goal;
here thou mayest walk unhampered, run without fear
Proverbs 4: 20 — 23
“Hear then and heed my son, these words of warning;
never lose site of them, cherish them in thy inmost heart;
let a man master them, they will bring life and healing
to his whole being. Use all thy watchfulness to keep thy
heart true; that is the fountain from whence life springs.”
g. Notice how the Prologue to the Rule begins by addressing you as a family
member. Everything which follows is aimed at strengthening your position in
God’s family household, the Church.
h. How to listen and hear with attention and precision, with sound knowledge and
application is a very great skill and one each disciple of Jesus Christ must learn.
As is so often said, it is simple but it is not easy. However we are not left to
stumble along in the dark and to work out what we think Scripture means.
i. Traditional Christianity has always understood that the Church had been
commissioned by her Founder, Jesus Christ, to pass on to his disciples all
that He has taught. (Matt. 28: 20). We notice our Lord was very specific:
“…..teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Christianity is very much about observing and obeying the commandments
of Jesus Christ.
j. The Church, then, is the normal “place” in which we learn how to listen to
“do” the will of God as we read it in Holy Scripture, more especially those
passages which are complex or obscure. Without this guidance of the
Magisterium we are likely to follow only what appeals to us at the moment,
and to pursue restlessly one new fancy after another.
● ….. to your master’s precepts, …..
k. The word “precepts” comes from the Latin word, “praecipere” which means:
to give rules. In this context the word conveys the meaning that instructions,
precepts or commandments are legitimately given by our Lord Jesus Christ
or those who legitimately act in His place, to guide members of His Church
towards the true fulfillment He desires for them.
l. If we choose to enter the service of Jesus Christ (and that’s what it means
to be a Christian) then we are obliged to listen with due attention to His
● ….. incline the ear of your heart …..
m. Right at the beginning, St. Benedict spells out the secret of hearing Christ
the Lord and how to grow in understanding. He talks of inner listening
and inner hearing. The disciple of Christ is endowed at baptism with the
talent to do this — but the disciple must attend the school of Christ’s
teaching (the Church) to develop this on a spiritual level quite unlike
anything else he or she will ever do. St. Benedict is highlighting the role
of genuine Christian prayer and meditation in the spiritual life:
listening with the ear of the heart. This, then, is a very special skill each
Christian ought to develop.
● Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving
Father’s advice, that by the labour of obedience you may
return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth
n. Whether we are considering the Commandments of God, the teaching of the
Church, or the instructions of someone in authority in the Church or at home,
our response needs to be the same — seeking to hear what God wants, and
then doing our best to ensure it is put into practice.
Notice the clear emphasis on the need for an attitude of willing reception and
perseverance until a task has been properly completed. There is no room for a
half-hearted manner, or weak response.
o. Echoing St. Paul in Romans 5: 19 and Philippians 2: 8, St. Benedict reminds us
that we have inherited a tendency to be enchanted by those who would mislead
us, and have us follow our own desires. Thus we abandon the path which our
Heavenly Father has laid before us and move further and further away from
what He knows is best for our total welfare. Both St. Paul and St. Benedict
have in mind how easily Adam and Eve were diverted from what God intended
for them by the temptation to follow their own interpretation of events.
This remains a major challenge for members of the Church at all times.
1. “Listen to Him” (St. Mark 9: 7) is the cornerstone of our Biblical vision of the
Christian life and the spirituality it represents. Whilst the Bible is commonly
referred to as the Word of God, God’s command is that we listen to Christ His
Son over and above all other sources. Thus it is Christ the Word to whom
we always listen when reading and meditating on any Biblical passage.
2. We listen to Christ the Word in order to hear the Word of God (His holy will
for us) and to do it, i.e. to carry out His designs. Obedience, action, and good
works are essential components of the Christian Faith. The belief that
salvation comes through faith alone is incomplete to traditional Christianity
which sees this belief as inconsistent with Bible teaching.
3. An essential skill for all Christians is therefore to learn how to listen to Jesus
Christ and put into practice all that He teaches. Discipleship requires
formation based on the model Christ Himself demonstrated. The person
following this Rule will therefore meditate on the Sacred Scriptures
(Old and New Testament) in the tradition of Lectio Divina.
4. Traditional Christianity always upholds the Church alone as having the
authority to declare the meaning of Sacred Scripture and therefore does
not allow private interpretation to displace this authority. The Church
encourages debate and expression of personal viewpoints but requires
its members to defer to the teaching authority conferred on her by
Christ Himself in the final instance.
5. The Church provides learning opportunities for her members to learn about
the Faith and all are strongly encouraged to take up the opportunity as and
when appropriate. Regular study of Scripture and Doctrine both private
and communal will be immense help in the spiritual life of the disciple.
6. The world has never before witnessed the current massive expansion of
newly formed groups claiming to be “Churches”, or “special ministries or
callings” constantly springing up all over the world. Often these arise
from the “fit or split” attitude so strongly entrenched particularly in
Western Society. The problem, in essence, is actually as old as our Faith.
The modern phenomenon, however, parades as a new form of “popular”
Christianity, bypassing the traditional Church which it constantly labels
as remote, stuffy, conservative and failing to meet the needs of today’s
young people. Those who claim to be God’s answer to such a situation
frequently fall into the trap of tailoring their presentations to what they
think people want (rather than need) and often seriously mislead them
as to what true religion is about. The principle we therefore wish to
emphasise here is that true Church growth occurs when Christians live
their Faith in full harmony with the teaching of our Lord as recorded
in the Sacred Scriptures and guided by the teaching authority of the
Church. The “fit or split” mentality and practice represents
disintegration of Christianity; not as some believe it to be, the work
of the Holy Spirit causing new growth to spring forth. Unity with the
Church requires that we do not break away and “do our own thing” just
because we “feel called” to exercise a chosen ministry based on what
we want to do.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 2 Verses 3 to 7
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ,
the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him
with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He who has now deigned
to count us among His sons may not at any time be grieved by our
evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things
He has given us, that He will never as an angry Father disinherit
His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would
not follow Him to glory.
● To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you
may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under
the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong,
bright weapons of obedience.
a. The antidote to our tendency to follow our own desires rather than obey God
is to fall in behind Christ the King, and live an uncompromising disciplined life
in His service.
The New Testament provides us with a very clear model in strong military
Ephesians 6: 10 — 17 1 Thessalonians 5: 8
1 Timothy 1: 18 and 6: 12 2 Timothy 2: 3 — 4
This might all sound a bit heavy, but that’s how seriously the first Christians took
being a disciple of Christ.
b. An increasing number of Christians are, for a number of reasons, pulling back
from using such references as, “the Lord Christ” or “the true King”.
— Critics will wax eloquent about why the concept or model of a “king”
is not relevant to modern thinking.
— To call Christ the “true King” is to ascribe to Him a class of ruler He
seemed (on superficial evidence only) to strive openly to resist.
— and further, to emphasise that He is the true King is to demean other
religious leaders or at least to hint they may be false or inferior
[as in the days of Herod etc.].
c. Traditional Catholics, and indeed traditional Protestants however continue
to ascribe this honour and title to Jesus and to revere Him as the unique
Son of God. He is Christ our King!
d. Spiritual Warfare is not for casual dabbling in or meddling with. It requires
a strong leader — which we have in Christ our King — and strong bright
weapons of obedience. We need to be clear about what these are.
● And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He
who has now deigned to count us among His sons may not
at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must
always so serve Him with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants
who would not follow Him to glory.
e. If Christ is our King, then earnest prayer is the first weapon of spiritual warfare.
This is not anxious prayer, thumping the gates of Heaven with a long
“shopping list” of requests — or even less, a wish list. Earnest prayer is the
prayer of the earnest soldier who commends everything to God:
— first, that it be good, i.e. godly, i.e. in harmony with God’s will, and
— secondly, that, with God’s blessing it will be “perfected”, i.e. brought
to proper completion and thus be pleasing to Him.
f. Our “good works” include among other things:—
— the Christian living of each day;
— the performance of duties;
— the rhythm of prayer throughout the day;
— engagement in the humble routine tasks of the day.
Thus prayer and work go hand in hand.
g. Inherent in the call to Christ’s service is the undertaking on our part to
keep focused, avoid distraction as best we can, and act the way sons and
daughters of God should.
h. Our Lord did not pander to the crowd. He painted vivid pictures of the
outcomes of our daily choices which showed God disinheriting those who
were careless and weak in their commitment, or leading those who were
earnest and loyal in following Christ to glory.
7. From the foundation of the Church, Christians have organised themselves
into highly disciplined and focused communities. Church membership was
not a casual or light-hearted flimsy association, but methodical, precise,
defined, and closely regulated. Sound growth requires this to be the case
today as well as in any previous era. The formation and nurturing of such
communities (whatever their basis of organisation) will be beneficial,
especially as pressure from atheistic and anti-theistic sources increases.
8. Traditional Christians hold Jesus Christ to be their King and act accordingly.
Interestingly in the ancient tradition, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was given
the title Queen by the early Christians, in view of the fact she was mother of
the King. It was (and is) a way of reinforcing Christ’s title. Special reverence
to our Lord’s Mother has been and always will be a feature of Christians
following this Rule. It is also a distinctive feature of Hebrew Catholic
9. If prayer is the first weapon of spiritual warfare, it also has first priority for
members of Christ’s Body, the Church. This priority will need to be reflected
in the day-to-day living of each member. Most of us find this difficult and
need assistance with both developing a realistic, sustainable rhythm as well
as choosing appropriate prayers and devotions. The study and practice of
prayer in all its aspects is therefore a major pursuit of our people.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 3 Verses 8 to 13
Let us arise, then, at last, for the Scripture stirs us up, saying,
“Now is the hourfor us to rise from sleep, (Romans 13: 11).
Let us open our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with
attentive ears the warning which the divine voice cries daily
to us, Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts,”
(Psalm 94 : 8)
And again, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the
Spirit says to the churches”, ….. (Apocalypse / Revelation 2: 7).
And what does He say? “Come, My children, listen to Me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord, (Psalm 33 : 12).
Run while you have the light of life, lest the darkness of death
overtake you”, ….. (John 12: 35).
● Let us arise, then, at last, for the Scripture stirs us up,
saying, “Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep,”
(Romans 13: 11 )
a. St. Paul is obviously not denying anyone legitimate rest. He is echoing our
Lord’s call to raise us from spiritual sloth — from a tendency to look at the
tasks before our eyes and shrink back saying, “It’s all too hard! How is my
little effort going to make any practical difference!”
b. The danger in this way of thinking is always very close at hand. It springs
from a tendency to think success depends entirely upon our own efforts
which (correctly) have very real limits. There is no place for spiritual sloth,
which is in fact a slow, weak, uncommitted response to our Lord’s
expectations of us. Our Lord met this frame of mind frequently, and gave
many a warning that his followers would have to be very vigilant about
preventing it from gradually overtaking them, and those who came after
them. Let us be warned! And let us also accept the fact that we can blame
no one else if we become diverted from seeking first the Kingdom of God!
● Let us open our eyes to the deifying light, …..
c. It is often observed, there is no one so blind as one who just will not see!
St. Benedict gathers up all the Biblical references about learning to see,
with the light of Christ, the real nature of things, the real situation, the real
needs of people, the real response required.
d. We need to remember that when we dare to see in this way, the Light of
Christ will indeed, enlighten us. This inner seeing, or insight, is vital for
disciples of the Lord. Remember in St. Mark 10: 46 — 52, which records
the story of blind Bartimaeus. He was the only blind person in a locality
which our Lord was approaching; yet he was the only person who could
“see” that Jesus was the Messiah.
e. Spiritual blindness is always self-imposed. It results from poor choices
made by us, and (to repeat) we have only ourselves to blame if we lose
our way in the mad hurly-burly of our modern way of life.
f. St. Benedict “pulls no punches” when it comes to being realistic about our
common difficulties with human nature. However he always raises our
sights to the glorious heritage which is ours for the taking.
g. “Let us open our eyes, he says to the deifying light.” Sometimes we need
to pause and let some of these great truths “sink in”. We are called to
perceive divine realities! We are invited to participate in a highly privileged
relationship which is a unique blessing: especially since this light comes
from God. It is Sacred Scripture. It is Christ the Word.
● “…..let us hear with attentive ears the warning which
the divine voice cries daily to us, …..”
h. Again and again we will be cautioned about the need for listening with the
ears of the heart because that inner hearing is the only way to learn and
understand God’s will for us: as individuals as well as for the whole Church,
the Body of Christ. This divine voice we certainly will not hear unless we
take time to be still and totally focused on trying to hear “with attentive ears”.
i. From a negative viewpoint, the unenthusiastic soul might think —
“does that mean I am always going to be constantly concerned with prayer
and religious duties?” Actually the answer is, “Yes”. St. Benedict captures
the spirit of the first Christians who saw this calling to constant prayer and
listening for God’s voice as a duty — but much more besides: a great
privilege and special honour. This is very, very important to grasp. In the
passage above he draws on several beautiful Biblical quotations which
reflect the immense dignity of our calling: our vocation as sons and
daughters of the Most High.
● Additional Note: St. Benedict’s Use of Scripture
This Section (3) begins a very long list of Biblical quotations used by
St. Benedict in outlining his Rule. There are several points we need to
know about the traditional Christian understanding of “knowing” and using
j. From earliest Christian times, our Lord’s followers have learnt passages of
Scripture by memory and repeated them and reflected on them regularly.
This was, in fact, the oral tradition within the Church at a time when the
ordinary individual did not have access to a copy of the Bible. Despite the
lack of handwritten texts, the people knew Scripture amazingly well.
k. The regular repetition of Biblical passages allowed the person to develop
a very profound grasp of the inner meaning of the texts, and to understand
connections between passages. This was the Biblical understanding of what
is meant to know Scripture, which never permitted the recitation of single
verses, isolated from their context, to be taken as a definitive answer to a
complex question or issue. To our Christian forbears, that was the abuse
of Scripture! The early Christians (and we include St. Benedict in their
tradition), always presumed that the quoting of a verse or two will call to
mind in the hearer, the whole Scriptural context. This is extremely
important if we wish to understand what a Biblical vision of the Christian
l. The early Church was conscious of its being grafted onto the well-cultivated
‘Olive tree of Israel’, inheriting therefore the whole of Scripture (which at
that stage was what we call the Old Testament — (Remember, what we called
the New Testament was not defined and compiled till the 4th Century!).
Its members believed passionately in the power of Scripture as the Word of
God which possessed an inherent capacity to effect what it proclaimed.
The account of Creation (in Genesis 1), demonstrates this power: God spoke
and it was so!
m. The soul listening for the voice of God will hear it, and his or her positive
response will manifest an empowerment by God in that person.
● “Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your
hearts,” (Psalm 94  : 8)
● And again, “He who has ears to hear, let him
hear what the Spirit says to the Churches”.
(Apoc. / Revelation 2: 7)
n. St. Benedict reflects the heightened awareness the early members of the
Church had in terms of God constantly seeking us out. Thus he recalls
Psalm 94 : So God, daily, is calling to us. Are we going to respond or
turn “a deaf ear” to Him? Our ancients responded to this beautiful call at
two levels: by responding to God with prayer and adoration in their
morning and evening prayers (reflecting our inherited Jewish model) as
well informally by listening for Him in their daily lives. In both contexts
God is seen as drawing us into a close and direct relationship with Him.
o. We could note here that many early Christians developed the custom
of reciting Psalm 94  every morning as their first prayer. That
custom has continued in the Catholic Church to our own day. It is a
good practice for Christians to recite this Psalm from time to time.
We need to be reminded that when we hear His voice we must be on
guard not to let the affairs and noise of the world drown out His voice
and harden our hearts to His inspirations. Jesus went to great lengths,
in the parable about the sowing of the seed, to highlight this ever-present
● And what does He say say? “Come, My children,
listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord,
(Psalm 33 : 12). Run while you have the light of
life, lest the darkness of death overtake you”, …..
(John 12: 35)
p. In verse 12, St. Benedict quotes Psalm 33 : 12 —
“Come and listen to me sons”, indicating that Christ is calling out and
inviting any who would listen and respond. Thus He presupposes that
the Lord of the Psalm is Christ. This indicates how the early Church saw
Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and therefore already
present throughout it. This observation is critical in our understanding
of Christ the Word (St. John 1: 1 — 14) at work in Old Testament times.
This helps us appreciate the importance of learning the unfolding
themes and teaching contained in the Old Testament.
q. It matters not whether the translator says run or walk. The issue at stake
in the Biblical vision is that we will act on the inspirations of the Holy Spirit
with alacrity. St. Benedict echoes the Holy Scriptures in raising our sense
of urgency as regards the mission our Lord presents to us. It is not to be
one of many hobbies or interests, but the principal focus of our lives: one
for which we must be prepared to sacrifice our lives at any moment.
We attach an appendix to this Section (following the Key Principles)
which give us a Hebrew perspective in support of St. Benedict’s teaching.
10. Our Lord reminded His disciples frequently that we need to be constantly
alert to the danger of being distracted from our goal: to seek first the
Kingdom of God. Soldiers of Christ will need a military-like routine to
prevent unintended diversion from their goals. This cannot be emphasised
enough in our busy but casual culture.
11. If we are not careful we can develop the attitude that we are doing God
a favour when we turn to Him in prayer; and that when we do so, we
obligate Him to respond in a way that fits our expectations! As a rule,
it is when we read the Scriptures with the intention of listening to the
Lord’s intimations, that we hear what He wishes to share and impart;
perhaps not immediately, but in due course. Part of our learning-curve
is to be able to discern when the Holy Spirit is uncovering something
for us to ponder and pray about. We need to devote some time, at least,
each week to the practice of Lectio Divina.
12. Traditional Christians hold very dearly the understanding that they are
grafted onto the olive tree: the Israel of the Sacred Scriptures in the age
of the fulfillment. Their belief is founded in the mission and teaching of
the Lord Jesus and the Church He established to continue His work for
all humanity. What we call the Church is an authentic part of Biblical
Israel in its continuation of God’s caring for mankind. In the Church the
Scriptural prophecies and Divine Will continue to be honoured and
unfolded. We need to be committed to loyal, proud, yet grateful
membership of the Church. This will entail an on-going study of the
Church and an understanding of its true mission in the world.
Traditional Christians look upon present day Jews as sincerely upholding
what they have had entrusted to them by God, but without acknowledging
Jesus Christ as the Messiah and fulfillment of the Old Testament.
We honour them for their sincerity and their zeal in remaining loyal and
true to their traditions. There is no conflict between our belief that the
Church is an authentic and organic extension of the Israel of the Old
Testament and our respect for our Jewish sisters and brothers who
cannot accept Jesus as Messiah. In God’s good time we believe that
everything will be revealed to His greater glory. We will, then, all find
our attempts to live according to His Holy Law to be somewhat lacking
and in need of His most gracious mercy.
Many Christians are frequently confused as to how to interpret the
interactions of the modern State of Israel with other nations.
Some traditional rabbis and Christians hold that the creation of the
modern state known as Israel has no connection of any kind with
God’s Israel of the Old Testament. Likewise they do not acknowledge
in the creation of that modern state, any fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy.
Others see in the modern State of Israel the true and gracious fulfillment
of God’s promises. Our references to the subject acknowledge the fact,
the reality of the nation rather than posit some theoretical adjudication
favouring any particular corpus of opinion. This is indeed a ratification
of the importance of respecting Jewish historical culture, and
(even more importantly) the need to avoid any anti-Semitic position.
We encourage our members to examine carefully all references to things
Jewish and root out any language or expressions which could possibly
be seen to demean Judaism. This position reflects the promulgations
of the Holy See and it is our intention to implement these with the most
sincere attention to detail.
13. One of the customs Christians have continued from the birth of the Church
as members of God’s household is the Jewish practice of punctuating the
day with prayer and meditation. This custom, inherited directly from
Judaism, highlights the importance of morning and evening prayer as two
special times to honour God. Over the centuries additional calls to prayer
have been added for those who are free to respond. Strangely, many of us
have become accustomed to thinking that it is very difficult (if not impossible)
in our busy modern life to maintain such a rhythm of prayer. In fact,
the contrary is true — it has never been easier: in other words, if we make
the decision that is what we want to do!
A daily rhythm of prayer and meditation, no matter how brief or basic is
critical for living the Christian life. It must never be excessive, burdensome
or impractical — but reasonable, sustainable and balanced, according to our
“The Path of the Just”
by Moshe Chayim Luzzatto
(Published by Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem 5747 / 1987)
We offer a short excerpt from a great 18th Century Jewish spiritual writer. Our selection is to underpin the value of “zeal” and an accompanying sense of “alacrity” when we respond to a call from God to take action.
“The possession of Zeal constitutes an extremely high level of spiritual development, which a persons nature prevents him from attaining at once. He who strengthens himself, however, and acquires as much of Zeal as he is able to, will, in time to come, truly attain to it. The Creator, may His Name be blessed, will present it to him as a reward for having striven for it during the time of his service.
The concern of “Zeal after the beginning of the deed” is that a man, after taking hold of a mitzvah#, make haste to complete it; not for the sake of ease, as with one who wishes to relieve himself of a burden, but for fear that he might be not otherwise be able to complete it. Our Sages of blessed memory have voiced many exhortations concerning this: (Bereshith Rabbah 85:4), “One who begins a mitzvah and does not complete it buries his wife and sons;” and (Ibid.), “A mitzvah is attributed only to the one who completes it.” And King Solomon, may Peace be upon him, said (Proverbs 22: 29), “Have you seen a man quick in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before low-life.” Our Sages of blessed memory paid this tribute to Solomon himself (Sanhedrin 104b) for having made haste in the building of the Temple, and not having idled and delayed it. They commented in a similar manner upon Moses zeal in the work of the Tabernacle (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:2).
It is to be observed that all the deeds of the righteous are performed with alacrity. In relation to Abraham it is written (Genesis 18: 6), “And Abraham hastened to the tent, to Sarah, and he said, ‘Hasten …..’ and he gave it to the youth and he hastened.” And in relation to Rivkah (Ibid. 24: 20), “And she hastened and emptied her pitcher……” And in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbar 10: 17). ” ‘And the woman made haste’ (Judges 13: 10), — this teaches us that all the deeds of the righteous are done quickly,” that they do not permit time to elapse before beginning them or in completing them.
The man whose soul burns in the service of his Creator will surely not idle in the performance of his mitzvoth, but his movements will be like the quick movements of a fire; he will not rest or be still until the deed has been completed. Furthermore, just as zeal can result from an inner burning so can it create one. That is, one who perceives a quickening of his movements in the performance of a mitzvah conditions himself to experience a flaming inner movement, through which longing and desire will continually grow. If, however, he is sluggish in the movement of his limbs, the movement of his spirit will die down and be extinguished.
It is known that what is most preferred in Divine service is desire of the heart and longing of the soul. And it is in relation to his goodly portion in this respect that David exulted (Psalms 42: 2), “As a hart yearns for the water-brooks, so does my soul yearn for You, O God……” “My soul thirsts for God…..” “My soul longs and goes out for the courts of God (Psalms 84: 3); “My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You” (Psalms 63: 2). The man in whom this longing does not burn as it should would do well to bestir himself by force of will so that, as a result, this longing will spring up in his nature; for outer movements awaken inner ones. Unquestionably a person has more control of his outer than his inner self, but if he makes use of what he can control, he will acquire, in consequence, even that which is not within the province of his control. For as a result of the willed quickening of his movements, there will arise in him an inner joy and a desire and a longing. As the Prophet says (Hosea 6: 3), “And let us know — let us run to know God;” and (Hosea 11: 10), “After God will they go, who will roar like a lion.”
From Chapter 7, The Divisions of Zeal (Page 87/91)
# Mitzvah — a commandment, or a good deed done in response to God’s commandments. A mitzvah is also a connection and in the religious sense means being connected or attached to God by means of performing mitzvot (plural form of mitzvah.).
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 4 Verses 14 to 18
And the Lord, seeking His labourer in the multitude to whom
He thus cries out, says again, “Who is the one who will have
life, and desires to see good days?” (Psalm 33 : 12).
And if hearing Him you answer, “I am he,” God says to you,
“If you will have true and everlasting life, keep your tongue
from evil and your lips that they speak no guile. Turn away
from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it,
(Psalm 33 : 13 — 14). And when you have done these things,
My eyes shall be upon you and My ears open to your prayers;
and before you can call upon Me, I will say to you, ‘Behold,
here I am,’ ” (Isaiah 58: 9).
● And the Lord, seeking His labourer in the multitude
to whom He thus cries out, says again, “Who is the one who
will have life, and desires to see good days?” (Psalm 33 : 12).
a. St. Benedict exemplifies the early Christian understanding that God is
constantly seeking out individuals to invite them into His company.
This is not how much of modern religion depicts God. What has happened
to cause this change in emphasis — and does it really matter?
b. God confronts each person with the very clear question: “Do you long for
eternal life with all your heart, and mind and soul?” We are required to make
a choice and reply: “I do,” or “I don’t.” We need to look closely at the conditions
God places for the gifting of true and eternal life with Him.
c. It is interesting to note that the deluge of New Age philosophy and quasi-religion
which from the mid 20th century has been flooding into Western society is
having an increasing effect in all sectors of Christianity. It is hard to find areas
where it has not permeated into and modified popular understanding of some
or other traditional Christian doctrine. Strangely, (and sadly) some Catholic
and Protestant movements have become infected with this rebirth of paganism
in our midst. Often it parades under the guise of “the work of the Holy Spirit”
(a favourite), and few there are, who have not come across its promises to
make us more spiritually mature, even more “like God” (the oldest trick in
the book — Genesis 3: 5).
d. Traditional Christianity never peddled easy ways to heaven. There is no
“play-way” in Christianity: it is the Cross — or else! New Age Christianity
plays down the Cross, and presents us with an amazing choice of entertaining
and attractive enticements to “be religious” or “spiritual”. St. Benedict writes
about practical, plain, Biblical religion. He highlights the Biblical principle
which reveals God seeking us, rather than the New Age emphasis of
“finding God in yourself” as well as other beguiling attractions. Any educated
Christian has been taught about the presence of God within them. But in
our day, the great truth about God constantly “Seeking His labourer” tends
to have faded even in much supposedly Christian teaching. This in turn
diminishes the spiritual perspective we develop, so that it becomes harder
and harder to behold the magnanimity and graciousness of God who goes
to unimaginable lengths to draw us to Him. This is a vital element of our
Christian concept of reality. For the Christian, the Kingdom of God and
everything that pertains to it, is real: super-real. Everything else is to be
viewed from that perspective.
● And if hearing Him you answer, “I am he,”
God says to you, “If you will have true and everlasting
life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips that they
speak no guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek
after peace and pursue it”. (Psalm 33 : 13 — 14).
e. It is easy to err here and think the first condition is stated only in the
negative. Elsewhere Scripture provides the antidote for evil speech and
thoughts: singing the high praises of God. It’s good for us to take stock
as to how often we do that.
f. The second requirement given here is that we “turn away from evil and do
good”. To be inheritors of the eternal life being offered, we are required to
take positive action in the world and not just be “fence-sitters”! It is not enough
just to condemn evil, or even just to “turn away from” it. We have to carry out
good works in response to the commandments of God.
g. The third injunction is that we “seek after peace and pursue it”. This can be a
daunting prospect but there is no room for trying to avoid it. For the Christian,
since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, peace can never exist naturally, nor even
as a result of our efforts. Peace is always a special blessing from God. It is a
restoration of the order and harmony established by our Creator.
h. How often we hear even religious people talk about peace as the mere
absence of war. And these very same people will often overlook a number
of issues just to prevent outbreaks of violence especially when the discord
is a great inconvenience to the rest of the world. But there can be no peace
without justice; until past wrongs are righted. If we are not prepared to face
these and deal with them honestly we simply cannot “pursue peace”. Any
respite from violence will only be temporary, and sadly will serve
ultimately to magnify the problem. There have never been any exceptions
to this rule.
● “….. And when you have done these things, My eyes
shall be upon you and My ears open to your prayers;
and before you can call upon Me, I will say to you,
‘Behold, here I am,’ ” (Isaiah 58: 9).
i. Our modern English “you” (plural of the old “thou”) conceals the fact that
St. Benedict is echoing Isaiah’s understanding that each individual is called
to live a holy life in which God will respond to and bless each person.
Our individual responses will then bind us together as the people of God
who seek Him in all that we do.
j. God’s response in Isaiah 58: 9 is both to us as individuals and as a people
consecrated to His service. The words are overwhelming! They are words
which reflect the closest possible sense of presence and togetherness.
k. The message is clear:
— Do not pander to Me in nice words and sweet thoughts.
— Do what I tell you to do!
— To seek Me can only mean to seek to do My will. So make this
— When, and only when, you have done these things, before you
can even call upon Me I will have already said to you: here I am
in your midst. Awesome thought!
14. Traditional Christians need to remain alerted to the constant tendency
for new-age, popular religious beliefs to merge with traditional doctrines
and distort them significantly. Those who resist this process are frequently
maligned with labels such as, “locked in the past”, “extremists”,
“arch-conservatives”, or separatists”. But resist them, we must, despite
the demeaning labels we attract. The spiritual truth we want to present
is that it is not enough to take God’s presence in us for granted. Respect
for our Creator and Redeemer calls for us to approach God humbly and
consciously in prayer and worship, thus acknowledging His existence
“out there”, quite apart from His glorious in-dwelling within us. Much of
the cold, meaningless, bizarre church architecture we see in our day may
well reflect a certain absence of a strong, traditional Christian belief in
the objective existence of God — or at least a much weakened belief in
objective existence. Sadly, the same attitude has seen the decline of warm
and attractive centres of devotion in Christian homes. We draw attention
to this as we see the restoration of these to be important in our recovery
of our own culture which is in rapid decline — but not beyond restoration.
For most of us, training in identification of non-Christian influences will
help us resist them.
15. One of the beautiful aspects of belonging to the family of God is that our
response to His personal call to each individual is offered to Him both in
our personal prayers and devotions as well as in those of the Church.
There is always this twofold aspect of life as a Christian: the personal and
the community, or as the New Testament records it — the “member” and
the “whole Body”. Individually, we cannot always be praying directly.
However, as members of Christ’s Body, the Church, we are
(by the Power of the Holy Spirit) an organic part of the prayer of the
whole Church constantly being offered through our Head, Christ the Lord,
to the Father. Our understanding of this awesome truth will have a
powerful effect in our day-to-day living.
16. St. Benedict, rightly, draws our attention to the need to do what the Lord
God commands. People often exclaim, “Why does God seem to take no
action concerning the assaults against Christianity — and why does He
allow the Church to disintegrate before our eyes”? The message arising,
“loud and clear” from every page of Sacred Scripture is to listen to what
He commands and carry out His holy will. That is the test for us: the real
challenge. For the Church in our day, it is becoming clearer and clearer
we would benefit from increased respect for the Torah, (together with the
other Old Testament books) and the principles and practices of Jewish
observance. By “Jewish observance” we mean the duty, indeed privilege
of listening daily to the Divine Word and setting our hearts on obeying
His teaching. This includes the methodical study of Sacred Scripture
Texts in private as well as in the gathered community. We have become
detached from the early foundations of our Faith, and we are in danger
of falling over at the rising onslaught of those who are out to destroy
both Judaism and Christianity.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 5 Verses 19 to 21
What can be sweeter to us, dear brethren, than this voice
of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving kindness the
Lord shows us the way of life.
Having our loins girded (Eph. 6: 14 — 16), therefore with
faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in
His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we deserve
to see Him who has called us to His kingdom,
(1 Thessalonians 2: 12).
● What can be sweeter to us, dear brethren, than this voice of
the Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord
shows us the way of life.
a. Here St. Benedict pauses and reiterates what has already been said. It is a
little pep talk, before we continue with the second half of his Prologue.
And most of us need it.
b. It is probably no exaggeration to say that there is nothing in St. Benedict’s
Prologue which we don’t already know. As is often very rightly said of the
Bible, we read it, not because we don’t know what is written there — but
because we do! We read it to refresh our jaded vision, our wilting hope.
In like manner, St. Benedict directs us back to Scripture to unfold new
levels of understanding and to recover our sense of belonging, identity and
purpose. He therefore assumes his reader is familiar with the material he
presents. He demonstrates therefore that his Rule, as with the Bible itself,
is not so much to inform but to form us.
c. In the tradition of St. Benedict (and the early Church), when he writes,
“….. by the guidance of the Gospel….. ” he assumes this will be interpreted
in the Biblical tradition — i,e, with the understanding and backing of the
● Having our loins girded (Eph. 6: 14 — 16), therefore
with faith and the performance of good works, let
us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel,
that we deserve to see Him who has called us to His
kingdom. (1 Thessalonians 2: 12).
d. The early Christians had no problem embracing the complementary roles
of faith and good works, the latter being commanded, not just recommended.
Sadly, some religious leaders later rejected that position and in so doing
departed from the Scripture they so assertively claimed as their only guide
e. St. Benedict reflects the custom of the early Church in highlighting the four
accounts of the Gospel (St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John) as the
chief element of Scripture bequeathed by the Lord to His Church to guide
them “safely home”. As we shall see later, how we look upon Scripture and
use it will influence significantly our progress in His service.
f. It would be helpful to note here that St. Benedict is talking about the Lord
Jesus and us, as his disciples, down through the ages. It is therefore entirely
proper for us to embark on this great journey of faith at the end of which
we shall surely “see Him”. Many a Christian has wondered just how to
interpret our Lord’s injunction: “Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall
see God”, (Matthew 5: 8). St. Benedict is helping us prepare ourselves for
this great privilege, and, to grow in our understanding of what Jesus meant
and what St. Paul was referring to in 1 Thessalonians 2: 12.
17. The Gospel accounts recorded by St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and
St. John are carefully designed and crafted documents which reflect the
fulfillment of God’s revelation in the Old Testament in the light of Christ.
In that Light only, with the guidance of the Teaching Magisterium of the
Church, can we correctly understand the teaching of the rest of Sacred
Scripture — both Old and New Testaments. Strangely, in our time, even
a casual conversation with many Christians soon discloses how little is
understood about these wonderful Scriptures. The good news is that
it need not be that way: quality resources are available to help us
develop a reasonable understanding of all the Gospels. Meditation on
the Sunday Gospel readings, or on each Gospel taken systematically
will soon begin to shape the thinking of the person who makes the
effort. A simple approach followed regularly within a family will also
produce valuable results.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 6 Verses 22 to 28
For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must
run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it.
But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, “Lord, who shall
dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your holy
mountain?” (Psalm 14 : 1).
After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord as He
answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying, “He who
walks without stain and practises justice; he who speaks
truth from his heart; he who has not used his tongue for
deceit; he who has done no evil to his neighbour; he who has
given no place to slander against his neighbour,”
(Psalm 14 : 2 —3).
It is he, who, under any temptation from the malicious
devil, has brought him to naught by casting him and his
temptation from the sight of his heart; and who has laid
hold of his thoughts while they were still young and dashed
them against Christ.
● For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we
must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it.
a. As mentioned earlier, we are often going to hear St. Benedict, (as well as
other great teachers of the spiritual life) urging us to run towards our goal
— our true home. This echoes a strong Biblical tradition which the Church
has developed, based on both the Old and New Testaments. The Christian
religion is, simply put, far too demanding for dawdlers and indecisive
individuals who want to reserve time and energy for other favourite
pursuits in the way. Pretty tough talking! But Biblical Christianity
constantly warns us not to get distracted by the enticements of the
atheistic culture around us.
b. Notice that while St. Benedict urges us frequently to run towards our goal,
the whole tone is based on his emphasising that the Christian vocation is
an invitation. Do you want to have life? Do you long to dwell in the Lord’s
tent? Do you hear the Lord calling you today? He assumes, therefore, that
if we have made a choice to follow His calling, then we should focus all our
efforts into making a strong and total commitment.
c. In this context his use of the term “good deeds” does not just mean
“doing good” to others. It means actions commanded by God. These
actions our Hebrew brothers call “mitzvot”, the plural of mitzvah
— commandments, laws, good deeds. It includes any loving response to
God’s promptings or inspirations as demonstrated in such actions as:
— expressing gratitude to God;
— giving time to morning and evening worship;
— prayerfully affirming our belief in God during the hurly-burly
of everyday life and work;
— as well as all the other good choices and actions of our
day-to-day life, e.g. consciously choosing to obey God’s
d. But having said that, St. Benedict also draws our attention to the fact that
doing “good deeds” to one another should be a normal feature of healthy
relationships we have with one another. In fact he reminds us that all
these things are necessary if we would hope to dwell “in the tent of that
kingdom” referred to by St. Paul in 1st Thess. 2: 12 (See previous
Section 5: verse 21.). Obviously we need to examine carefully this crucial
idea of the “tent of that kingdom”.
● But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, “Lord, who
shall dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your
holy mountain?” (Psalm 14 : 1).
e. A reader could well be puzzled by St. Benedict’s link between the
Kingdom of God referred to by St. Paul (1 Thess. 2: 12) and God’s “tent”
or “His holy mountain”. But he is taking us to the very core of Biblical
understanding of what it means to live in God’s presence — in all its
dimensions. St. Benedict recalls for us how each one of us is part of the
People of God whom He graciously leads attentively and assiduously
(which means “sitting close by”) into His presence. The reference to
“tent” (or “tabernacle”) is a strong Biblical symbol of God’s real
presence among us. It depicts God establishing His dwelling among us
as His people as well as drawing us into His presence. During Israel’s years
of camping in the wilderness the Tabernacle of God’s Presence was always
in the centre of the orderly rows of dwellings placed around His. He was
at the centre of their day to day living: mutual presence, ordered
relationship and frequent interaction were critically important for the
Israelites of that period. These features of mutual presence,
relationship and interaction were governed by formal protocols,
procedures and ceremonies. They were NEVER casual.
f. All of this is vital for us to understand. Traditional Christianity as practised
in the Catholic Faith has continued to reflect the physical and spiritual
reality of the tent of God’s presence in its buildings for worship as well as
the ceremonies performed within them. The same goes for the traditions
and ceremonies carried out in Christian homes. They form an extension
of worship performed in the local Church and help heighten our
consciousness of Christ’s presence in us through the Holy Spirit, and our
presence in Him and His Body, the Church. A very beautiful custom in
traditional Catholicism is to visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in our
churches. For a variety of reasons, some associated with vandalism and
security, our churches these days are often locked. But if we are able, it is
of enormous benefit to us, as well as a mark of respect to God’s Presence,
to make visits whenever we are able. If this is impracticable, we can make
“spiritual visits” using any appropriate prayers or meditations and present
these to our Lord as a spiritual communion with Him. Many saints made
such spiritual visits and communion with our Lord several times a day.
g. We may consider it appropriate to review the trends of some
contemporary teaching and practices, and the powerful influence they
exert in moving us away from a strong Biblical model towards assimilating
modern “pop” culture and its atheistic influences in our society. Much of
modern Christianity is failing to pass on our Christian culture to the
youth of today despite all efforts to make it “relevant” to them. This has
become strongly reflected in the way people behave in Church as well
as at home.
● After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord
as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying,
“He who walks without stain and practises justice; he who
speaks truth from his heart; he who has not used his
tongue for deceit; he who has done no evil to his
neighbour; he who has given no place to slander against
his neighbour,” (Psalm 14 : 2 —3).
h. Having boldly confronted us with the opening question of Psalm 14 ,
St. Benedict just as forthrightly proclaims the answer provided by the
Psalmist! Reciting those first three verses of this powerful Psalm may
help us through many a difficult moment. Readers may be used to
different translations of these wonderful words of advice, and the
impact may be therefore diluted a little. So let’s process the material a
i. To walk “without stain” may seem at first more than a little unrealistic.
The Psalmist does not just mean “marks”; he means permanent marks:
stains! And the Christian has no excuse for bearing residual stains!
There is a way provided by the Lord for them to be dealt with, and it
must be used by His followers if they are to dwell in God’s Presence or
rest upon His Holy Mountain. Our failings must be confessed and
absolved according to the dictates of our Lord Jesus Christ and His
Church which He commissioned to continue His work.
j. To “practise justice” can mean different things to different people.
In the Biblical context, however, it is very meaningful and necessary
to understand. The Latin “iustitia’ , (from which our word “justice”
comes) and the Hebrew word “sedek” (which “iustitia” translates)
incorporate a wide range of meanings such as:
— Justice (in the modern sense); but also
— Observance of God’s Holy Word / Law, (or in Hebrew) Torah,
especially, in due course, obeying the Torah i.e. the Word
made flesh, (John 1: 14);
— God’s just ways or decrees.
In particular the word “justice” here means giving priority to God’s Torah,
i.e. His Law, His Word, or His Presence. Sometimes the word “righteousness”
is used similarly and this is always connected in some way with Torah
dwelling in or among us (like the tent of God’s Presence pitched in our midst),
and us dwelling in Torah: God’s Holy Word / Law.
k. Righteousness is all about mutual indwelling; not about being moralistic.
St. Benedict reflects the traditional Christian view that true righteousness
requires that we put our own house in order first before criticising the
actions of others! St. Jerome had already spelt this out in one of his
sermons. Talking about the self-righteous, St. Jerome applies the term
‘hypocrite’ to those who make it their business to focus on the faults of
others as a devious way of parading their own virtue. He points out that
such people are just as much “off the track” as those they criticise.
It seems to me that the term applies also to the one who says to his brother,
“Let me take the speck out of your eye.” For he appears to be doing this for
the sake of publicity, to have the look of virtue. Hence our Lord says to him,
“Hypocrite, first cast the beam out of your own eye.” It is not the
manifestation of virtue, then, but its motivation that God rewards. And if
you wander off the track a bit, it makes no difference whether you veer
to the right or to the left: the important thing is that you are not on the
right road. St. Jerome AD 347 — 426.
l. The Rule we are studying was drawn up to help keep us “on track” for our
true home. So St. Benedict is reminding us emphatically that our way of life,
our words and deeds must reflect flawlessly the real, mutual, indwelling of
God in us and we in God. Our words must echo this state of affairs if God is
to be “believable” at home as well as in our society around us. Our actions
must also reflect the goodness, loving kindness and mercy of God if He is to
be manifested as one who seeks to share His living Presence with us.
m. For traditional Christians this concept is loaded with imagery.
— Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God who came to dwell
(pitch His tent of Presence) among us.
— Towards the end of His life He talked about His dwelling in
us and we in Him.
— This reflects, He said, the way He dwells in the Father, and
the Father in Him. (See John 14: 11 and 23; John 15: 4 and
John 17: 23 among other passages.)
● It is he, who, under any temptation from the
malicious devil, has brought him to naught by casting him
and his temptation from the sight of his heart; and who
has laid hold of his thoughts while they were still young
and dashed them against Christ.
n. In the first part of this section (6) St. Benedict challenges us to ask with the
Prophet (meaning King David): Who is worthy to be in your presence? The
Psalmist goes on to provide the answer. The reader is challenged to live up
to standards which seem impossible. And so they are, if we rely on
ourselves at a natural level.
o. St. Benedict gives the advice of the ancient Fathers of the Church. He is
emphatic in declaring that no one has to listen to all the voices we hear
within us giving conflicting advice and urging us to act contrary to how
we know we ought. We are free he says, to take any temptation whatsoever,
while it is in its infancy — before it takes hold within us — and dash it to
pieces on a hard, sharp rock. He calls that rock Christ. This imagery comes
from the early Christian way of interpreting Psalm 136 : 9. Some
moderns complain that this is mere spiritualising a horrible passage in
the Psalm which originally called for Babylonian babies to be dashed on the
rocks and destroyed. The trend today is to either omit the offensive passage
from the Psalm, or translate the problem away. After all, claim these
moderns, such thoughts are too inappropriate and obnoxious for Christian
use. Quite apart from the fact that modern man can hardly claim to be more
virtuous when it comes to dealing with anyone deemed to be an enemy, we
can learn much from our Christian forbears who want us to penetrate the
heart of Scripture and learn its real lessons. If we were to do this, there
wouldn’t be the widespread maltreatment of the weak and defenceless,
which is becoming rampant in our society.
p. The essence of St. Benedict’s writing on this point is: you can choose a course
to follow, and don’t have to be dictated to by weird or evil alternatives which
surface in your mind. Let Christ deal with everything which you judge to be
wrong. But do it quickly. Involve Him at the earliest opportunity — especially
at the moment you detect any doubt in your mind about resisting temptation.
Don’t dally, nor allow yourself to be indecisive: See — judge — and act!
18. At first reading we could easily surmise that St. Benedict is giving activity
and good works precedence over prayer and worship. Not so! Our actions
(including our good works) and our obedience spring from a belief in and a
commitment to the loving God who is constantly calling us to Him. They
are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in us. They are the measure of our
faith in Him and His presence within us Prayer, adoration, worship and
love of God must be firmly entrenched in our ordinary, daily life before we
will have the stamina necessary for us to “run by good deeds” as St. Benedict
19. If we consider ourselves to be Christian, we need to remember that this
means being an active disciple of the Lord. Disciples are, among other
aspects of membership, attentive worshippers and students of His teaching.
20. Christian homes should, to a degree, reflect in some visible, material way,
the spiritual tone, appearance, and activity of the local Church. In this
regard we encourage Christians to set aside some chosen space where the
household can gather for worship in the home. We highly recommend
families to make provision for this and offer some guidance on the matter
in “An Oratory at Home”.
21. The Biblical concept of “justice” and putting it into practice demand first
that those who require it, model it in their own behaviour. This applies to
whole communities as well as individuals. If society doesn’t like what it sees
developing among its youth, it needs to look at itself in a mirror to see what
is wrong. The Gospels are Christ’s mirror for us to see where we are going
wrong. In particular, His parables are intended (a) to help us identify our
failings as well as (b) to provide a perfect model for putting them right.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 7 Verses 29 to 34
It is they who, fearing the Lord, do not pride themselves on
their good observance: but, convinced that the good which
is in them cannot come from themselves and must be from
the Lord, glorify the Lord’s work in them, using the words
of the Prophet, “Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Your name
give the glory,” (Psalm 114 : 1).
Thus also the Apostle Paul attributed nothing of the success
of his preaching to himself, but said, “By the grace of God,
I am what I am,” (1 Cor. 15: 10).
And again he says, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord,”
(2 Cor. 10: 17). Hence the Lord says in the Gospel, “Whoever
listens to these words of Mine and acts upon them, I will liken
him to a man who built his house upon rock. The floods came,
the winds blew and beat against that house, and it did not fall,
because it was founded on rock,” (Matt. 7: 24 and 25).
● It is they who, fearing the Lord, do not pride themselves
on their good observance: but, convinced that the good
which is in them cannot come from themselves and must be
from the Lord, glorify the Lord’s work in them, using the words
of the Prophet, “Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Your name
give the glory,” (Psalm 114 : 1).
Thus also the Apostle Paul attributed nothing of the
success of his preaching to himself, but said, “By the grace of
God, I am what I am,” (1 Cor. 15: 10).
And again he says, “He who glories, let him glory
in the Lord,” (2 Cor. 10: 17).
a. Most readers will be aware that in the English language, the word “fear”
has long had two distinct meanings:
— apprehension of danger or pain;
— deep reverence or piety towards God.
St. Benedict, of course, is using the second definition here.
b. He has already drawn our attention to a major theme in Scripture: living
lives which reflect the dignity and privilege of our being the people of
God. Now he ensures we don’t get carried away with our own success.
Do good works, he says, but always acknowledge that any good in us or
in our works comes from God. That actually sounds easier than it really
is. So St. Benedict, always aware of human nature, makes quite an issue
of our need to “glorify” the Lord’s work in them. The members of some
traditional communities for which St. Benedict composed this Rule recite
the whole of the Psalter (150 Psalms) each week. A recurring theme
throughout the Book of Psalms is the frequent promise of God’s faithful
people to proclaim His wonderful deeds.
Psalm 9: 1
I will give thanks to You O Lord, with all my heart;
I will declare all your wondrous deeds.
Psalm 21 : 23
I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
Psalm 25 : 6 and 7
I wash my hands in innocence, and I go around
your altar, O Lord, giving voice to my thanks and
recounting all your wondrous deeds.
Psalm 44 : 18
I will make your name memorable through all
generations; therefore shall nations praise you
forever and ever.
Psalm 77 : 1 — 5
Hearken my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable,
I will utter mysteries from of old.
What we have heard and know,
and what our fathers have declared to us,
We will not hide from their sons,
we will declare to the generations to come.
The glorious deeds of the Lord and his
strength and the wonders that he wrought.
Canticle of Moses — Deuteronomy 32: 1 — 3
Give ear, O heavens, while I speak;
let the earth hearken to the words of my mouth!
May my instruction soak in like the rain,
and my discourse permeate like the dew.
Like a downpour upon the grass, like a shower
upon the crops.
For I will sing the Lord’s renown.
Oh, proclaim the greatness of our God!
c. St. Benedict’s emphasis on the need to deflect all honour for our good works
to God begs the question: What is he underscoring here? For the early
Christian, the great truth underlying the Scripture quotations in
St. Bendedict’s text at the beginning of Section 7, as well as those above from
the Psalms, is the vibrant awareness they had of being an instrument and
co-worker of the Holy Spirit. This was a dignity they found profoundly
humbling — And rightly so. It is the dignity of being a member of Christ’s Body,
His Church — and thus an instrument of the Holy Spirit which is of prior
importance. The content of our actions is secondary in human thinking:
some will do great things; some very humble things. What matters is that
all give God the credit for any good whatsoever they have achieved.
● Hence the Lord says in the Gospel, “Whoever listens to
these words of Mine and acts upon them, I will liken him to
a man who built his house upon rock. The floods came, the
winds blew and beat against that house, and it did not fall,
because it was founded on rock,” (Matt. 7: 24 and 25)
d. This part of Section 7 provides us with an excellent example of the correct
way for Christians to learn from Sacred Scripture. Short crisp quotations
have their place, but the Christian life requires an in-depth familiarity with
the Bible. Note, we are not saying we must be academics or highly qualified
theologians. But we are called to be students of the Bible together with the
approved commentaries and scholarship of the Church, according to our
ability and circumstances. We will take a look at St. Matthew’s
Gospel 7: 13 — 29 and examine how St. Benedict links to our Lord’s teaching.
e. The use by St. Benedict of St. Matthew 7: 24 and 25 demonstrates how he
is not just giving a short quotation from the New Testament, but bedding it
into a large and highly significant passage: the well-known Sermon on the
Mount. Typical of St. Benedict, (and other early Christian writers, especially
in a succinct work such as the Rule we are studying), he gives only a short
quotation. This, in fact, sums up a longer passage which we are expected to
know and to apply to the whole of what he is explaining.
f. This section of the Prologue ends with a single sentence, verses 24 and 25
of St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 7. This, in fact is meant to recall and bring
to our attention the whole of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 to 7
of St. Matthew’s Gospel. So we need to be generally familiar with that.
More specifically, St. Benedict expects us to take into account
verses 13 to 29 of St. Matthew 7, which form the conclusion of the Sermon
on the Mount. As a demonstration of this approach to using Sacred Scripture,
we attach an Appendix to this section. It is a valuable insight into a passage
which forms part of the core teaching contained in St. Benedict’s Prologue.
Our acceptance of it is assumed.
g. Final Summary
In summing up the importance of St. Benedict’s use of
St. Matthew 7: 24 and 25 and the whole passage of verses 13 to 29.
— Our acceptance of Jesus’ teaching on his constitution for the
Kingdom of God given in the Sermon on the Mount is assumed.
— We must be vigilant about the dangers always lurking nearby
within and beyond the Church.
— Our Lord will not tolerate the empty preaching of those who
claim authority but do not teach all that he proclaimed and
commanded with his power and his passion.
— Jesus requires his teaching to be carefully and consistently put
into practice. He demands his followers constantly listen to his
word and obediently carry it out.
— Devout obedience will stand the followers of Christ in good
stead. However, it will not cocoon them to such an extent that
they will not experience hardship and other difficulties. After
all, the floods will still come. And the winds will still blow.
The promise of our Lord is that those who listen to Him and
act on His instruction will be empowered to weather the storm.
His constant message for us is to be vigilant and prepared!
22. Many aspects of life in our contemporary society have been the target of
shrewd opportunists who have poured huge resources into developing
many kinds of package deals, whether it be:
— weddings — housing
— holidays — charity, and so on.
Over the past 50 years, traditional Christians have observed the
corporatisation of religion: specifically Christianity. We have seen the
emergence of mega-churches, media evangelists, new “prophets for our
times” and a whole line of promoters with their slick messages. These
messages are often one-liners with little depth but carefully tuned
emotional appeal, offering instant, direct, even overwhelming attraction.
The abuse of the name and role of the Holy Spirit has been the major
focus of this kind of hijacking. Organisations specialising in a whole culture
of “dispensing” the Holy Spirit, aggressively lay claim to a special preserve
or status, and openly talk of the traditional Church as “not having the Spirit”.
Traditional Christians need to be very clear about this “take-over bid” and
stand very firmly in their Faith and its day-to-day practice. This may
sometimes entail humbly, yet boldly declaring these latter day religious
entrepreneurs to be misleading sincere people away from the central focus
on Jesus Christ and His teaching.
23. We wish to affirm strongly the need for us to retain the traditional role of
Sacred Scripture in the Church and not allow it to be used to support every
misguided theory that surfaces in our time. Traditional Christianity has
consistently taught that Sacred Scripture together with the teaching
authority bestowed on the Church by her Founder guide the teaching of
the Church in terms of what Scripture contains and how it should be used.
24. The Church is called to remain on the alert at all times for attacks from
misguided persons — whether genuine and sincere, or motivated by
personal advantage. Our Lord’s teaching illustrates how false guides
launch their attacks both from within and outside the Church. There
has never been an era when the Church has not had to be dealing with
‘cranks’ and their distortions of the Faith. In our own time we are under
very real attack from outside the Church — but also from within. We wish
to affirm the principle that growth and change, while a genuine part of
the Church’s existence in the world with all its problems, should always
manifest organic development from what has come before. The True
Faith is that which has been handed down before in an unbroken stream
from the founding of the Church at Pentecost. Our only truly reliable
safeguard in terms of the Faith is that which is approved by the Sacred
Magisterium of the Church. We therefore need to keep ourselves
well-informed about the Church, as well as about what is going on around
us to ensure we are not hoodwinked by the latest fads and trends in the world.
25. The repetitions that keep occurring in our sequence of “Key Principles”
reflect the repeated warnings of our Saviour to impress upon us the need
to look carefully at our performance (as individuals as well as in the Body
of the Church) and identify where we have gone astray. Many organisations
claim Gospel teaching as their standard — even calling themselves
“Full Gospel” this, or that. The critical standard by which we will all be
judged is whether we believe and teach all that our Lord taught and
commanded (St. Matt. 28: 20). Embodied in this mandate of the Lord is
therefore the requirement to be constantly listening to the Divine Word
interiorly, and hearing what He requires as well as attempting
whole-heartedly to carry it out. The interpretation of this tiny word all
is what finally will sift those who are genuinely seeking to follow Christ
from those who insist on deciding for themselves what they wish to
believe and do.
Appendix: Essential Understanding of St. Matthew 7: 13 — 23
The concluding part of Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount contains
— Verses 13 to 23 warnings against dangers;
— Verses 24 to 27 exhortation to apply our Lord’s teaching;
— Verses 28 and 29 an observation of St. Matthew.
Let us consider each of these briefly as background to St. Benedict’s
reference to St. Matthew’s Gospel.
Warning against dangers: St. Matthew 7: 13 to 23
Virtually every Christian remembers stories about entering by the narrow gate. The theme however, was often not developed and many are unsure of the meaning. We print a brief summary of the teaching of Jesus in these verses from the Knox-Cox Gospel Story, (CYM Publications 1957).
Entry into the kingdom requires effort; it is a hard, painstaking search for a small, hidden gate into a city. There, a narrow, winding street begins; courage and perseverance are needed to follow this street. It is a way of virtue that leads to life. Only those who accept the standards of the eight beatitudes need apply. Jesus would lead nobody after him by false promises of an easy, pleasant life…..
He warns his audience against one of the main obstacles in their way, false guides. They are the Pharisees, that body of official religious teachers bent on his destruction. He calls them ‘false prophets,’ i.e. men wrongly claiming to speak for and safeguard the interests of God. They are hypocrites: an outward show of sanctity, but evil ruling in their hearts. To no other class of men is our Lord so hard and unrelenting; ‘wolves, serpents, whitened sepulchres,’ is a terrible judgment from his lips…..
He who is Truth as well as Love can make no compromise with either error or evil. It is because they have wrong ideas on the nature of the kingdom, that their guidance is false and dangerous; it cannot be otherwise, no more than a farmer can get good fruit from a withered tree, or ‘figs from thistles’. Our Lord finally warns the Pharisees of their responsibility as teachers: their words will be matter for judgment as well as their deeds: the purpose of words is to teach truth, not falsehood.
In this regard very little has changed. The Church also has its false guides and lobby groups who correspond with their ancient counterparts. They do not sincerely support the Magisterium and quietly work towards their own deviant plans.
Exhortation to apply our Lord’s teaching:
St. Matthew 7: 24 to 27
(Also from the Knox-Cox Gospel Story, CYM Publications 1957.)
Our Lord does not want his hearers just to stand and admire the beauty of his thoughts; he wants them to follow him, and live his life. They must not only know the will of God, they must do it. It is a call to action. They have to continue on, observing the commandments of the law, and following their customary religious duties; he has perfected them, not abolished them. His new spirit of personal sanctity does not dispense them from doing what they have been bound to do before; it gives grace and power to do it. Only habits of life, acquired by daily practice, can give that solidarity and strength to stand up against the trials and persecutions in store for him, and his followers. Total adherence to his principles alone can weather the approaching storm…..
Again, through the ages, little has changed. The Church, as with the People Israel, must be constantly on guard against the temptation to use spiritual knowledge and gifts to obtain temporal power and advantage. The Pharisees in the above reading quoted, were not, by any means representative of all Israel. Our Lord is referring to a relatively small but powerful band who had hijacked authority in Jerusalem. His warning is that, without great care, the Church could find itself in a similar position. Repeatedly He warns the greatest danger to the Church would come from within rather than from beyond. Our Lord’s emphasis on good, practical application of his teaching, and generosity in good deeds is both a prompting and a warning, (See St. Matt. 25: 31 — 46).
Observation of — St. Matthew 7: 28 and 29
The Gospel writer records a brief but powerful comment reflecting what he had witnessed:
— The common people were stunned by the quality and
content of his message.
— Jesus taught as one having power and authority.
This was the response of ordinary, uneducated yet intelligent
and devout people.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 8 Verses 35 to 44
Having given us these assurances, the Lord is waiting every
day for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions.
And the days of this life are lengthened and a truce granted
us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways.
As the apostle says, “Do you not know that God’s patience is
inviting you to repent?” (Romans 2: 4.)
For the merciful Lord tells us, “I desire not the death of the
sinner, but that he should be converted and live.” (Ezekiel 33: 11.)
So, brethren, we have asked the Lord who is to dwell in His
tent, and we have heard His commands to anyone who would
dwell there; it remains for us to fulfill these duties.
Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies to do
battle under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us
ask God that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace for
anything which our nature finds hardly possible. And if we
want to escape the pains of hell and attain life everlasting,
then, while there is still time, while we are still in the body
and are able to fulfill all these things by the light of this life,
we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.
● Having given us these assurances, the Lord is waiting
every day for us to respond by our deeds to His holy
admonitions. And the days of this life are lengthened and
a truce granted us for this very reason, that we may amend
our evil ways. As the apostle says, “Do you not know that
God’s patience is inviting you to repent?” (Romans 2: 4.)
For the merciful Lord tells us, “I desire not the death of
the sinner, but that he should be converted and live.”
(Ezekiel 33: 11.)
So, brethren, we have asked the Lord who is to dwell in
His tent, and we have heard His commands to anyone who
would dwell there; it remains for us to fulfill these duties.
a. St. Benedict has, to this point, highlighted the constant call throughout
Scripture — reaching its strongest pitch in the words of our Lord — the
invitation (indeed plea) for us to seek the fullness of life which only God
can give. Again he reminds us, “…..the Lord is waiting every day for us to
respond by our deeds…..”
b. St. Benedict shows God as a loving (almost indulgent) Father, desperately
longing for his separated children to return to Him. Later in his Rule,
St. Benedict reminds us of the loving father in the Parable of the Prodigal
Son who daily watches for the return of one who foolishly left his father’s
household and runs to him to embrace him when he is not much more than
a speck on the horizon.
c. How vital it is we take St. Paul seriously when he warns us that God’s apparent
lack of action regarding our on-going offending is to allow time and experience
to bring us to our senses and turn our lives around. For God does all in His
power to bring us back — bar over-riding the free will He gave us — so that
we can inherit the fullness of life for which He designed us.
d. However, the deal does require us “to fulfill our duties”. Christianity is NOT
a religion of just pure contemplation or perfect faith. It is the perfect and
harmonious inter-relationship of faith and good deeds in those who belong
to God — of being and doing as sons and daughters of the Most High.
● Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies
to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands;
and let us ask God that He be pleased to give us the help
of His grace for anything which our nature finds hardly
e. The key ideas in this small passage could well sound a little strange to some
modern readers: that we must:
— prepare our hearts and bodies
— for battle
— under holy obedience to His commands.
“Preparation” requires planning and sustained attention to striving to
achieve the required standards.
“Hearts and bodies” makes it very plain that the Christian life is not merely
a pursuit of lofty spiritual values but of obeying God with all our heart and
mind and body and soul. It is a holistic blend of all aspects making up the
human person and bringing them into line for God’s purposes.
“Battle” is no fun! It is a matter of life and death whether we reach our
Heavenly Home. St. Benedict is repeating for his reader, the need to take
up spiritual weapons.
“Holy obedience to His commands” requires that we know what these
commands are and that we form a mind-set of living lives which reflect
an honest attempt to obey them. St. Benedict does not make reference
here to what happens when we fail. That is covered in the Scriptures and
we should know how to handle this in our lives. Rather, St. Benedict
emphasises in the next few words how to avoid failure, (see below).
f. It is not enough to just “hope for the best”. We have an obligation to ask
God to help us cope with things which seem virtually impossible or at
least unreasonable to us. St. Benedict rightly offers this advice since
the Gospels frequently illustrate how far we may think such and such
is utterly beyond us; yet when we approach it prayerfully, somehow
the obstacles fall to the side and permit us to pass through. The lives
and experience of the saints of the Church demonstrate this very
dramatically. We are encouraged to read them frequently as an
important part of our spiritual life for this very reason.
● And if we want to escape the pains of hell and
attain life everlasting, then, while there is still
time, while we are still in the body and are able to
fulfill all these things by the light of this life, we
must hasten to do now what will profit us for
g. It is not a sin to be human. It is indeed “lawful” to “want to escape the pains
of hell and attain life everlasting”. Most of us don’t talk about (let alone think
about), the pains of hell. To do so tends to earn the label of “backward”,
“simple” or “frightfully nsophisticated”. We are very conscious of what our
non-Christian (or even sophisticated Christian) friends think of us. Hell and
sin are seen by many as outdated expressions which have been displaced
by concepts more acceptable to “enlightened” modern people. What so
many of our contemporaries do not realise is that non-Christian protagonists
have always, (for 2000 years), looked on us as pitiful, weak, and intellectually
dull for believing the warnings from Jesus about sin, death and hell. Actually,
they pity us even more for believing in Heaven and eternal life.
h. We should be wary of some contemporary writers who insist the Gospels do
not contain the words actually spoken by our Lord, but rather mere
representations in language of the period which we can now put aside and
interpret according to more acceptable terms. This argument is shallow
but very useful to permit all kinds of distortions to traditional Christian
i. St Benedict focuses us on our true goal: attaining life everlasting. He is a
thorough pragmatist. If you are still alive, he says, it is not too late to
review your progress and attend to any discrepancies.
j. He closes the instructional part of his Prologue with a final reminder
that we must “hasten” (he means RUN) to perform NOW what will be to our
advantage for all eternity!
26. One of the most beautiful understandings in traditional Christianity, is the
positive value of “doing one’s duty”. Most of us have grown up having to
listen to certain groups of Christians taunting us with accusations of attending
worship “because you have to”, or doing this or that, “out of fear”.
Interestingly these voices are heard less now because their particular
organisations are in rapid decline. Many have all but disappeared.
Nevertheless we consider it worth highlighting that there is such a thing
as religious (in our case, Christian) duty. This concept springs from our
Jewish heritage and we should have no hesitation accepting that to be an
active Christian will require our obedience to God’s Law and the teaching
of His Church. Our Lord emphasised this constantly. We draw attention
to our Jewish heritage, as many will have grown up accustomed to the
constant, frequent reference to “Jewish legalism” : an obsession with
compliance to God’s commandments in the Torah (613 of them).
Added to this demeaning and degrading language, we have so often been
led to believe that Jews are fanatical about the literal compliance so they
can take pride in achieving everything commanded — yet do not really
carry out those duties with an inner conviction, in love and devotion to
God. We would be guilty of the gravest hypocrisy if we were to perpetuate
such mistruths. In our Lord’s time, He accused small bands of hypocrites
for that type of performance. However he never generalised the
application to include the ordinary devout Jew, and nor should we.
27. The Church rightly draws our attention to the examples of many fine
men, women and young people in the 2000 year history of the Church
who have persevered in the Faith despite the most horrific odds. Some
were called to die for their Faith in Christ. Others were called to live for
Him and manifest in their lives the virtues the Holy Spirit nurtured in
them. We too are called to know, love and serve God and to aspire
genuinely to holiness and perfection in Christ.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 9 Verses 45 to 48
And so we are going to establish a school for the service of
the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh
or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the
dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the
preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly
from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be
● And so we are going to establish a school for the
service of the Lord.
a. Up to this point St. Benedict has been expounding a Biblical vision of the
Christian life. In almost extreme brevity, he has summarised the key
Biblical themes and understandings we need to be familiar with if we are
to get the balance right. In this section we take a brief look at the state of
the Church in the world and humbly offer a few thoughts on how to
continue living the Christian life in our society.
b. Though we hope much of our commentary on St. Benedict’s Prologue can
be usefully read by any Christian reader it is essentially for people in two
sets of circumstances.
First: For those who are unable to attend the church of their choice for
regular Sunday worship. As this has become increasingly impractical for
many, some assistance is needed to help them practise their Faith in
their own localities.
Secondly, it is offered for those who have chosen a particular form of
apostolate, who find it beneficial to adopt some model of religious rule
to strengthen the membership in their common pursuit. Hebrew
Catholics will find St. Benedict’s approach very consistent and compatible
with Jewish cultural tradition.
In both these cases, St. Benedict’s Prologue can be supplemented by other
additional guidelines put in place by the group.
c. This booklet does not tackle all the issues which are a real problem for
Christians in our contemporary society. That is done elsewhere by
competent writers whose works can be trusted and respected. Our
purpose, here, is to offer a traditional Christian model which may help
Catholics in some situations to maintain their Catholic culture, or pass
it on to their young. We hope these pages will also be of assistance to our
d. In verse 45 of his Prologue, St. Benedict talks of establishing “a school
for the service of the Lord”. His phrase in Latin is, “dominici schola servitti”.
The highly esteemed commentary of the Rule of St. Benedict (Liturgical
Press, Collegeville 1980), makes this comment, applying “schola” (school)
to the monastery:
In this noble and often quoted phrase, a school “for” rather than “of” seems
best to catch the idea that the monastery is a place where the monks both
learn how to serve the Lord and actually do so. In the Latin of this period,
“schola” could mean not only a place where instruction was received but
the group receiving instruction as well as, more generally, a vocational
corporation (such as a guild) of people devoted to a common craft or
service. A similar usage can be seen in the English “school of painters”
or “school of porpoises”.
The “school for the Lord’s service” may certainly be regarded as the central
idea of the Prologue. It implies that the monastery (the school) is the place
where Christ continues to teach his disciples the baptismal renunciation of
sin and the ways that lead to the repose of eternal life. It implies that the
life in the monastery is a service of Christ, the Lord. It implies, finally, that
service calls for strenuous obedience and suffering with Christ but that such
service leads even now to a joyful and loving observance of the
commandments of God.
e. We believe this concept of the “schola” can be applied to our
contemporary context as lay people to great advantage. The word “schola”
today is sometimes used as a term for a group of singers or cantors who
specialise in chanting or singing particular parts of liturgical worship. We
are retaining St. Benedict’s traditional use of the Latin term as embodied
in verse 45 above, which means a school for the Lord’s service. It is our
belief (from experience as well as from a theoretical position) that any
number of interested persons can form a type of “schola” and can
establish themselves as a “school for the service of the Lord”.
The “schola” could consist of one or more families or individuals who
would see themselves as constituting a small unit for the purpose of living
and practising their Faith according to traditional Catholic culture.
Insofar as this is appropriate or desirable, we would see them being
established and operating under the auspices of a parish priest or other
appointed cleric who would maintain whatever level of interaction is
possible or appropriate.
f. A “schola” would not exist for its own sake, but to help provide an
organic link between a parish church, fellowship, or religious community
somewhere and help facilitate visits by members of the “schola” to that
Church or community if and when practicable, as well as provide an
organised setting for a priest to visit it when this can be arranged.
g. A “schola” could therefore, as stated, consist of a family or a group of
families together with other individuals. Those familiar with religious
community methods of organisation may be familiar with the traditional
“laura” model. This was a community of dispersed individuals who came
together according to an agreed rhythm, for prayer, study and worship.
The “schola” could, in fact, be a Christian lay laura and operate as a unit
attached to a parish, some form of organised fellowship, or religious
community despite distance or other difficulties or considerations.
h. We see the “schola” potentially as a cluster of satellite individuals and
families who would:
— develop a rhythm of coming together for a time and then
— establish a defined range of activities (including prayer and
worship, study and reflection, social and charitable);
— maintain communication with their chosen centre or
fellowship as practicable;
— foster links with the diocese in which the schola is situated,
as well as with its various parishes.
Hopefully, a priest travelling on an extended circuit may be able to
celebrate Mass, administer the Sacraments from time to time, and
meet with leaders to encourage them and ensure the educational
direction of the “schola” is in harmony with that of its parish centre,
organised fellowship or associated religious community.
i. In elaborating a little on how we see the schola groups developing, we do
not necessarily see them as modern “base” or “ecclesial” communities.
They could well form a network of concerned lay people who wish to
recover and build a stronger, more visible model of unity within the Church.
j. A “schola“, as we have described, could facilitate traditional Catholic
culture in its smallest unit (of the family) as well as in the connected
group of units. With this understanding the “schola” would be a localised
Catholic group and its associates coming together for:
— religious education;
— corporal and spiritual works of mercy;
— social activities.
k. St. Benedict, in his Prologue, gives considerable emphasis to the concept
of the “schola” being a place of on-going learning. This is an essential feature
of these centres. Together with the other activities listed above, it would
ensure traditional Catholic culture is fostered for the benefit of the members
as well as the wider community.
l. A “schola” is likely to gather in the home of one of its members, and this is
an excellent practice. However, the “schola” may, due to its particular
circumstances, maintain some other meeting place for its members to
gather for worship or education or social events or perhaps for all of these.
There is no reason why the “schola” should not, under appropriate guidance,
set up an oratory or chapel in a spare basement, garage or unused hall, or
even an unused Church. The setting aside of a place specifically for worship
would be a great help. Otherwise, the devotional centre in a private home
is another option, never to be under-valued. We offer to readers a
supplement to this commentary which provides ideas to guide the
establishment of a “An Oratory At Home“.
m. We ask you to read again the quoted commentary above on verse 45 of the
Prologue and to visualise the “schola” not as a monastery envisaged by
St. Benedict, but as a lay laura — a dispersed community which functions
as a satellite fellowship attached in some appropriate way to a diocese.
There is enormous potential for such groups to preserve, foster and pass
on the richness of our wonderful Catholic culture even in an age such as ours.
● In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or
n. The Rule of St. Benedict is known for its balance and utter reasonableness.
St. Benedict avoided cluttering up his Rule when things could be presented
simply without over-complicating any aspect. He was totally down-to-earth
and disliked excessive sophistication . Thus, in the spirit of this Rule the
regulations put in place to guide members of a “schola” should be the
minimum needed for good governance. Having said this, it would be entirely
in the spirit of the Rule to have some form of leadership structure in place,
with the allocation of duties to different members. A “schola” is not a casual
affair, but an organised and well-run form of a community.
o. St. Benedict goes to great lengths in his Rule to outline how those appointed
or elected to be in charge must see themselves as servants of the community
and never lord it over the other members.
● But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of
equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation
of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the
way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow.
p. St. Benedict is realistic. There are going to be leaders, agreed practices and
regulations. These are necessary for good order and ensuring the “schola”
serves the spiritual needs of its members. He paves the way for leaders to
seek support for new or revised rules. He also sounds a warning to would-be
members, that when they choose to enter the “schola“, the way at first may
seem narrow and a little bit disconcerting, for whatever reason. “Persevere”,
he says, “Give yourself a chance”.
q. A schola, then should not hesitate to set clear guidelines for itself, as well
as parameters and restrictions. These can be very simply presented and
should always be seen as protecting the “schola” as well as the very reason
people wish to belong to it: their sanctification as active members of
Christ’s Body, the Church.
r. For this reason, a schola should always comprise of enthusiastic members
who take their Faith seriously and apply themselves in a systematic and
organised way to reflect Christ to the wider community. A “schola” should
not be inward-looking but see itself as an organic part of its local setting
and take care to engage warmly with other people and community
initiatives. Non-Catholic visitors should be made welcome and given
sufficient explanation to help them participate as may be appropriate,
without any pressure or obligation.
Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 10 Verses 49 and 50
For as we advance in this way of life and in faith, our hearts
expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with
unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus never departing from
His school, but persevering in it according to His teaching
until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of
Christ and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom. Amen.
● For as we advance in this way of life and in faith, our
hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments
with unspeakable sweetness of love.
a. The only two changes we made to our chosen text occur in the above final
section of the Prologue. The first, “this way of life”, we took from another
authorised translation. We take the point St. Benedict is reiterating in his
final paragraph — the Christian calling is a serious matter and requires
serious planning and discipline to ensure we arrive at our goal — our
Heavenly home. Mounting pressures and forces beyond our personal
control are making it increasingly more difficult for us to retain anything
of our precious traditional heritage. Our hope is to return to the true Gospel
teaching of Christ our King and the earnest application of that message as
embodied in the teaching of the early Fathers and Sacred Magisterium of
b. St. Benedict has presented in the Prologue to his Rule, a beautiful Biblical
vision of the Christian vocation. In his Rule, he goes on to give further
guidelines on how members of his “school for the service of the Lord”
should organise themselves in close-knit consecrated religious
communities. The Rule of St. Benedict is a wonderful document, and many
lay people read it for their edification. However we will leave off here,
thankful that we can share the benefits of his teaching contained in the
Prologue and apply it with equal zeal in our own dispersed “schola”
● Thus never departing from His school, but persevering
in it according to His teaching until death, we may by
patience share in the sufferings of Christ and deserve to
have a share also in His kingdom.”
c. The only other change we make to St. Benedict’s text is to substitute the
words, “the monastery” with “it” which still refers to the “school” and makes
it applicable to our context. Actually there are today “schools” as described
above which call themselves “monasteries” — meaning communities or
urban monasteries — i.e. communities of dispersed members who come
together according to an agreed schedule for the activities we have
suggested above. However we prefer to leave the term “monastery” for
application in the traditional meaning of the term.
d. Our use of St. Benedict’s term “schola” is entirely appropriate, and
incorporates the understanding that it is in fact, an organic part of the
Church in that locality. To participate in a “schola” is to take one’s
Church membership seriously and apply oneself to living the Christian
life as best as practicable given either: one’s distance from the normal
centre of Catholic culture: i.e. the parish church / religious community,
or one’s chosen religious apostolate. This actually, is completely
consistent with St. Benedict’s concept of the monastery — applied one
and a half millennia later in different circumstances.
e. St. Benedict’s final sentence above, could be more literally translated as,
“Never swerving from his instructions, but faithfully observing his
teaching…..”. This is an unmistakable allusion to St. Luke:
“They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ instruction
and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the
prayers.” (Acts 2: 42)
This is a miniature cameo of the Jerusalem Community recorded by St. Luke,
which became the prototype of Christian religious communities.
Note the specific references:—
— The Apostle’s instructions;
— communal life;
— breaking of bread;
— the prayers.
We will focus on each of these briefly, as they support so very strongly
St. Benedict’s admonitions.
f. First, the indirect but clearly discerned reference St. Benedict makes
to studying the “Apostle’s instruction”, the teaching passed to them
by our Lord and their passing it on to us. This always included the
embodiment of the whole of Sacred Scripture as alluded to in the
very first sentence of the Prologue. This is the tradition of studying
God’s Will — His Torah, His Teaching, and learning how to put it into
practice. Jesus — Christ the Word — is our Torah. St. Paul taught us
to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. We therefore are in step with our
Jewish brothers who, according to their custom, literally, “put on”
the Word and wear it faithfully. This is a very beautiful way of being
in union with God — by literally “putting on” the Word of God. It is
achieved by strapping on the head, and one arm the tefellin which
are miniature scrolls of Sacred Scripture highlighting thereby the
awesome duty and privilege of remaining bound to Him — of living
in the presence of the Divine Word.
Our Lord, an orthodox Jewish rabbi, wore these on His arm and head
in obedience to God’s commands in the Torah:
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all
your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and
abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be a pendant
on your forehead.
Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.
(Deuteronomy 6: 4 — 9)
There are many ways we as Christians can reflect, in our following of
Christ the Lord, a desire to remain united to God. We can, of course,
do this in the way Jesus did. Another custom which corresponds, in
a way, with this practice, is the placing of Holy Water fonts at the
entrances to our home, and to major rooms in the house. This is strongly
recommended to strengthen the consciousness of our choosing to make
our house a Christian home where God dwells with us. The frequent use
of Holy Water is a powerful aid in remembering the Biblical use of water
in Salvation history, and of dispelling from our midst the constant
pressure from our atheistic society to conform to its values.
g. Secondly, the communal life. The Prologue of St. Benedict, our
“Rule of Life” intentionally seeks to engender the same zeal, commitment
and spiritual energy of the very first Christian community.
h. Thirdly, the breaking of bread. It is assumed, in this Rule of Life, that our
members will take their privileged place in the carrying out of this
command of our Lord.
i. Fourthly, the prayers. In the context, this is a simple and direct reference
to the prescribed prayers of the Synagogue which formed the staple,
“spiritual diet” of the Jews and first Christians. Even with the later massive
expansion of the Church among the Gentiles, largely the work of St. Paul,
the general format of the cycle of Christian prayer has retained the shape
of its Jewish origins.
j. We have thus taken guidance from St. Benedict as to how we can maintain
the beautiful heritage of our Catholic culture in a world which is growing
daily more hostile to our values, traditions and religious practice.
k. We are counselled to remain loyal to our schola, to continue to be guided
by “His teaching,” and to persevering in it for the rest of our lives.
St. Benedict rounds off with a perfect finale:
We may by patience share in the sufferings of
Christ and deserve to have a share also in
His Kingdom. Amen.
l. St. Benedict, as we see, concluded his Prologue with the “Amen”.
His vision is no less than what God led him to see and write down.
It is thus a prayer in which we can all share and help one another to
bring to completion. It is a prayer reflecting the love of God: Father,
Son and Holy Spirit, for us. St. Benedict calls on us to respond with
generosity of heart, mind, body and soul in our prayer and in our work
— to the greater glory of God.
28. The “way of life” St. Benedict so skillfully presents in his Prologue
(and subsequent chapters) is a brilliant summary of the ideal
(yet very achievable) Christian model of living, according to God’s Law,
Teaching, Torah. It takes effort to organise and sustain, and cannot be
left to chance or casual attitudes. With sincere and serious attempts to
give our Faith this priority in our lives, there is every hope that we will
live the way our Lord taught, and we will pass it on to the younger generation.
One of the constant attacks against “tradition” is that it is too overladen
with ritual, formal prayers, customs and practices. Anyone with any
common sense is aware that prayers and traditional practices can be
recited or carried out coldly, and without due reverence. It needs to be
said that informal (extemporary) prayer can be just as “deadly”, irrelevant
and uninspiring. Obviously the leading of prayer and worship, whether in
public or in the home, calls for the proper formation of those who lead
together with a respect for the religious function being undertaken.
The principle we therefore wish to highlight is that traditional Christians
need not be afraid of giving form (if not formality) and good order their
proper place in religious performance. Let them not pander to
emotionalism and tailoring the Faith according to popular but
ever-changing appeal of the day.
29. St. Benedict firmly bases his concept of Christian communities on
St. Luke’s summary in Acts 2: 42. We note the specific reference to three
a) the instruction given by the Apostles;
b) the communal life; and
c) the breaking of bread and the prayers. This reference includes:
— the Eucharist
— the daily prayer routine of the faithful which was in
place even before Pentecost.
Traditional Christianity has upheld and consistently promoted each of
these aspects of the Christian life since the very beginning of our Faith.
Those who have chosen a particular apostolate in the Church, or find
themselves isolated from a closer network they would like to be part
of, can, with planning and guidance from appropriate pastors, maintain
a rich and vibrant religious life in a schola, (a form of community) as
described in these pages. Geographical or social isolation need not
present an impossible barrier.
30. St. Benedict’s closing words sum up beautifully the purpose of the Christian
religious life: that we willingly participate in the Lord’s own Passion and Death
that we might also rise with Him and have fullness of Life in His Kingdom.
Our modest and little schola / schools / communities are therefore to
be, in so far as human frailty permits, extensions of Christ’s Kingdom on
earth. Let them boldly manifest with confidence and certitude:
Jesus Christ Reigns!