Rule of Life
A Biblical Vision of the Christian Life
Some Key Principles
contained in the Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
In our companion notes to the Prologue of St. Benedict’s Rule, we highlighted several places which, in some way, echoed or reflected basic traditional Christian principles. In the main these were taken as understood by the reader. In our times however, with such serious rupture occurring throughout the Christian world, we can no longer assume their acceptance. Such is the decline in the teaching of Christian doctrine. We have therefore added very brief notes on just thirty of the many excellent points enshrined by this great abbot in his guide to living the Christian life in a troubled world.
These thirty explanations are, in a way, assumed by St. Benedict to be part of the belief of each reader. Some of them will not be in harmony with the beliefs of non-Christian or non-Catholic readers but it must be remembered these notes are intended to help isolated Catholics maintain organic links with the traditional Catholic Faith. The temptation to form break-away movements is just as ever-present among modern-day Catholics as it is among other sections of our society. It is our belief this must be resisted — and how better than to encourage and assist members to strengthen their ties to the Church through the daily living of the traditional Faith.
At the end of each of the ten Sections we explain the Key Principles arising from our reflection on that Section. They may not necessarily provide a summary of the content of the Section but will usually highlight significant elements which need to be understood.
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.
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 spirituality.
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.
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. There are traditional rabbis and Christians who 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. They also 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 circumstances.
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.
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.
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 prescribes.
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.
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.
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.
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 vital elements:
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 top 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!