Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 7 Verses 29 and 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).
- 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.
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 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!
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)
- 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.
Our notes offer a guide by an excellent scholar (Cox), in conjunction with an excellent translation (Knox) and a great teacher (St. Benedict). 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.
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. Before proceeding, we will comment on a few key items from this conclusion, as this passage forms part of the core teaching contained in the Prologue, and our acceptance of its content is assumed.
- The concluding part of Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount contains three sub-sections:
— 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.
Warning against dangers: Verses 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 judgement 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 judgement as well as their deeds: the purpose of words is to teach truth, not falsehood.
In this regard very little has changed. The Church is still beset with false guides in every direction. Let us heed God’s warning.
- Exhortation to apply our Lord’s teaching: Verses 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…
Our Lord’s emphasis on good, practical application of his teaching, and generosity in good deeds is both a prompting and a warning, (See Matt. 25: 31 — 46).
- Observation of St. Matthew: Verses 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.
This was the response of ordinary, uneducated yet intelligent and devout people.
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 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. Over the past 50 years, traditional Christians have observed the corporatisation of religion: specifically Christianity. 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:
— charity, and so on.
In religion 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 crack-pot 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 repetition that keeps occurring in our sequence of “Key Principles” reflects 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. 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.