An Improbable Guide to The Rule of St Benedict

Feast of St Lucian the Martyr of Antioch

Benedict_Square_2.jpgTHE RULE was developed by St. Benedict in the sixth century to govern the lives of monastic communities as they pursued holiness in Christ, and is still widely observed today. What follows is a one-sentence-per-Chapter summary with application to a modern audience of non-monastic vocation. I have retained the original Chapter titles (italicized) from the English edition edited by Timothy Fry, O.S.B.

Prologue – One who is placing his hope in heaven will pursue seriously a life of holiness, or his is a foolish hope. This rule is devised as an aid to those who are so inclined.

1. Kinds of Monks: Those who move from community to community are only running from their own sinfulness—stay put.

2. Qualities of the Abbot: The man in charge of the community should have the character of Christ, and be obeyed as Christ, for he will be judged by Christ.

3. Summoning the Brothers for Counsel: Even the leader shouldn’t make decisions on his own.

4. The Tools for Good Works: Develop virtue by obeying Christ’s commands in the “workshop” of a stable community within His Church.

5. Obedience: Life in Christ begins with humility, and humility begins with obedience.

6. Restraint of Speech: The less you talk, the less you sin.

7. Humility: You will only rise in virtue as far as you lower yourself in humility.

8. The Divine Office at Night: Pray when the sun is down, even though it’s cold.

9. The Number of Psalms at the Night Office: Pray by reading the Bible, especially the Psalms.

10. The Arrangement of the Night Office in Summer: The night is shorter—trim your prayers.

11. The Celebration of Vigils on Sunday: Praying is serious business, and some structure would help you.

12. The Celebration of the Solemnity of Lauds: Really, a very serious business.

13. The Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days: More serious than you think!

14. The Celebration of Vigils on the Anniversaries of Saints: Remember the heroes of the faith with a feast day!

15. The Times for Saying Alleluia: Celebrate during Easter. Not so much at other times. Least of all during Lent.

16. The Celebration of the Divine Office During the Day: Pray seven times a day—it won’t hurt you one bit.

17. The Number of Psalms to Be Sung at These Hours: Daytime prayers are shorter than those at the start and end of the day.

18. The Order of the Psalmody: Read all the Psalms every week, and you will learn how to pray.

19. The Discipline of Psalmody: Pray like God is watching…

20. Reverence in Prayer: Pray as if God held your life in His hands…

21. The Deans of the Monastery: Small groups led by virtuous men help communities grow in virtue.

22. The Sleeping Arrangements of the Monks: No monkey business around bedtime.

23. Excommunication for Faults: Withholding community encourages repentance in the recalcitrant.

24. Degrees of Excommunication: The punishment should match the hardness of heart.

25. Serious Faults: Withholding discipline is not mercy but rather cowardice when the sin is serious.

26. Unauthorized Association with the Excommunicated: Don’t pretend someone has repented when they haven’t.

27. The Abbot’s Concern for the Excommunicated: Punishment is a sign of love, as for the one lost sheep over the 99.

28. Those Who Refuse to Amend After Frequent Reproofs: Hard-heartedness must eventually end the relationship, in the absence of repentance.

29. Readmission of Brothers Who Leave the Monastery: Three strikes and you’re out.

30. The Manner of Reproving Boys. Physical pain now spares spiritual pain later, in the matter of correction.

31. Qualifications for the Monastery Cellarer: Don’t let a fox guard the henhouse.

32. The Tools and Goods of the Monastery: Everything is on loan from Christ, so take good care of it.

33. Monks and Private Ownership: Nothing belongs to you, everything belongs to Christ.

34. Distribution of Goods According to Need: Be content with what you receive from Christ.

35. Kitchen Servers of the Week: Everyone takes a turn doing dishes.

36. The Sick Brothers: Caring for the sick is a blessing to both.

37. The Elderly and Children: Cut the old and young some slack around meal times.

38. The Reader for the Week: One person reading aloud is better than everyone talking during a meal.

39. The Proper Amount of Food: Don’t eat too much, too fancy, or too picky.

40. The Proper Amount of Drink: Call it good at half a bottle of wine a day, if you can’t abstain altogether.

41. The Times for the Brothers’ Meals: Eat with the sun up.

42. Silence After Compline: Maintain silence, especially at night.

43. Tardiness at the Work of God or at Table: Don’t be late to church or meals, it is an offense to your brothers and to Christ.

44. Satisfaction by the Excommunicated: Instead of saying “sorry,” humble yourself before those you have wronged until they are satisfied.

45. Mistakes in the Oratory: The only fitting response to mistakes, big and small, is humility in like degree.

46. Faults Committed in Other Matters: To confess is in all ways better than to be caught.

47. Announcing the Hours for the Work of God: You need someone in spiritual authority over you, and you need to do what he says.

48. The Daily Manual Labor: Daily reading and manual labor will keep your heart from going astray.

49. The Observance of Lent: Lent is a season for intentional abstinence in pursuit of holiness.

50. Brothers Working at a Distance or Travelling: Pray regularly, no matter what you are doing.

51. Brothers on a Short Journey: Get your spiritual needs met inside the church, not outside of it.

52. The Oratory of the Monastery: Sanctuaries are only sanctuaries if they are only sanctuaries.

53. The Reception of Guests: Receive all guests and honor them as Christ in increasing measure according to this order: strangers, brothers, and the poor.

54. Letters or Gifts for Monks: Nothing at all is yours, except as Christ explicitly permits for your benefit.

55. The Clothing and Footwear of the Brothers: If your clothing won’t fit in your closet, you have too much.

56. The Abbot’s Table: Have a kiddie table when you have company so the grown-ups can talk.

57. The Artisans of the Monastery: In your dealings, give more than you owe, and collect less, and let God keep your ledger.

58. The Procedure for Receiving Brothers: The way to Life is narrow—so should the way in to the church be.

59. The Offering of Sons by Nobles or by the Poor: If you give your kids to the Lord, no take backs.

60. The Admission of Priests to the Monastery: Priests aren’t any better than anybody else.

61. The Reception of Visiting Monks: Good guests make good friends—and likewise for bad guests.

62. The Priests of the Monastery: see rule 60.

63. Community Rank: Seniority in a spiritual community must be according to Christ’s values, not man’s.

64. The Election of an Abbot: The leader must have, above all, discretion (prudence) and the favor of the wise.

65. The Prior of the Monastery: The second-in-command must be content being second, or he will be made last.

66. The Porter of the Monastery: Every community needs a gatekeeper so the rest can focus on the work God gives them.

67. Brothers Sent on a Journey: The church is your home, the world is full of danger; act that way.

68. Assignment of Impossible Tasks to a Brother: Sometimes things that are too hard are an occasion for humility.

69. The Presumption of Defending Another in the Monastery: If God is judge, then your brother doesn’t need you to be his lawyer.

70. The Presumption of Striking Another Monk at Will: No hitting.

71. Mutual Obedience: Show love to Christ and to others through the humility of obedience.

72. The Good Zeal of Monks: Be moderate in everything except love of Christ.

73. The Rule Only a Beginning of Perfection: This rule is a place to start, but the virtuous journey toward Christ has no end.


Brandon Buerge is a teacher, engineer, pilot, and neophyte contemplative living in Newton, KS.

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