Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Rule of St. Benedict

Monasticism is quite a mixed bag in the history of the Church. Nevertheless, a fresh reading of The Rule of St. Benedict has impressed me anew with an appreciation for the zeal of these men. What struck me most as I read was the way in which the monastic orders were politically subversive without being politically concerned at all. The Rule specifies that advancement in responsibility within the order is entirely dependent upon personal merit. Consequently, neither freemen nor serfs were to be treated differently - all were equal before the Rule. Likewise, when important decisions were to be made, the Rule specifies that the opinion of all the brothers - even the youngest - was to be sought out since the younger brothers frequently had good ideas. These notions, particularly the first, were quite revolutionary in their time. In a sense the monasteries created an alternative model of society within the larger society. As such they performed the valuable function of highlighting what life could be like if the broader society would cease its warlike depredations and give itself up to peaceful endeavors.