Benedict’s Rule: Pastoral Atmosphere

The abbot or abbess knew they could not care properly for a community without help.  So, in Chapter 21 of the Rule there is provision to recruit deans to serve as under-shepherds.  The purpose was that a pastoral atmosphere would saturate the monastery.

This is significant.  We have just recently worked our way through twelve chapters that went into great detail about the activities of the community.  There will be other equally specific chapters to insure that the order “runs well.”

But it seems that Benedict felt he was at a place where he needed to stop making lists and establishing regulations and be clear that there is more to a good monastery than being sure everything “goes by the book.”  Some folks think everything’s in order if the rules and regulations are being followed.

Benedict said there is something more—it is the “atmosphere” in which the details are enforced and interpreted.  This takes pastors.  And it takes more of them than a single leader.  So, the abbot was to select deans to provide pastoral care for groups of ten.

Benedict wrote about what kind of people the deans should be, “They are to be chosen for virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank” (21:4).  They are not to be puffed up with pride or resistant to reproof.  They are to be people marked by love and humility.

We cannot establish or maintain Christian community apart from a pastoral atmosphere.  We already have too much “Chirstianity, Inc.”  We must not allow ourselves to settle for institutional effectiveness or deceive ourselves to think that a community is “good” (virtuous) because it’s running smoothly.  We must follow the spirit of the Rule and be sure we are attending to the care of those who are on the journey with us.


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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