Benedict’s Rule: All Things In Common

Whatever else we may glean from Chapter 54 of the Rule, we must see that spiritual formation includes attention to small things as well as big ones.

At first glance, it appears rather “cold” of the abbot to refuse to let a monk accept letters or gifts.  But a second reading of this Chapter unveils a deeper problem.

Simply put—our possessions can end up possessing us.  They can become “food” for our egos, especially when we use what we have to compare ourselves with others.

This would probably never happen out loud in a monastery or convent, but in the heart a monk or nun might begin to think, “I receive more letters than you do”—or—“I have more gifts than you do.”

This is “death by comparison,” and Benedict was intent on not allowing it to occur in the community.  By contrast, much of our culture is based on an assessment of our value based on what we have in comparison to others.  One of the subtle, underlying tones of almost all advertisement is that the purchase, use, and display of certain products makes us “a cut above” others.

There’s another thing in Chapter 54—it’s the reminder that for genuine disciples, the failures and falls most often come through “the little things.”  It’s ironic that sometimes the giants fall before the ants do.  So again, Benedict didn’t want even a “small gift of any kind” (54:1) to be a cause of stumbling.

By having all things in common, we are set free to live free—emancipated to be able to say about anything we possess, “What’s mine is yours; let’s share it!”

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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