Love: Benedict’s Rule

​Written in the sixth century a.d., the Rule of St. Benedict soon became the guide for cenobitic (communal) monasticism, and I write about it today because the Rule continues to direct the common life of many communities to this day.  Like the Didaché and the desert abbas/ammas, it is rooted and grounded in love.  Chapter 4 of the lists forty five good works the monks are to do, and the list begins, 

“First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, 2 and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).”  And lest they miss it, about halfway through the list (#21) the monks are told again, “the love of Christ must come before all else.”  With the first great commandment at the core, the other forty three good works are variations of the second great commandment, the love of others.

Not surprisingly then, monasteries and convents became known as “schools of love.”  Through daily worship (oratio) and work (labora), these communities served to illustrate that living together in love was indeed possible.  This witness was/is the heart of monastic evangelism, a kind of “if we can do it, you can do it” testimony.

To many people, the cloistered life seems to be irrelevant, due largely to its isolation.  But it is the “stepping away” (detachment) from the world that creates the sacred space for “entering into” (attachment) the love of God and others.  In this sense, the monastic life is an invitation to pattern our lives according to the same detachment/attachment rhythm as a means for growing in love even withoout a full-time commitment to monasticism.

The Rule of Benedict remains a manual of devotion for us all.  Reading and pondering it is a discipline that will effect the increase of love in our lives. [1]

[1] The oft-used text of the Rule is ‘The Rule of St. Benedict in English’ (The Liturgical Press, 1982). In addition to it, several contemporary versions connect its timeless wisdom to life today: (1) Joan Chittister, ‘The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages (Crossroad, 1982), (2) Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, ‘The Rule of Saint Benedict: A Contemporary Paraphrase (Paraclete Press, 2012), and (3) Basil Pennington, ‘Listen With Your Heart: Spiritual Living with the Rule of Saint Benedict’ (Paraclete Press, 2007).

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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