Monday, July 13, 2015

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 2

Continuing on with the Rule, we move to the second chapter, which deals with the qualities of the abbot.

Saint Benedict supposedly borrowed much of another Rule when he wrote his own. The main difference being that Benedict's rule was not as harsh; where the original rule saw people in a harsh light - not letting guests stay by themselves lest they steal something - Saint Benedict's Rule contrasts this by instructing guests to be welcomed as if they were Christ.

That is only one of the many differences.
I wanted to interject the above so we knew why Saint Benedict wrote his rule when there were others already existent.

Chapter 2

Qualities of the Abbot

To be worthy of the task of governing a monastery, the abbot must always remember what his title signifies and act as a superior should.

He is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, since he is addressed by a title of Christ,

as the Apostle indicates: You have received the spirit of adoption of sons by which we proclaim, abba, father (Rom 8:15).

Therefore, the abbot must never teach nor decree nor command anything that would deviate from the Lord's instructions.

On the contrary, everything he teaches and commands should, like the leaven of divine justice, permeate the minds of his disciples.
Let the abbot always remember that at the fearful judgement of God, not only his teachings but also his disciples' obedience will come under scrutiny.

The abbot must, therefore, be aware that the shepherd will bear the blame wherever the father of the household finds that the sheep have yielded no profit.

Still, if he has shepherded a restive and disobedient flock, always striving to cure their unhealthy ways, it will be otherwise:
the shepherd will be acquitted at the Lord's judgement. Then, like the Prophet, he must say to the Lord: I have not hidden your justice in my heart; I have proclaimed your truth and your salvation (Ps 39 [40]:11), but they spurned and rejected me (Isa1:2; Ezek 20:27).

Then at last three sheep they have rebelled against his care will be punished by the overwhelming power of death.
Furthermore, anyone who receives the name of abbot is to lead his disciples by a twofold teaching:

he must point out to them all they is good and holy more by example than by words, proposing the commandments of the Lord to receptive disciples, but demonstrating God's instructions to the stubborn and the dull by a living example.

Again, if he teaches his disciples they something is not to be done, then neither must be do it, lest after preaching to others, he himself be found reprobate (1 Cor 9:27)
and God some day call to him in his sin: How is it they you repeat my just commands and mouth my covenant when you hate discipline and toss my words behind you (Ps 49 [50]:16-17)?

And also this: How is it that you can see a splinter in your brother's eye, and never notice the plank in your own (Matt 7:3)?
The abbot should avoid all favoritism in the monastery.

He is not to love one more than another unless he finds someone better in good actions and obedience.

A man born free is not to be given higher rank than a slave who becomes a monk, except for some other good reason.
But the abbot is free, if he sees fit, to change anyone's rank as justice demands. Ordinarily, everyone is to keep their regular place,

because whether slave or free, we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8) and shall share alike in bearing arms in the service of the Lord, for God shows no partiality among persons (Rom 2:11).

Only in this are we distinguished in his sight: if we are found better then others in good works and humility.

Therefore, the abbot is to show equal love to everyone and apply the same discipline to all according to their merits.
In his teaching, the abbot should always observe the Apostle's recommendation, in which he says: Use argument, appeal, reproof (2 Tim 4:2).

This means that he must vary with circumstances, threatening and coaxing by turns, stem as a taskmaster, devoted and tender as only a father can be.

With the undisciplined and restless, he will use firm argument; work the obedient and docile and patient, he will appeal for greater virtue; but as for the negligent and disdainful, we charge him to use reproof and rebuke.

He should not gloss over the sins of this who err, but cut them out while he can, as soon as they begin to sprout, remembering the fate of Eli, priest of Shiloh  (1 Sam 2:11-4:18).

For upright and perceptive men, his first and second warnings should be verbal;
but those who are evil or stubborn, arrogant or disobedient, he can curb only by blows or some other physical punishment at the first offense. It is written, The fool cannot be corrected worth words (Prov 29:19);

and again, Strike your son with a rod and you will free his soul from death (Prov 23:14).

The abbot must always remember what he is and remember what he is called, aware that more will be expected of a man to whom more has been entrusted.

He must know what a difficult and demanding burden he has undertaken: directing souls and serving a variety of temperaments, coaxing, reproving and encouraging them as appropriate.

He must so accommodate and adapt himself to each one's character and intelligence they be will not only keep the flock entrusted to his care from dwindling, but will rejoice in the increase of a good flock.

Above all, he must not show too great concern for the fleeting and temporal things of this world, neglecting or treating lightly the welfare of those entrusted to him.

Rather, he should keep in mind that he has undertaken the care of souls for whom he must give account.

That he may not plead lack of resources as an excuse, he is to remember what is written: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given you as well (Matt 6:33),

and again, Those who fear him lack nothing (Ps 33 [34]:10).

The abbot must know that anyone undertaking the charge of should must be ready to account for them.

Whatever the number of brothers he had in his care, let him realize that on judgement day he will surely have to submit a reckoning to the Lord for all their souls - and indeed for his own as well.

In this way, while always fearful of the future examination of the shepherd about the sheep entrusted to him and careful about the state of others' accounts, he becomes concerned also about his own,
and while helping others to amend by his warnings, he achieved the amendment of his own faults.

As we can see, being an abbot is no easy task; the care of the souls of the monks at the monastery belongs to him, and he will be held accountable on judgement day.
We will see as the Rule progresses how much the abbot has on his plate, but also how the monks are to live.

While Oblates - including novices - are generally lay people (excepting Oblate priests), they are not bound fully by the Rule, but they apply to themselves what they can, and leave out the rest. Obviously, the qualifications of an abbot don't apply to us, normally, but I can see how they apply to being a father and husband as well as a father of a monastery.

We Orthodox can also garner a greater respect and appreciation for our monastics understanding a little of what it is they must go through.

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