Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 23

Now we see what is to be done with monks when they are disobedient. Keep in mind everything is for correction and the monks salvation.


  1. If a brother is stubborn or disobedient or proud, if he grumbles or in any way despises the holy rule and defies the orders of his seniors,
  2. he should be warned twice privately by the seniors in accord with our Lord's injunction (Matt 18:15-16).
  3. If he does not amend, he must be rebuked publicly in the presence of everyone.
  4. But even then if he does not reform, let him be excommunicated, provided that he understands the nature of this punishment.
  5. If however he lacks understanding, let him undergo corporal punishment.

We read that a stubborn or disobedient monk is given two warnings - in private - after which a public rebuking takes place. If the monk still does not change his ways then he is excommunicated.

Being in the military, I appreciate that the monk is given two warnings in private. When I came in, aside from Basic Training, when a superior needed to correct one of his subordinates he would take the younger soldier aside and correct him; the correction may have been through physical training, a stern talking to, or a counselling form. Doing things in this way allowed for a better understanding and less resentment, whereas calling a soldier out in front of his peers can make the superior look petty and insecure in his rank (in that he appears to be throwing his rank around), and it also breeds discontent among the corrected soldier, and humiliation among his peers. This isn't to say that there is never a time for public rebuke - there certainly are - but keeping things low key usually works best for unit cohesion; since monks are human too, I can imagine they would like the respect given to them to try to handle things in private.

Let us now focus on verses 4 and 5. We see that if after two private warnings and a public rebuking the monk is still not willing to change his ways then he should be excommunicated, unless he doesn't understand his punishment, in which case he is given some corporal punishment instead. I know to many readers that excommunication sounds harsh, even more so when you understand that Orthodox and Catholics believe Communion to be the literal blood and body of Jesus; the Divine Liturgy is centered around Communion. Being excommunicated means that one is cut off from the body of Christ, in the sense of Communion and in the sense of the Church. It sounds so very final.

However, it isn't necessarily meant to cut off the offender off from the rest of the Church forever, but it is supposed to be a tool to help one repent. There are canons somewhere that state how long some one is supposed to be excommunicated for depending on their offense; adultery was something like three years. During this time the penitent had things to do (a penance) such as sitting outside of the parish and informing the parishioners that they (the penitent) was a sinner. It may seem cruel and humiliating, but it was used to help bring about genuine repentance; if we recall 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 we are told that many are sick because they took Communion unworthily, and the Church believes that partaking of the Eucharist unworthily can lead to damnation (the fifth pre-communion prayer of St. John Chrysostom - which is often said in the Liturgy right before the Eucharist - mentions twice being worthy to partake of the Holy Gifts without condemnation). The Church is trying to safe guard our bodies and souls by cutting us off from Communion until we are worthy again. So while excommunication is a punishment, it is also a tool to help us repent and come back - worthily - into the fold.

We see that Saint Benedict was being quite wise in how he instructed those under his Rule to deal with misbehavior. As I have mentioned before in this series, we see that the monks are looking after each other's salvation.
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