Monday, August 22, 2016

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 42

We now know the times when monks should eat - and interestingly enough I recently read an article that talked about the health benefits of skipping breakfast and doing intermittent fasting. Yes, we know when the monks should eat, but how should they conduct themselves afterward?

  1. Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night. 
  2. Accordingly, this will always be the arrangement whether for fast days or for ordinary days.
  3. When there are two meals, all the monks will sit together immediately after rising from supper. Someone should read from the Conferences or the Lives of the Fathers or at any rate something else that will benefit the hearers, 
  4. but not the Heptateuch or the Book of Kings, because it will not be good for those of weak understanding to hear those writings at that hour; they should be read at other times.
  5. On fast days there is to be a short interval between Vespers and the reading of the Conferences, as we have indicated. 
  6. Then let four or five pages be read, or as many as time permits. 
  7. This reading period will allow for all to come together, in case any were engaged in assigned tasks. 
  8. When all have assembled, they should pray Compline; and on leaving Compline, no one will be permitted to speak further. 
  9. If anyone is found to transgress this rule of silence, he must be subjected to severe punishment, 
  10. except on occasions when guests require attention or the abbot wishes to give someone a command, 
  11. but even this is to be done with the utmost seriousness and proper restraint.
Verse one reiterates the rule of silence that we first read about in Chapter 6, mainly that monks should not speak idly amongst themselves. Obviously, there is speaking being done when the monks are praying the hours and chanting during the services. But, during the other times, speaking should be kept to a minimum.

It is good and encouraged to read daily from the lives of the saints; doing so helps to connect us to our past as Christians, can offer insight that we might not otherwise have had before, or inspire us to live as the saints who ran the race before us did. It is also good to read daily from the Scriptures. Here Saint Benedict tells us that nothing from the Heptateuch (being the first seven books of the Old Testament - Genesis - Judges) should be read, nor the Book of Kings (of which there are 4) because of the lateness of the hour and consideration for those who can not understand what is contained in those books.

Obviously, speaking is being done by the reader during this time.

But after Compline, we see that none should be permitted to speak. Honestly, after Compline, which is done later during the night, I'm usually only ready to go to bed; I don't want to speak to other people. But of course, there is wisdom in prescribing silence for the brothers - it helps them to focus on the readings that they just heard, as well as throughout the day, it helps them calm their minds, and it helps them contemplate things which need contemplating.

I would love to integrate silence after Compline in my house, and truth be told it probably is one of the quietest times in my house, but usually it is the only time that I have to talk to my wife after she returns home from work. However, I do usually take some time to make sure that my mouth is still so my mind can focus where it needs to be focused. 
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