Saint Benedict

Selected passages from the Prologue and the Rule.


Prologue, 4-22.

Proper reading from the Office of Readings of St Benedict, on the 11th of July.


Rule, chapter 5

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This obedience is characteristic of those who prefer nothing to Christ; who, on account of the holy service to which they have obliged themselves, or on account of the fear of hell, or for the glory of eternal life, as soon as anything has been commanded by their superior, as though it were commanded by God Him-self, cannot suffer a moment's delay in fulfilling this command. It is of these that the Lord said: "At the hearing of the ear they have obeyed Me". And again to teachers He says: "He that hears you hears Me". Therefore, such as these, immediately putting aside their private occupation and forsaking their own will, with their hands quickly disengaged and leaving unfinished what they were about, with the instant step of obedience, fulfil by their deeds the word of him who commands; and so, as it were at the same instant, the command of the master and its perfect fulfilment by the disciple are, in the swiftness of the fear of God, speedily carried out together by those upon whom presses the desire of attaining eternal life. These, therefore, seize upon that narrow way of which the Lord says: "Close is the way that leads to life"; inasmuch as they, not living according to their own will, neither obeying their own desires and pleasures, but walking according to the judgment and command of another, live in community and desire to have an Abbot over them. Such as these, without doubt, fulfil that saying of the Lord: I came "not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me".

But this very obedience will then only be acceptable to God and pleasing to men if what is commanded be done without hesitancy, tardiness, lukewarmness, murmuring, or a manifestation of unwillingness; because the obedience which is given to superiors is given to God; for He Himself has said: "He who hears you hears Me". And this obedience ought to be given by the disciple with a ready will, because "God loves a cheerful giver". For if the disciple obeys with ill will, and murmur not only with his lips but also in his heart, even though he fulfil the command, nevertheless he will not be acceptable to God, who regards the heart of the murmurer; for such a deed he receives no reward; nay, he rather incurs the punishment of murmurers, unless he amends, and makes satisfaction. 


Rule, chapter 8: 1-8; 10-13; 19-20; 62-70.

The Sacred Scripture cries out to us, brethren, saying: "Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted". In saying this it teaches us that all exaltation is of the nature of pride, which vice the Prophet shows that he took care to avoid, saying: "Lord, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty, nor have I walked in great matters, nor in wonderful things above me". And why? "For if I were not humbly minded, but had exalted my soul, as a child that is weaned from its mother, so would my soul likewise be rewarded".

Wherefore, brethren, if we wish to gain the summit of humility and speedily to attain to that heavenly exaltation to which we can ascend only by the humility of this present life, we must, by actions which will constantly elevate us, erect that ladder which Jacob beheld in his dream and on which Angels appeared descending and ascending This descent and ascent we must understand without doubt as being nothing other than that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility The ladder itself thus erected is our life in this world, which the Lord, having respect to our humility of heart, lifts up even to heaven [...].

The first degree of humility, then, is that a person, always keeping the fear of God before his eyes, should avoid with the utmost care all forgetfulness, and be ever mindful of all that God has commanded. Let him ever reflect in his heart upon the fire of hell, which shall consume for their sins those who contemn God, as well as upon the everlasting life which has been prepared for those who fear Him. And keeping himself at all times not only from sins and vices-whether of the thoughts, the tongue, the eyes, the hands, the feet, or his own self-will-but also from carnal desires, let him always consider that at all times he is being watched from heaven by God, and that his actions are everywhere seen by the eye of the Divine Majesty, and are every moment reported to Him by His Angels [...].

We are indeed forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture when it says to us: "Turn away from thy own will". And so, too, we beg of God in prayer that His will may be done in us [...].

Let the monk, not only in his heart, but also in his very outward appearance, always show his humility to all who see him; that is, in his work, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, when travelling, in the field, or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking, or standing, he should always keep his head bent down, his gaze fixed on the ground. Ever mindful of the guilt of his sins, let him consider himself already present before the fearful judgment seat of God, always repeating in his heart what the publican in the gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: Lord, I, a sinner, am not worthy to raise my eyes to heaven. And again with the Prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled in every way".

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, when perfect, casts out fear. In this love he shall begin to observe without any labour, and as it were naturally and by habit, all those precepts which previously he had observed not without fear. This he shall do no longer now through fear of hell, but for the love of Christ and out of holy custom and delight in virtue. All this the Lord, through the Holy Ghost, will deign to manifest in His labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin. 


Rule, chapter 53: 1-15.

Let all guests arriving at the monastery be received as Christ Himself, for He will one day say: "I was a stranger and you took Me in". And let due honour be paid to all, especially, however, to those who are of the household of the faith and to strangers.

When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the superior or by the brethren with all the marks of charity. Let them first pray together and then give the kiss of peace; but this kiss of peace must not be given without prayer having first been said, because of the delusions of the devil. In the salutation itself let all humility be shown. Both on their arrival and on their departure, Christ, Who is indeed received, shall be worshipped in all the guests by an inclination of the head or a full prostration of the body. After the guests have been received, let them be led to prayer, and then let the superior, or one authorized by him, sit with them; let the Divine Law be read before the guest that he may be edified; and then let all kindness be shown him. The superior may break the fast on account of a guest, unless it happens to be a principal fast day which cannot be broken. The brethren, however, shall observe the regular fasting. Let the Abbot pour water on the hands of the guests; and both he and the whole community shall wash the feet of all the guests. After this washing let them say this verse: "We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple". Let great care and solicitude be shown particularly in the reception of the poor and of travellers, because it is in them that Christ is more especially received; for, as regards the rich, the very fear one has for them pro-cures them honour. 


Rule, chapter 64: 2-22.

In the appointment of an Abbot let this principle be observed, that he be made Abbot whom the entire community, inspired by the fear of God, shall choose unanimously, or whom even a majority of the community - however small - shall choose after more mature deliberation. Let him who is to be appointed be chosen because of the merit of his life and because of his learning, even though in the community he may be lowest in rank. But if all the community with one accord (which God forbid) should elect one who would connive at their evil ways, and these wicked doings should somehow come to the knowledge of the bishop to whose diocese the place belongs, or of the abbots or neighbouring Christians, let them take measures to prevent the plans of these wicked men from prevailing, and appoint a worthy steward over the house of God, knowing that for this they shall receive a good reward if they do it with a pure intention and for the love of God; whereas, on the other hand, they will sin if they are negligent in this matter.

Let him who has been appointed Abbot always bear in mind what a burden he has taken on himself, and to whom he will have to give an account of his steward-ship; and let him know that it behooves him rather to serve his brethren than to lord it over them. He must, therefore, be well versed in the Divine Law, that he may know whence to bring forth new things and old; he must be chaste, sober, merciful; and always exalt mercy above judgment that he himself may find mercy. Let him love the brethren whilst he hates their vices. And in the very correction of the brethren let him act prudently and not go to excess, lest, seeking too vigorously to cleanse off the rust, he may break the vessel. Let him ever keep his own frailty before his eyes and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. By this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up, but that he could cut them off prudently and with charity, according as he shall see that it is best for each, as we have said; and let him seek rather to be loved than to be feared.

Let him not be turbulent and overanxious, over ex-acting and headstrong, jealous and prone to suspicion, for otherwise he will never have rest. In his commands themselves, whether they concern God or the world, let him be prudent and considerate. Let him be discreet and moderate in the tasks which he imposes, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob when he said: "If I cause my flock to be overdriven, they will all die in one day". Taking, then, this and other models of discretion, the mother of virtue, let him so temper all things that the strong may still find something they will do with zeal, and the weak may not be disheartened. And above all let him observe this present Rule in all things; so that having ministered well, he may hear from the Lord what that good servant heard who gave to his fellow servants their measure of wheat in due season: "Amen, I say to you, he shall set him over all his goods".
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