Monday, July 11, 2005

Ecce! Labora!

Happy Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia:

St. Benedict's Rule is written for laymen, not for clerics. The saint's purpose was not to institute an order of clerics with clerical duties and offices, but an organization and a set of rules for the domestic life of such laymen as wished to live as fully as possible the type of life presented in the Gospel. "My words", he says, "are addressed to thee, whoever thou art, that, renouncing thine own will, dost put on the strong and bright armour of obedience in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true King." (Prol. to Rule.)

A characteristic feature of the saint's Rule is its view of work. ...With Benedict the work of his monks was ...a means to goodness of life. The great disciplinary force for human nature is work; idleness is its ruin. The purpose of his Rule was to bring men "back to God by the labour of obedience, from whom they had departed by the idleness of disobedience". Work was the first condition of all growth in goodness. ... In the regeneration of human nature in the order of discipline, even prayer comes after work, for grace meets with no co-operation in the soul and heart of an idler. ... "Ecce! labora!" go and work.

Work is not, as the civilization of the time taught, the condition peculiar to slaves; it is the universal lot of man, necessary for his well-being as a man, and essential for him as a Christian.

The religious life, as conceived by St. Benedict is essentially social. Life apart from one's fellows, the life of a hermit, if it is to be wholesome and sane, is possible only for a few, and these few must have reached an advanced stage of self-discipline while living with others (Rule, 1). The Rule, therefore, is entirely occupied with regulating the life of a community of men who live and work and pray and eat together, and this is not merely for a course of training, but as a permanent element of life at its best. ...So intimately connected with domestic life is the whole framework and teaching of the Rule that a Benedictine may be more truly said to enter or join a particular household than to join an order.

...The Benedictine ideal of poverty is quite different from the Franciscan. The Benedictine takes no explicit vow of poverty; he only vows obedience according to the Rule. The rule allows all that is necessary to each individual, ... Possessions could be held in common, they might be large, but they were to be administered for the furtherance of the work of the community and for the benefit of others. While the individual monk was poor, the monastery was to be in a position to give alms, not to be compelled to seek them. It was to relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to help the afflicted (ibid., 4), to entertain all strangers (ibid., 3). The poor came to Benedict to get help to pay their debts (Dial. St. Greg., 27); they came for food (ibid., 21, 28).

... In his conception of the Chrisitian character, prayer is coexistent with the whole life, and life is not complete at any point unless penetrated by prayer. ... The form of prayer which thus covers the whole of our waking hours, St. Benedict calls the first degree of humility. It consists in realizing the presence of God (7). ...[T]he centre of the common life to which he bound his monks, [was]...public worship of
God, the opus Dei, ... the chief work of his monks, and to be the source from which all other works took their inspiration, their direction, and their strength.

...if St. Benedict gives no further directions on private prayer, it is because the whole condition and mode of life secured by the Rule, and the character formed by its observance, lead naturally to the higher states of prayer.


...The Rule, including its system of prayer and public psalmody, is meant for every class of mind and every degree of learning. It is framed not only for the educated and for souls advanced in perfection, but it organizes and directs a complete life which is adapted for simple folk and for sinners, for the observance of the Commandments and for the beginnings of goodness. "We have written this Rule", writes St. Benedict, "that by observing it..., we may shew ourselves to have some degree of goodness in life and a beginning of holiness." "Whoever, therfore, thou are that hastenest to thy heavenly country, fulfil by the help of Christ this little RUle which we have written for beginner: and then at length thou shalt arrive, under God's protection, at the lofty summits of doctrine and virtue." (73).

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8 comments:

Mark said...

Thanks! I think it's unfortunate that that not enough lay folk try to penetrate Benedict's thought, being under the assumption that "that stuff is just for the monks." The Rule. It's such an amazing book; you'd never think volume that slender could be so packed.

Oh, and isn't New Advent just awesome?

Filia Dei said...

I praise the Lord often for Dr. Stephen Hildebrandt, who made us all read The Rule in our 'Early Christian Life and Thought' class.

He claimed his 2 year old daughter often asked for it as a bedtime story, but I think she probably prefered the patristics anthology with the description of Clement's martyrdom. (She called it 'the fishy book' after it's solitary illustration.)

Yes, New Advent is awesome. Everyone please go check it out! Don't be intimidated by the fact that you'll never get through it all, God will direct you to the bits he wants you to have.

Mark said...

Oh, and you all have probably figured it out already, but that dangling sentence fragment in my last comment is bugging me. Just ignore it, please.

Ah, the legacy of word processors...

Filia Dei said...

Serves you right for having enough time to go back and proofread...

If it REALLY bothers you I can use my awesome posers as superadminsitrator and delited it and you can try again?

Or maybe we can just say you were reading too much modern poetry that day and excuse unnatural grammer.

Mark said...

Okay, here's a deal: if you won't make fun of my grammar, I won't make fun of your spelling.

Filia Dei said...

Oy vey! Are you sure? You will apparently have much more to forgive than I will, if that last post is to be any standard.

Shall we make 'delited' into 'deleted', 'posers' into 'powers', and fire the 'superadminSItrator' to replace her with a nice ordinary adminIStrator and a fat old dictionary?

Mark said...

Okay, truce. We'll go with the modern poetry excuse; I like that one.

Wasn't it Mark Twain who said something to the effect that he "didn't think much of a man who could only think of one way to spell a word?"

Filia Dei said...

If he did I love him even more!

I've only got 'Roughing It' to accompany my continental tour, but once I am reunited with my library, I promise to present a selection of favorite 'Twaingers'.