The Rule of Benedict
It is almost incomprehensible that this brief
document, almost fifteen hundred years old, is now enshrined as one of
the greatest spiritual handbooks of all time. Volumes have been
written about it (but the small, unassuming text itself is almost bound to be disappointing to a culture that
likes things to sound impressive and to look slick).
The Rule of Benedict is not concerned with a single
time and place, a single view of church, a single set of devotions, or a single ministry. The Rule
of Benedict is concerned with life – what it’s about, what it demands, how to live it. This is why it stays both authentic and necessary century after century after century
in culture after culture after culture. Its value lies more in the ideas with which it concerns itself and
the attitudes it sets out to form, rather than in the particulars it prescribed for the people who were
reading it in early Europe.
The Prologue is its cornerstone. Here are some
insights from the Prologue:
1. Life is a teacher of universal
a. We each need to attend to the important things in
b. Let nothing go by without being open to being
nourished by the inner meaning of that event in life.
c. If we do not live life consciously, we may not be
living at all.
d. If we want to have a spiritual life, we will have
to concentrate on doing so.
2. The Rule of Benedict is a wisdom literature that
sounds life’s themes and deals with answers to the great questions of the human
a. The presence of God
b. The foundation of
c. The nature of
d. The place of purpose
3. To the wise, life is
not a series of events to be controlled – life is a way of
walking through the universe whole and holy.
4. Spirituality does not come by breathing – it comes, for example, by listening to the Rule and to its insights
into life “with the ear of the heart”, with feeling, with more than an academic
a. One part of spirituality is learning to be aware of
what is going on around us and allowing ourselves to feel its effects.
b. The other part of spirituality, the Prologue makes
clear, is learning to hear what God wants in any given situation and being quick to respond to that, to
“welcome it and faithfully put it into practice”.
5. The Prologue insists that the rule is
being written by someone who loves us and will – if we allow it – carry us along to fullness of
life. No one grows simply by doing what someone else forces us to
do. We begin to grow when we finally want to grow – it is our own decision to become what we can by doing
what we must.
6. The first paragraph of the Prologue sets out the
importance of not allowing ourselves to become our own
guides – our own gods.
a. Obedience – the willingness to listen for the voice
of God in life – is what will wrench us out of the limitations of our own landscape. We are being called to
something outside of ourselves, something greater than ourselves, something beyond
b. We will need someone to show us the way: the
Christ, a loving spiritual model, the Rule.
7. The person who prays for the presence
of God is, ironically, already in the presence of God – the
person who seeks God has already found God to some extent.
8. Attention to the spiritual life changes our
appreciation for the presence of God in our dull, mundane
a. We come to realize that we did not find God – God
finally got our attention.
b. The spiritual life is a grace with which we must
cooperate – not a prize to be captured or a trophy to be won.
9. The spiritual
life is a grace that is volatile – to feel it and ignore it, to
receive it but reject it, is to be in a worse condition than if we had never paid any attention to the
spiritual life at all.
a. We can lose what is ours for the
b. We can miss out on the life we are meant to
c. In failing to respond to God everywhere God is
around us, we may lose the power of God that is in us.
10. Realize that God is
the only lifeline that life guarantees us – we have been loved
to life by God, and now we must love God back with our whole lives, or forever live a living
a. Who of us has not been failed by all the other
things beside God – money, status, security, work, people – that we have clung to and been disappointed by in
b. Whose life has not been warped by a series of
twisted hopes, the roots of which were sunk in the shale of false promises and empty treasures that could not
11. One thing stays with us, present whether pursued or
not, and that is the call to the centre of ourselves where the God
we are seeking is seeking us.
a. We need to listen today – to start now, then begin
immediately to direct our life to that small, clear voice within.
12. Life is short – we don’t have time to waste time. Some things are significant in life, and some are
a. We all have to ask ourselves what time it is in our
b. We each have to begin to consider the eternal
weight of what we are spending life doing.
c. Are we spending our lives on gold or
13. The life laid out in the Prologue
is a life based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
a. It is not the prescriptions of a private guru – it
is an immersion in the Gospel life.
b. We don’t just stumble through life from one pious
exercise to another, hoping that in the end everything will be all right.
c. We don’t surfeit on this life – even the spiritual
systems of it – and forget the life to come.
d. We must run toward the light, with Scriptures in
hand – responsible to the presence of God in every moment and sure that life is only beginning when it
14. The spiritual
life is not a collection of asceticisms – it is a way of being
in the world that is open to God and open to others.
a. It is so easy to tell ourselves that we overlooked
the needs of others because we were attending to the needs of God.
b. Deep spiritual traditions everywhere, however,
reject such rationalization.
c. The great spiritual question of life is not “Is
there life after death?” but rather, “Is there life before death?”
d. Life lived fully is life lived on two planes:
attention to God and attention to the good of the other.
15. The spiritual
life involves being peaceful peacemakers.
a. Never talk destructively about another person – in
anger, in spite, in vengefulness.
b. Agitation drives out consciousness of God – when
we’re driven by agitation, consumed by fretting, we become immersed in our own agenda, and it is always
exaggerated. (We get caught up in things that, in the final analysis, simply don’t count and that pass
c. Violence must be simply discounted – it doesn’t
work: not political violence, not social violence, not physical violence, not even the violence that we do to
ourselves in the name of religion.
16. Justice, honesty, and
compassion are the marks of
those who dwell with God in life.
a. Responsibility for the human community is the
benchmark of those who “dwell in God’s tent”, know God on earth, live on a higher plane than the mass of
humanity around them.
b. The really holy, the ones who touch God, are those
who live well with those around them – they are just, they are upright, they are
17. We are not able
to achieve God’s grace without God’s help.
a. If we do good for the poor, it is because God has
given us the courage to do good.
b. If we speak truth in the face of lies, it is
because God has given us a taste for truth.
18. The Prologue puts to rest the position of the
wandering monk Pelagius, who taught in the fifth century that human
beings were inherently good and capable of achieving God’s great presence on the strength of their own
a. We do what we do in life, even holy things, not
because we are so good but because God is go good and enables us to rise above the misery of
b. Even the spiritual life can become an arrogant trap
if we do not realize that the spiritual life is not a game that is won by the development of spiritual
c. The spiritual life is simply the God-life already
at work in us.
19. God is not something to be achieved – God is a presence to be
responded to, but to whom without that presence we cannot respond.
a. God isn’t something for which spiritual athletes
compete or someone that secret spiritual formulas expose. God is not a mathematical formula that we
b. God is the breath we breathe – it is thanks to God
that we have any idea of God at all. God is the reason that we can reach God – his is an ever-present
Presence. God is already in our lives.
20. God is with us – for the taking, but not for any spiritual payment.
a. God is neither cajoled nor
b. God is in the Here and
c. It is we who are not – it is we who are trapped in
the past, angry at what formed us, or fixated on a future that is free from pain or totally under our
d. But, God is in our present – waiting for us
Source: Taken and adapted from Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict:
Insights for the Ages (New York: Crossroad, 2009),
Photo credit: Intellimon Ltd.