On Re-Reading the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict

Today we begin the second reading of the Rule of St Benedict that occurs during the course of the year. I like the fact that it co-incides with the feast of St Athanasius, about whom I have written extensively in the past (see here or here, for example), because it was his Life of Antony that was to prove so powerful in drawing people to the monastic way of life, and his treatise on the Incarnation of the Word of God that  can be said to inform much of Benedict’s sense of our journeying back to the Father by way of Christ.

One thing that becomes clearer as each year passes is how beautifully Christocentric the Rule is. Today’s passage of the Prologue focuses on the ‘true King, Christ our Lord’ for whom we must fight with ‘the strong and glorious weapons of obedience’. Many people see obedience as a kind of weakness. We all want to be leaders. The idea of listening to another, acting on another’s instructions, is just a teeny bit . . . limp. So, we pick and choose. We will obey in this, but not in that. The vow of obedience may oblige us to obey in all that is not sin, but that still leaves quite a lot of scope for  half-hearted or nominal obedience. (‘O tepidity, I do abhor thee! ‘— Fr Baker) The idea of fighting for Christ with our obedience is an alien notion, because to fight means to risk being wounded, defeated even, and who wants that?

St Antony had to fight the demons who assailed him, and Athanasius leaves us in no doubt what a struggle he had. We have to fight our own demons, and they can be anything from greed to laziness. St Benedict talks of our stripping ourselves of the self-will which encumbers us, weighs us down, holds us back. It can be painful; it makes us vulnerable in ways we never dreamed possible; but it is necessary because it makes us free — free to fight, free to follow. The bright hope of following Christ to glory is held out to us at the very beginning of our monastic life. The tragedy is, we can turn back on the way without necessarily abandoning the cloister. We can refuse to listen, refuse to obey.

Let us pray today for all monks, nuns, oblates and others who find inspiration in the Rule of St Benedict, that the hard labour of obedience may bring us back to the Father, no matter how many siren voices may tempt us astray.

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6 thoughts on “On Re-Reading the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict”

  1. Fighting our own demons – like St Antony, reminds me of the former TV concentration so popular in the sixties and seventies of ‘All In Wrestling’. Normally, one good guy up against a much larger, generally masked bad guy. Perhaps a metaphor for the inner fight that we have daily in our lives to over come the darkness that can creep into our lives if we’re not vigilant and fight it off.

    Sometimes the words of Jesus to Satan are appropriate today #Get thee behind me Satan’

    As a flawed human being, I know that I’ve used it on occasion and no doubt will do so again in the future. But I thank God for the words and intention to use them to keep me closer to him than I otherwise might be.

  2. I recently bought a copy of your translation of the rule, and although I started to pick it up from the right day in the year, today marks the start of my journey trying to pray with it from the beginning. Your comments on the passage for today are very helpful. I know at least some of my demons, but fighting them is hard and a daily battle. I look forward to the days when you can shed light on the rule in your daily comment, it was one such post that led me to buy the book ! Thank you for your work/ guidance and inspiration.

  3. A magnificent vision.
    Thank you.
    How I wish I could share more in monastic life but God has led me down a different path.
    I have always taken inspiration from the brave path of vocations such as yours.

  4. A beautifully concise explanation of what St Benedict expected from his followers. Also a wonderful encouragement to the monastic life. Bless you and the rest of your Sisters in God. The Peace of the Lord be with you.

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