Advice from Benedict for those charged with the spiritual care of Christians
I am currently in the process of reading the Latin text of the Rule of Benedict. Benedict wrote around 540 AD and drew upon the previous tradition that provided instructions to monks. Because of developments during the Carolingian era, his rule would become a dominant one in medieval monasticism. While as Lutherans we recognize inherent theological problems with monasticism, this does not change the fact that the Rule of Benedict contains profound spiritual insight shaped by Scripture and the experience in the Church of applying it to individuals.
The following is from RB 2:11-15, 30-40 (The Qualifications of an Abbot):
Furthermore, when someone accepts the title of abbot, he should direct his disciples by a twofold teaching. That means he should demonstrate everything that is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words. He should teach gifted disciples the Lord’s commands by words, but he will have to personally model the divine precepts for those who are recalcitrant or naïve. Moreover, his deeds should show his disciples that what he teaches as harmful is really not to be done, “lest he be found guilty after having preached to others” (1 Cor 9:37). Then the Lord may address him some day as a sinner: “Why do you proclaim my just deeds and take my covenant on your lips? For you have hated discipline and thrown my words behind you” (Ps 50:16-17) and “You noticed the speck in your brother’s eye, but did not see the plank in your own” (Matt 7:3).
The abbot must always remember what he is and what he is called; he should also know that more is demanded from one to whom more is entrusted (Luke 12:48). Let him know what a difficult and hard thing he has undertaken: to direct souls, and to adapt to many different temperaments, some by encouragement, some by rebuke, some by convincing argument. Let him tailor his approach to meet each one’s character and understanding; he will thereby suffer no loss of the sheep entrusted to him, but even enjoy the increase of a good flock. Above all, he should neither neglect nor undervalue the welfare of the souls committed to him by paying more attention to fleeting, earthly, perishable matters. Let him constantly remain aware of the fact that is it souls he has undertaken to direct and he will have to give an account for them. He should not plead the danger of material decline, for Scripture says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). And again: “Nothing is lacking to those who fear him’ (Ps 33:10).
Let him know that anyone who undertakes the direction of souls should be prepared to render an account. Whatever the number of brothers he has under his care, he can be sure that he will have to account for every one of them on judgment day, and certainly of his own soul as well. He should live in continual fear of the judgment that awaits the shepherd concerning the sheep in his charge. And so the reckoning he must give for others makes him concerned about his own condition. The warnings he gives to others for improvement serve to effect the correction of his own vices.
Translation taken from: Terrence G. Kardong, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996, 46-47.
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