Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 3

Part 2

About this time, an obscure Italian Abbot wrote a rule for monastic life. Now considered to be the patriarch and founder of western monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480 – c.547), wrote a rule that slowly spread throughout Europe – though it was never imposed by authority in his time. Since then, thousands (probably millions) of monks and nuns have adopted and followed this rule, which has likely endured these past fifteen hundred years due to its practicality, flexibility and wisdom.

Benedict was dedicated to the cenobitic life, believing that community was the best way to persevere in the dedication required to serve God in this austere way. Whilst acknowledging the importance of hermitage and that some men may be called to such a life, he felt that they should first learn the discipline required within the life of a community, in order to prepare themselves. If the monks were a family, living under one roof and supporting one another, then they also lived under a father, the Abbot.

Benedict’s rule has influenced Christian Monasticism and Western society to a massive extent. Even at the beginning of the fourteenth century:

“the order is estimated to have comprised the enormous number of 37,000 monasteries. It had up to that time given to the Church no less than 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, and over 1,500 canonized saints. It had enrolled amongst its members 20 emperors, 10 empresses, 47 kings, and 50 queens.”[1]

In less than one thousand years of existence, Benedictines had infiltrated every part of society and aspect of life. Each of these people’s lives would have been irrevocably shaped by the rule they had lived under, their morals and beliefs formed on the basis of Benedict’s teaching, and they will have, in turn, passed these on to the people they had authority over.

Benedict’s rule remains as relevant today as it was in the 5th century, for the thousands of monks who still live by it but also for general society. He primarily teaches obedience and humility, qualities and principles which, should people adopt them, would change the way western civilisation operates. In a world where everything is about oneself, ensuring one’s own needs and wants are met, where other people are often only collateral damage, if we were to be obedient to our authorities and humble before our fellow man, everything would change. Benedict saw something lacking in the discipline of peoples’ lives and the conduct of the monks and worked to rectify that. Unfortunately the same problems are still present today, perhaps even on a grander scale.

Furthermore, Benedict’s famous statement in Chapter 48 of his rule could be a motto which would stand all people in good stead:

“Yet let all be done in moderation, on account of the faint hearted”.

It is clear from this that the monastic life was difficult and pushed men to the very ends of their endurance but Benedict did not want anyone to be driven away by this testing – he wished for all of them to succeed in the life and was willing to take into account the differences between the abilities of the monks. Again, if all people were to live by this principle of everything in moderation, lives would be greatly altered. Humanity has a tendency towards obsession and indulgence, leaving other areas of life neglected and wanting. However, if we were to do all things in moderation, our lives would be more balanced and we would perhaps be more content.

Benedict’s rule, when it deals with morality and values, is clearly as relevant today as it was fifteen hundred years ago. Its influence was, and continues to be, vast – even if unseen.

[1] New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia:


3 thoughts on “Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 3

  1. Thank you for the history and the analysis. Much of the wisdom for how to seek God and how to live the full, deep, spiritual life found in the Rule can also guide lay people who want that same closeness to God even though they do not live in a monastery.

  2. Pingback: Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 4 « rach’s blog

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