The New Monasticism And The Rule
In the first centuries of monasticism in the West, the greatest variety
was to be found among the constitutions of the various monastic houses and
the rules drawn up by great leaders in the ascetic movement. This variety
extended even to the nature of the vows assumed and their obligation.
Benedict of Nursia (circa 480 to circa 544), gave the rule according to
which for some centuries nearly all the monasteries of the West were
ultimately organized. The first great example of this rule in operation
was Benedict's own monastery at Monte Cassino. For a time the rule of
Benedict came into conflict with that of Columbanus in Gaul.(274) But the
powerful recommendation of Gregory the Great, who had introduced it in
Rome, and the intrinsic superiority of the rule itself made the
Benedictine system triumphant. It should be noted that the Benedictine
cloisters were for centuries independent establishments and only formed
into organized groups of monasteries in the great monastic reforms of the
tenth and following centuries. It is a question how far the Benedictine
rule was introduced into England in the early centuries of the Anglo-Saxon
Church, although it is often taken for granted that it was introduced by
Augustine. Critical edition of the Benedictine rule by Woelfflin, Leipsic,
1895; in Migne's edition there is an elaborate commentary with many
illustrative extracts and formulae, as well as traditional glosses.
Additional source material: An abbreviated translation of the
Benedictine rule may be found in Henderson, Select Historical
Documents, 1892, and in full in Thatcher and McNeal, A Source
Book for Mediaeval History, 1905.
(a) Benedict of Nursia, Regula. (MSL, 66:246.)
1. Concerning the kinds of monks and their modes of living. It is
manifest that there are four kinds of monks. The first is that of the
cenobites, that is the monastic, serving under a rule and an abbot. The
second kind is that of the anchorites, that is the hermits, those who have
learned to fight against the devil, not by the new fervor of conversion,
but by a long probation in a monastery, having been taught already by
association with many; and having been well prepared in the army of the
brethren for the solitary fight of the hermit, and secure now without the
encouragement of another, they are able, God helping them, to fight with
their own hand or arm against the vices of the flesh or of their thoughts.
But a third and very bad kind of monks are the sarabites, not tried as
gold in the furnace by a rule, experience being their teacher, but
softened after the manner of lead; keeping faith with the world by their
works, they are known by their tonsure to lie to God. Being shut up by
twos and threes alone and without a shepherd, in their own and not in the
Lord's sheepfold, they have their own desires for a law. For whatever they
think good and choose, that they deem holy; and what they do not wish,
that they consider unlawful. But the fourth kind of monk is the kind
called the gyrovagi, who during their whole life are guests for three or
four days at a time in the cells of different monasteries throughout the
various provinces; they are always wandering and never stationary, serving
their own pleasures and the allurements of the palate, and in every way
worse than the sarabites. Concerning the most wretched way of all, it is
better to keep silence than to speak. These things, therefore, being
omitted, let us proceed with the aid of God to treat of the best kind, the
2. What the abbot should be like. An abbot who is worthy to preside over
a monastery ought always to remember what he is called and to carry out in
his deeds the name of a superior. For in the monastery he is believed to
be Christ's representative, since he is called by His name, the Apostle
saying: "We have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry
Abba, Father" [Rom. 8:15]. And so the abbot ought not (and oh that he may
not!) teach or decree or order anything apart from the precepts of the
Lord; but his order or teaching should be sprinkled with the leaven of
divine justice in the minds of his disciples. No distinctions of persons
shall be made by him in the monastery. One shall not be loved by him more
than another, unless the one whom he finds excelling in good work and
obedience. A free-born man shall not be preferred to one coming from
servitude, unless there be some reasonable cause. But when it is just and
it seems good to the abbot he shall show preference no matter what the
rank shall be. But otherwise they shall keep their own places; for,
whether we be bound or free, we are all one in Christ, and under God we
perform an equal service of subjection; for God is no respecter of persons
3. Concerning calling the brethren to take counsel. As often as anything
unusual is to be done in the monastery, let the abbot call together the
whole congregation and himself explain the question before them. And
having heard the advice of the brethren, he shall consider it by himself,
and let him do what he judges most advantageous. And for this reason,
moreover, we have said that all ought to be called to take counsel;
because it is often to a younger person that the Lord reveals what is
best. The brethren, moreover, ought, with all humble subjection, to give
their advice so that they do not too boldly presume to defend what seems
good to them, but it should rather depend upon the judgment of the abbot;
so that, whatever he decides upon as the more salutary, they should all
agree to it.
4. Concerning the instruments of good works.
5. Concerning obedience. The first grade of humility is prompt
obedience. This becomes those who, on account of the holy service which
they professed, or on account of the fear of hell or the glory of eternal
life, consider nothing dearer to them than Christ; so that as soon as
anything is commanded by their superior, they may not know how to suffer
delay in doing it, even as if it were a divine command.
6. Concerning silence. 7. Concerning humility. 8. Concerning the
Divine Offices at night. 9. How many Psalms are to be said at night.
10. How in summer the Nocturnal Praises shall be carried on. 11. How
Vigils shall be conducted on Sunday. 12. Concerning the order of Matins
on Sunday. 13. Concerning the order of Matins on week days. 14.
Concerning the order of Vigils on Saints' days. 15. Concerning the
occasions when the Alleluias shall be said. 16. Concerning the order of
Divine Worship during the day. 17. On the number of Psalms to be said at
these times. 18. Concerning the order in which the Psalms are to be
said. 19. Concerning the art of singing. 20. Concerning the reverence
in prayer. 21. Concerning the Deans of monasteries. 22. How monks
shall sleep. 23. Concerning excommunication for faults. 24. What ought
to be the measure of excommunication. 25. Concerning graver faults. 26.
Concerning those who without being ordered by the Abbot, associate with
the excommunicated. 27. What care the Abbot should exercise with regard
to the excommunicated. 28. Concerning those who, being often rebuked, do
not amend. 29. Whether brothers who leave the monastery ought to be
received back. 30. Concerning boys under age, how they should be
corrected. 31. Concerning the Cellarer of the monastery, what sort of
person he should be. 32. Concerning the utensils or property of the
33. Whether monks should have anything of their own. More than anything
else is this special vice to be cut off root and branch from the
monastery, that one should presume to give or receive anything without
order from the abbot, or should have anything of his own; he should have
absolutely nothing, neither a book nor tablets nor a pen, nothing at
all--for indeed it is not allowed to have their own bodies or wills in
their own power. But all things necessary they must receive from the
father of the monastery; nor is it allowable to have anything which the
abbot has not given or permitted.
34. Whether all ought to receive necessaries equally. 35. Concerning
the weekly officers of the kitchen. 36. Concerning infirm brothers. 37.
Mitigation of the rule for the very old and the very young. 38.
Concerning the weekly reader.
39. Concerning the amount of food. We believe, moreover, that for the
daily refection of the sixth and for that of the ninth hour as well two
cooked dishes, on account of the infirmities of the different ones, are
enough in all months for all tables; so that whoever, perchance, cannot
eat of one may partake of the other. Therefore let two cooked dishes
suffice for all the brethren; and if it is possible to obtain apples or
fresh vegetables, a third may be added. One full pound of bread shall
suffice for a day, whether there be one refection or breakfast and supper.
But if they are to have supper, the third part of that same pound shall be
reserved by the cellarer to be given back to those when they are about to
sup. But if perchance some greater labor shall have been performed, it
shall be in the will and power of the abbot, if it is expedient, to
increase anything. But to younger boys the same quantity shall not be
served, but less than to the older ones, as moderation is to be observed
in all things. But every one shall abstain altogether from eating the
flesh of four-footed beasts except alone in the case of the weak and the
40. Concerning the amount of drink. Each one has his own gift from God,
one in this way and another in that. Therefore it is with some hesitation
that the amount of daily sustenance for others is fixed by us.
Nevertheless, considering the weakness of the infirm, we believe that a
half pint of wine a day is enough for each one. Those, moreover, to whom
God has given the ability of enduring abstinence should know that they
will have their own reward. But the prior shall judge if either the needs
of the place, or labor, or heat of the summer require more; considering,
in all things, lest satiety or drunkenness creep in. Indeed, we read that
wine is not suitable for monks at all. But, because in our times it is not
possible to persuade monks of this, let us agree at least as to the fact
that we should not drink until we are sated, but sparingly. For wine can
make even the wise to go astray. Where, moreover, the limitations of the
place are such that the amount written above cannot be found, but much
less or nothing at all, those who live there shall bless God and shall not
murmur. And we admonish them as to this, above all, that they be without
41. At what hours the brethren ought to take their refection. 42. That
after Compline no one shall speak. 43. Concerning those who come late to
Divine Service or to table. 44. Concerning those who are excommunicated
and how they shall render satisfaction. 45. Concerning those who make
mistakes in the oratory. 46. Concerning those who err in other matters.
47. Concerning the announcement of the hour of Divine Service.
48. Concerning the daily manual labor. Idleness is the enemy of the
soul. Therefore at fixed times the brethren ought to be occupied in manual
labor; and again at fixed times in sacred reading. Therefore we believe
that according to this disposition both seasons ought to be so arranged
that, from Easter until the first of October, going out early from the
first until about the fourth hour, they shall labor at what might be
necessary. Moreover, from the fourth until about the sixth hour, they
shall give themselves to reading. After the sixth hour, moreover, rising
from table, they shall rest in their beds with all silence; or perchance
he that wishes to read may so read to himself that he shall not disturb
another. And nones shall be said rather early, about the middle of the
eighth hour; and again they shall work at what is necessary until vespers.
But if the exigency or the poverty of the place demands that they shall be
occupied by themselves in picking fruits, they shall not be cast down; for
then they are truly monks if they live by the labor of their hands, as did
also our Fathers and the Apostles.
From the first of October until the beginning of Lent, they shall give
themselves unto reading until the second full hour. At the second hour
tierce shall be said, and all shall labor at the task which is enjoined
upon them until the ninth. When the first signal of the ninth hour shall
have been given they shall each leave off his work and be ready when the
second signal strikes. Moreover, after the refection they shall give
themselves to their reading or to the Psalms.
And in the days of Lent, from dawn until the third full hour, they shall
give themselves to their reading; and until the tenth hour they shall do
the labor that is enjoined upon them. In the days of Lent they shall all
receive separate books from the library, which they shall read through
completely in order; these books shall be given out on the first day of
Lent. Above all, there shall certainly be appointed one or two elders to
go around the monastery at the hours in which the brethren are engaged in
reading and see to it that no troublesome brother is to be found who is
given to idleness and chatting and is not intent upon his reading and is
not only of no use to himself but disturbing the others. If such an one
(and may there not be such!) be found, he shall be admonished once and a
second time. If he does not amend, he shall be subject under the rule to
such punishment that others may fear. Nor shall the brethren assemble at
On Sundays all shall give themselves to reading except those who are
deputed to various duties. But if any one be so negligent and lazy that he
will not or cannot meditate or read, some task shall be imposed upon him
which he can perform, so that he be not idle. On feeble and delicate
brothers such a labor or art is to be imposed that they shall neither be
idle nor so oppressed by the burden of labor as to be driven to take to
flight. Their weakness is to be taken into consideration by the abbot.
49. The observance of Lent. 50. Concerning brothers who labor far from
the oratory or are on a journey. 51. Concerning brothers who do not
journey very far. 52. Concerning the oratory of the monastery. 53.
Concerning the reception of guests. 54. As to whether a monk should be
allowed to receive letters or anything. 55. Concerning the Vestiarius
and Calciarius. 56. Concerning the table of the Abbot. 57. Concerning
the artificers of the monastery.
58. Concerning the manner of receiving brethren. When any one newly
comes for conversion of life, an easy entrance shall not be granted him,
but as the Apostle says: "Try the spirits whether they be of God" [I John
4:1]. Therefore if one who comes perseveres in knocking, and is seen after
four or five days to endure patiently the insults heaped upon him and the
difficulty of ingress and to persist in his request, let entrance be
granted him, and let him be for a few days in the guest cell. After this
let him be in the cell of the novices, where he shall meditate and eat and
sleep. And an elder shall be appointed for him such as shall be capable of
winning souls, who shall altogether intently watch him, and be zealous to
see if he in truth seek God, if he be zealous for the work of God, for
obedience, for suffering shame. And above all the harshness and roughness
of the means through which one approaches God shall be told him in
advance. If he promise perseverance in his steadfastness after the lapse
of two months, this Rule shall be read over to him in order, and it shall
be said to him: Behold the law under which thou didst wish to serve; if
thou canst observe it, enter; but if thou canst not, depart freely. If he
shall have stood firm thus far, then he shall be led into the aforesaid
cell of the novices, and again he shall be proven with all patience.
And after the lapse of six months, the Rule shall be reread to him, that
he may know upon what he is entering. And if he persist thus far, after
four months the same Rule shall still again be read to him. If, after
deliberating with himself, he shall promise that he will observe all
things and to obey all the commands laid upon him, then he shall be
received into the congregation, knowing that it is decreed that by the law
of the Rule he shall from that day not be allowed to depart from the
monastery, nor to shake free from his neck the yoke of the Rule, which
after such painful deliberation he was at liberty to refuse or receive.
He who is to be received shall make in the oratory, in the presence of
all, a promise before God and His saints concerning his stability
[stabilitas loci] and the change in the manner of his life [conversio
morum] and obedience [obedientia],(275) so that if at any time he act
contrary he shall know that he shall be condemned by Him whom he mocks.
And concerning this, his promise, he shall make a petition addressed by
name to the saints whose relics are there, and to the abbot who is
present. And this petition he shall write out with his own hand; or, if he
be really unlearned in letters, let another at his request write it, and
to that the novice shall make his sign. With his own hand he shall place
it upon the altar. And when he has placed it there, the novice shall
immediately begin this verse: "Receive me O Lord according to Thy promise
and I shall live; and cast me not down from my hope" [Psalm 119:116,
Vulgate version]. And this verse the whole congregation shall repeat three
times adding: Glory be to the Father, etc. Then that brother novice shall
prostrate himself at the feet of each one that they may pray for him. And
already from that day he shall be considered as in the congregation.
If he have any property, he shall first either present it to the poor or,
making a solemn donation, shall confer it on the monastery, receiving
nothing at all for himself; and he shall know for a fact that from that
day he shall have no power even over his own body. Immediately thereafter,
in the monastery, he shall take off his own garments in which he was clad,
and shall put on the garments of the monastery. Those garments,
furthermore, which he has taken off shall be placed in the vestiary to be
preserved; so that if, at any time, on the devil's persuasion, he shall
wish to go forth from the monastery (and may it never happen) then, taking
off the garments of the monastery let him be cast out. But the petition he
made and which the abbot took from upon the altar, he shall not receive
again, but it shall be preserved in the monastery.
59. Concerning the sons of nobles and poor men who are presented. If by
chance any one of the nobles offers his son to God in the monastery, and
the boy himself is a minor in age, his parents shall make the petition of
which we have spoken above. And with an oblation, they shall wrap the
petition and the hand of the boy in the linen cloth of the altar; and thus
shall they offer him. Concerning their property, either they shall promise
in the present petition, under an oath, that they will never, either
indirectly or otherwise, give him anything at any time, or furnish him
with means of possessing it. Or, if they be unwilling to do this, and wish
to offer something as alms to the monastery for their salvation, they
shall make a donation of those things which they wish to give to the
monastery, retaining for themselves the usufruct if they so wish. And let
all things be so observed that no suspicion may remain with the boy; by
which, as we have learned from experience, being deceived, he might perish
(and may it not happen). The poorer ones shall do likewise. Those who have
nothing at all shall simply make their petitions; and with an oblation
they shall offer their sons before witnesses.
60. Concerning priests who may wish to dwell in the monastery. 61.
Concerning pilgrim monks, how they are to be received. 62. Ordination
of monks as priests. 63. Concerning rank in the congregation. 64.
Concerning the ordination of an Abbot. 65. Concerning the Prior of the
monastery. 66. Concerning the Doorkeepers of the monastery. 67.
Concerning brothers sent on a journey. 68. If impossibilities are
imposed on a brother. 69. That in the monastery one shall not presume to
defend another. 70. That no one shall presume to strike another. 71.
That they shall be obedient to one another. 72. Concerning the good
zeal which monks ought to have.
73. Concerning the fact that not every just observance is decreed in this
Rule. We have written down this Rule, that we may show those observing it
in the monasteries how to have some honesty of character or beginning of
conversion. But for those who hasten to the perfection of living, there
are the teachings of the holy Fathers; the observance of which leads a man
to the heights of perfection. For what page or what discourse of divine
authority in the Old or New Testament is not a more perfect rule of human
life? Or what book of the holy and Catholic Fathers does not trumpet forth
how by the right road we shall come to our Creator?
Also the reading aloud of the Fathers, and their decrees and lives; also
the Rule of our holy Father Basil--what else are they except instruments of
virtue for good living and obedient monks? But to us who are idle and evil
livers and negligent there is the blush of confusion. Thou, therefore,
whoever hastens to the heavenly fatherland, perform with Christ's aid this
Rule written out as the least beginnings; and then at length, under God's
protection, thou wilt come to the greater things that we have mentioned--to
the summits of teaching and virtue.
The following formulae are given to illustrate the Rule in its working.
The first group bear upon the vow of stabilitas loci. The case not
infrequently arose that a brother wished to go to a monastery in which the
observance of the Rule was stricter. In case a new foundation was begun
anywhere, the first monks were almost always from another monastery. If
therefore the monk is to remove, he must obtain permission of his abbot,
and this was not regarded as a violation of the vow of stabilitas loci
and obedience to his abbot. These formulae were not uniform throughout
the Church, but the following are given as samples of early practice.
1. Letters dimissory. (MSL, 66:859.)
(a) To all bishops and all orders of the holy Church, and to all
Be it known unto you that I have given license to this our brother, John
or Paul by name, that where he finds it agreeable to dwell in order to
lead the monastic life, he shall have license to dwell for the benefit of
himself and the monastery.
(b) Since such a brother desires to dwell in another monastery, where,
as it seems to him, he can save his soul and serve God, know then that by
these letters dimissory, we have given him license to go to another
(c) From the Consuetudines of the Monastery of St. Paul at Rome.
I, a humble abbot. You should know, beloved, that this brother, John or
Paul by name, has asked us to give him permission to dwell with you. And,
because we know that you observe the Rule of the order, we assent to his
dwelling with you. I now commend him to you, that you may treat him as I
would, and for him you are to render an account to God as I would have had
(d) Another from the same.
To the venerable father the abbot of ( ) monastery, the abbot of ( )
monastery greeting with a holy kiss. Since our monastery has been burdened
with various embarrassments and poverty, we beseech your brotherliness
that you will receive our brother to dwell in your monastery, and we
commend him by these letters of commendation and dismission to your
jurisdiction and obedience.
We send him from our obedience to serve the Lord under your obedience.
2. Offering of a child to a monastery. (MSL, 66:842.)
The following forms should be compared with chapter 59 of the
Rule. Children so offered were known as oblati, i.e., offered.
These forms are from a manuscript of the ninth century.
(a) To offer children to God is sanctioned in the Old and New Testaments
as Abraham(276) are related to have done. Moved by the example of these
and many others, I ( ) do now, for the salvation of my soul and for the
salvation of the souls of my parents, offer in the presence of the abbot (
) this my son ( ) to Almighty God and to St. Mary His mother,
according to the Rule of the blessed Benedict in the Monastery of Mons
Major, so that from this day forth it shall not be lawful for him to
withdraw his neck from the yoke of this service; and I promise never, by
myself or by any agent, to give him in any way opportunity of leaving, and
that this writing may be confirmed I sign it with my own hand.
(b) Brief form.
I give this boy in devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ, before God and His
saints, that he may remain all the days of his life and become a monk
until his death.
3. Ceremony of receiving a monk into a Benedictine monastery. (MSL,
(a) From Peter Boherius, Commentary on the Regula S. Benedicti, ch. 58
of the Rule, v. supra.
When the novice makes his solemn profession, the abbot vests to say mass,
and after the offertory the abbot interrogates him saying:
Brother (such a one): Is it your will to renounce the world and all its
He answers: It is.
Abbot: Will you promise obedience according to the Rule of St. Benedict?
Answer: I will.
Abbot: May God give you his aid.
Then the novice, or some one at his request, reads the aforesaid
profession, and when it has been read he places it upon his head, and then
upon the altar. After this, when he has prostrated himself on his knees in
four directions in the form of a cross, he says the verse: Receive me, O
Lord, etc. And then the Gloria Patri, the Kyrie Eleison, the Pater
Noster and the Litany are said, the novice remaining prostrate on the
ground before the altar, until the end of the mass. And the brothers ought
to be in the choir kneeling while the Litany is said. When the Litany has
been said, then shall follow very devoutly the special prayers as
commanded by the Fathers, and immediately after the communion and before
the prayer is said, the garments of the novice, which have been folded and
placed before the altar, shall be blessed with their proper prayers; and
they shall be anointed and sprinkled with holy water by the abbot. After
"Ite, missa est"(277) the novice rises from the ground, and having put
off his old garments which were not blessed he puts on those which have
been blessed, while the abbot recites: Exuat te Dominus, etc.
And when the kiss has been given by the abbot, all the brothers in turn
give him the kiss of peace, and he shall keep silence for three days
continuously after this, going about with his head covered and receiving
the communion every day.
(b) From Theodore of Canterbury, ibid., 827.
In the ordination of monks the abbot ought to say mass, and say three
prayers over the head of the novice; and for seven days he veils his head
with his cowl, and on the seventh day the abbot takes the veil off.
(c) The Vow. From another form, ibid.
I promise concerning my stability and conversion of life and obedience
according to the Rule of St. Benedict before God and His saints.
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