Thursday, February 02, 2012

Children in the Rule of St. Benedict

I recently read through the Rules of St. Benedict. Here's a sampling of medieval mores:

Every age and understanding ought to have a measure of government suitable to it. As often therefore as children, or those under age, commit faults, and are incapable of understanding the greatness of the punishment of excommunication, let them be punished by rigorous fasting, or sharp stripes, that so they may be corrected.

If any one, while reciting a psalm, responsory, antiphon, or lesson, shall make any mistake
and do not forthwith atone for it before all, let him be liable to greater punishment, as
one who will not correct by humility, what he hath done amiss through negligence. But for
such a fault, let children be beaten.

If I say: “St. Benedict was a holy man, St. Gregory was pious and one of the elect!” it does not follow by any means that then everything they said and did was holy and good and must be accepted and taught. Do not draw such a conclusion. For they, too, were human. This text [John 2:23-24] tells us that many believed in Christ, but that nevertheless He did not trust Himself to them. Why, then, do you insist on trusting yourself to these men and following them? There is more in man than just his faith. There is the old Adam; flesh and blood still cling to us. Furthermore, the devil desires to sift man as wheat is sifted, as Christ says to St. Peter (Luke 22:31). Therefore man can indeed err and fall. Now how will you proceed? Will you condemn these men? No, I do not intend to condemn Benedict and others. But I do propose to take their books and carry them to Christ and to His Word as a criterion for comparison, to submit St. Francis’ rule to Christ’s Gospel for a judgment. If their doctrine agrees with the Gospel, I shall accept it; if not, I shall say: “You may be a holy man, but you will never subject me to your rule; for it is a human bauble. Therefore let the devil adopt it! I do not want it!” [LW 22:259]


steelikat said...

It was a big improvement over pagan times, when they exposed their children and even sometimes sacrificed them to pagan gods.

More relevantly, it is a big improvement over the west in our our time. Today we no longer believe the proverb "he who spareth the rod hateth his son" unlike people in previous centuries or in non-western countries, but this gentle treatment is only for those kids who manage to survive legal abortion.

John Lollard said...

Aside from what is mentioned in the post, what were your thoughts on the Rule of St. Benedict?

In Christ,

James Swan said...

I enjoyed it. One cannot be but overwhelmed by the rigors of the life that was idealized. For instance, these were some of the tools needed for good works:

“To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Then the second table of the Ten Commandments. Then “to deny ourselves,” “to chastise the body,” “Don’t seek after delights,” “relieve the poor,” “clothe the naked,” “visit the sick,” “bury the dead,” “help those in trouble,” “comfort the sad,” “withdraw from worldly ways,” “seek the love of Christ as first preference,” “not to give way to anger,” “do not harbor revenge,” “do not foster guile or deceit in the heart,” “do not make feigned peace,” “not to forsake charity,” “not to swear,” “speak the truth,” “do not render evil for evil,” “do no injury, bear injury done to us,” “do not speak ill of enemies,” “suffer persecution for the sake of justice,” “do not be proud,” “do not be drunk, a glutton, slothful, murmurer, drowsy, or a detractor,” “attribute are own good to God,” “our acts of evil are to be attributed to ourselves,” “fear the day of judgment and fear hell,” “desire everlasting life,” “remember death,” “watch our own actions, and know God see all our actions,” “avoid evil thoughts, confess sins to the Abbot,” “Avoid evil and filthy talk,” “do not love much talking,” “Do not speak vain words,” “willingly hear holy readings,” “pray often and devotedly,” “Confess and make penance daily,” “do not fulfill the desires of the flesh,” “obey the Abbot,” “do not desire to be called holy until we are,” “fulfill commandments of God regularly,” “love chastity,” “hate no one,” “flee envy,” “reverence the elders,” “love inferiors,” “pray for our enemies,” “make peace with adversaries,” “never despair of God’s mercy.”

While there were many things I thought were over-the-top, like everything, chew the meat and spit out the bones.

Now on the other hand, a similar book really blew me away: Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule. While at times filled with moralism rather than Christ, I would not hesitate recommending this book to someone entering the ministry.