213. The Rule of Benedict (c. 530-550 AD)

Benedict codified the monastic life of abbots and monks in this short work, including the hours of prayer, study and work, principles of obedience and punishment, joining and leaving the community.

My copy was published by the University of Western Australia Press in 1963 and translated by Richard John Crotty. It includes calendar dates against each paragraph, presumably allowing the monastery to read through the Rule in its entirety three times per year.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed discovering how monastic life was lived 1500 years ago. Previously I only have Cadfael novels as my reference point 😉

Monks were forbidden from having personal possessions of any sort (a wicked vice), with part of the Abbot’s responsibility both to provide all that was necessary for the monastic life, and also to regularly search and confiscate such possessions. It was also forbidden for monks to receive letters or money from family or others in the outside world. The diet excluded meat from four footed animals unless the brother was sick and needed greater sustenance, and wine was sparingly provided although abstinence was obviously preferred.

Speaking after the final service of the day (Compline) was forbidden except should a guest of the monastery require something or the Abbot had some urgent task to give to someone.

Study times throughout the day were for silent reading of the Bible or biblical commentaries, or memorising psalms. I do remember hearing recently that reading to oneself was a relatively modern process, and the Rule does state that study reading should be done quietly to not disturb others.

Quite often it is mentioned that murmuring, or grumbling (not being obedient and humble with your whole heart when asked to perform a task) is both sinful and punishable.

“A monk is at the twelfth step if he not only has humility in his heart, but also gives continual evidence of it by his very deportment to all who see him … to carry out unlaboriously, by a sort of second nature … all that he had hitherto done with a certain amount of fear; no longer through fear of hell, but for love of Christ, by sheer force of good habit, out of delight in virtue.”   Ch VII, page 25.

Digressions/diversions:   Looking at the schedule of the Liturgy of the Hours

  • Night office (later called Matins) : midnight
  • Lauds (Dawn) :  3am
  • Prime (First hour) : 6am
  • Terce : 9am
  • Sext : midday
  • None : 3pm
  • Vespers (lighting of the lamps) : 6pm
  • Compline (before retiring) : 9pm

Benedict is often depicted with a raven and bread. I found no mention of ravens in his Rule but apparently there is a legend that Benedict would feed a raven with his bread, and when an envious priest tried to kill Benedict with poisoned bread, the raven carried it away to a spot where no one could find it.

Personal rating:  7/10

Kimmy’s rating: Kimmy would be all for getting up throughout the night providing she was getting a small smackerel of something from the kitchen, even bread.

Come to think of it, the keeping of animals is not directly mentioned, although I presume they kept chickens and ducks for meat and eggs, sheep and/or goats for milk, and maybe even a donkey or horse for transport. A cat in the barns to keep down mice, and maybe a song bird. But dogs??

Also in the years from 350 to 500 AD:

  • Japanese armies invade Korea 360-390 AD
  • Jutes, Angles and Saxons invade Britain ; Romans depart 407 BC
  • Alans, Burgundians, Sueves and Vandals invade Gaul 407 and Spain 409
  • St Patrick arrives in Ireland around 432 AD to become Bishop
  • Attila becomes King of the Huns, advances through Europe c.433 AD, briefly invading Gaul and Italy
  • Vandals sack Rome 455 AD
  • Germanic barbarian Odovacer ends the Western Roman Empire 476 AD
  • Clovis becomes King of the Frankish Empire
  • Indian mathematician Aryabhata calculates the value of pi, and declares that the Earth rotates
  • Saxons establish the kingdom of Wessex in southern England c 500 AD

Other reading:  The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. The first of the Robot novels by Asimov, and just as much a traditional detective story as a detailed depiction of a future Earth. Effortless world building development, social and technological,  throughout the story, which feels very familiar now that we’ve seen similar worlds in movies and TV shows since this was written in the fifties. Still a far cry from medieval monastic life.

One comment

  1. Required reading throughout my years in college (Medieval history). Once a year we went to a Benedictine Abbey to see the Rule in action. My, how much and how little has changed since the 6th century!

    I think Kimmy could easily fit in with the monks. There’s always ‘that one’ who takes in animals and feeds them on the sly 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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