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A monastic who lives according to the Rule of Benedict is a cenobite. Cenobite is derived from two Greed words, koinos meaning "common" and bios meaning "life." Thus cenobite is a term used to describe a person who lives a common life with others.

The Rule of Benedict describes what is entailed in the living of the common life. What is evident from the Rule is that common life includes the daily living and interacting among monastics who are physically present to one another. Chapters 8 through 70 lay out the practical aspects of this daily living and interacting, including such things as common prayer, sleeping arrangements, meals, daily manual labor, and reception of guests. The picture which these chapters present is that of a group of persons sleeping, eating, praying and working together. The daily rhythm of the monastery enables the monastics to interact, and thus, to assist one another concretely on the journey to God.

Cenobitic Presence

Thus, cenobitic life is that of persons who are physically present to one another on a regular, if not a daily, basis. Obedience, both personal and communal, and common ownership/interdependence, for instance, need to be rooted in physically living together. Cenobitic life cannot be merely a matter of an institutional relationship between an individual monastic and a central monastery.

The monastery itself is more than an institution or a physical location. It is a physical place where monastics live and interact. Any place where monastics live together is to be a monastery, possessing the rhythm and the essentials of the cenobitic life as envisioned in the Rule. It is not merely the living together which constitutes monastic cenobitic life, but the style of living together as given in the Rule. For the style to be effective, there must be a sufficient number of monastics together to live the constancy of the rhythm and the essentials.

Living alone, while within the monastic tradition of hermits and anchorites, is not cenobitic life. Necessity, at times, may require a cenobite to live alone, since human existence does not allow for absolutes. Nevertheless, a regular and habitual practice of living alone is questionable and seemingly contrary to the tradition of cenobitic monastic life.

Community/Common Life

Oftentimes the term community is used rather than common life to describe monastic life, and, for that matter, most forms of religious life. However, community and common life are not synonymous. Community, which is derived from the Latin communis meaning common, encompasses not only those who live a common life, but also those who have common identities, common works, common interests, or common membership. Community does not imply, automatically, common living as envisioned in the Rule. In fact, most often it is used to refer to membership. But membership alone is not cenobitic life. At times community also is used to refer to living within the same confines, but this type of community life may refer, actually, to persons who have their own schedule, cars, independent meals, and private TVs. This also is not common life.

In the monastic tradition of the Rule, it would seem that if a monastic uses the word community, it should refer to the living of the common life and not merely the relationship to a monastery or to a group of monastics. If this is true, then this has profound import for the reclaiming of the essentials of the monastic tradition of the Rule.

Common life is included as one of the definitions of community, but community does not imply, necessarily, common life. The Rule of Benedict, however, does imply common life with the daily interaction of monastics. It is this common life within the place of the monastery which is the workplace for the journey to God.

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