One of the most significant things to happen to monastic scholarship in recent years is the publication of the first study materials on CD.
The Rule of St. Benedict Library contains texts of the Rule, Bible and other primary sources as well as commentaries and study tools. It is published by The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Its creator, Scott Rains, D.Min., lives in San Jose, CA, and has worked and studied in many areas of linguistics, religious education and computer technology. Below is the text of an interview with him.
With what seems to be a variety of background experiences, what moved you towards monastic studies?
I wanted to focus on the development of one particular spirituality in its larger context. I envisioned it as getting a "cross-section" view of the Church over time.
When I began monastic studies at Saint John's University I was campus minister responsible for social justice education at Santa Clara University.
My pastoral work required constant creativity in pursuing aggiornamento. I could not sustain that without "re-sourcement."
My master's work in pastoral ministry at Seattle University, another Jesuit school, and continuing graduate studies at Santa Clara kept me up to speed on the former. I turned to monastic studies for the latter.
Actually, the "Jesuit-to-Benedictine" transition makes for lively dinner conversation in some circles but studying the Jesuit charism back through Ignatius' contact with Benedictinism can make for a natural bridge.
My previous regular contact with the Cistercians at Guadalupe Abbey, Lafayette, OR, under the late Abbot Bernard McVeigh OCSO, shortly after I was paralyzed, confirmed for me that the monastic way was the way of my heart even if it was not to be the form of my state-of-life.
Other contacts with the work of Benedictines reinforced the bond. Father Placido Reitmeyer's student exchange program to Central America set me on a path that resulted in my BA in linguistics and study with
Wycliffe Bible translators.
Father Basil Pennington OCSO and all who developed the
centering prayer movement provided a way for me to be both active and prayerful.
The Benedictine Sisters in Erie organized and nurtured the social movements to which I've devoted most of my pastoral efforts. Father Thomas Merton's writings made it possible for me to find myself in the Church. It was as much a sense of homage and indebtedness to these people as the texts themselves which brought me to monastic studies.
Can you tell us a little about the process of your project -- what inspired you to consider it, how you decided what to include, what the significant steps were in the process of producing this?
Before there was a process for the project there was an approach to the subject. I set aside the practical questions of my pastoral ministry to approach monastic studies at the pace of a dialogue.
I approached the actual experience of engaging in monastic studies with the
Vipassana sense of "practice," mindfulness in the present moment and discernment of "feeling tone."
This didn't necessarily facilitate good scholarship but it created a lot of "mental space" in which to let the new concepts and tools reside and reveal their relationships.
The individual texts on this CD reflect long study on the part of their authors.
The CD itself completes a certain idiorhythmic preparation to really begin study on my part.
I needed this tool so I could finally ask many of my questions and maybe, more to the point as I get older, to remember where I put the answers!
From this perspective, creating the CD has been more like preparing an art installation or setting out a meal.
After a long period of familiarization with the ingredients, the CD is finally something for us to enjoy together to our mutual benefit.
But, yes, there was a process as well. The first step in this process was "matchmaking."
I needed to locate the right software company and the right religious publisher.
I brought Logos Research Systems and The Liturgical Press together.
The next step was focusing the contents. After studying at
Saint John's University with Father Columba Stewart and Sisters Miriam Schmitt and Mary Forman, and attending ABA conventions and monastic institutes, I had reams of resources.
We sifted through the possibilities and designed this CD to be the new standard for researching Benedict's use of Scripture, the RM and early European monastic Rules.
Here the collection was greatly strengthened by Father Michael Naughton's decision to include the Latin section of Vogüé's critical study of the Rule of the Master.
We also gathered the best of current RB commentary in English, including both Esther de Waal's for beginners and Terrence Kardong's for advanced study.
The last two steps were a long period of inactivity when the books were scanned or typed into the computer by Logos, followed by a
frantic period of activity proofreading and quality-checking the critical apparatus. Until the text is scanned there is little the editor can do to move the project forward. Then there is the usual process of
proofreading. Some of the errors were humorous. The letters "f" and "t" or "l" and "i" are difficult
for scanning software to distinguish. For a while, our CD had several references to that famous "New Age saint" Caesarius of "Aries." But editing a hyperlinked CD is like chasing
a monkey through a jungle. As soon as you think you have it pinned down in one place it shows up somewhere else because everything is linked to everything else!
I suppose there actually is one final stage to producing a CD and I would like to enlist all readers of this newsletter in it. That final stage is to tell the CD editor when you discover a mistake.
My e-mail address is
"firstname.lastname@example.org." Tell me where the mistakes are. Unlike print books, CDs can be produced in small quantities and re-edited with each new release.
The Liturgical Press has assured me that they will incorporate corrections.
The accuracy issue probably cuts to the heart of what inspired me to consider the Rule of St. Benedict CD project.
My undergraduate training in theoretical linguistics conditioned me to ask questions about the explanatory adequacy of the operating theory or ideology of any field in which I became involved.
I recall raising such a question in one of my RB study classes and not getting a satisfactory answer.
I spent the next two years, then as director of University Ministry at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, pondering the question while I worked to promote the Benedictine heritage, part of which is a commitment to liberal arts education and literacy.
I saw that a new definition of literacy was taking shape in front of me, literacy that was dependent on computers.
Then it dawned on me that I had discovered my position in that cross-sectional view of the Church I set out to explore. By then I had the leisure to explore that insight as part of my doctoral studies.
I realized that we needed to initiate a shift, moving monastic research to a digital environment, if we expected the field to even catch the attention of this generation of students as a possible career choice.
I also realized that this digital environment would need to be able to replicate monastic, or at least Rule study, methodology to satisfy the concerns of our current scholars. It would need to keep pace with developments in other fields of humanities computing to satisfy the sophistication of the next wave of students. In all cases, accuracy of the text was crucial.
Now I have a very sharp and generous team of volunteers editing alongside me. Foremost among them is Sister Renée Branigan. We all know that, with this CD, we are releasing the first works in a new "manuscript tradition" as digital text overtakes other forms.
It has been very encouraging for me to receive the support of ABA members at every stage of this work. With this CD we've put down a strong foundation for other ABA members to build upon.
What do you see as the chief benefits of a resource like yours? What is its distinctive advantage since all these things are available already (a question for some of our less technology experienced readers)?
The Rule of St. Benedict Library: Primary and Secondary Sources takes advantage of a computer's ability to store and sort huge amounts of information.
The benefits of its CD format are speed and accuracy in searching for any word or phrase and in the portability and accessibility of the digitized books themselves.
You can locate any word in any language in any of the books on the CD in seconds. You can open both the Latin and English versions of RB and synchronize them so that scrolling in one window automatically brings up the corresponding page in the other window.
You can click on a Scripture reference and see it in context in either the English, Vulgate or Vetus Latina version if it is a psalm. You can also insert your own annotations that will be available at a mouse click the next time you visit that verse or section.
The CD itself is literally a library. Where else could you find RB 1980, Kardong's translation and commentary, the Vetus Latina Roman psalter, Vogüé RM from Sources Chretiennes, the Vulgate Bible, Early Monastic Rules, A Life-Giving Way, Eberle's The Rule of the Master and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible all together on one shelf? Even if you did, who would dare try to pick them up all at once?
As to evaluating the CD, very soon reviewers will take us through its features in depth and with a keen eye to its advantages and disadvantages according to their various scholarly interests. I look forward to learning from their reviews myself.
In this new and mushrooming field of computers and CDs, what else would you like to see in the area of monastic studies?
In spite of my work with computers, I am a pastoral minister and an educator. I want to see lay people able to touch the sources, to rediscover the charisms of the Church. The hunger is there. Let's master the means of literacy of the age and model the lectio divina they'll need to learn.
A first need is to bring the texts to people where they are. What the Paulists did for spirituality in general with their publications I'd like to see Benedictines do on CD with their sources.
I'd like to see Cistercian Publications release its publications, not simply on CD or the Internet (a step in the direction of greater dissemination) but in an integrated format such as the Logos Library System where the very selection of texts, their hyperlinking and the Logos desktop suggest an approach to the texts.
I'd like to see The Liturgical Press publish additional sets of books for the Rule of St. Benedict Library. One set would contain Cistercian Press' Pachomian Koinonia, the Rules of Basil and Augustine, the writings of Cassian and the Egyptian desert, with these primary sources bound around Columba Stewart's Cassian the Monk and Douglas Burton-Christie's
The Word in the Desert.
Another set would fill the need of medievalists by including Gregory's Dialogues and commentaries of the age.
There is certainly enough material and interest to justify a CD on medieval women mystics. The Logos format, for example, could accommodate both Hildegaard's writings and performances of her music.
The sheer volume of Augustine Baker's writings make them an interesting candidate for computerization. Who will step up to the task of bringing Jean Leclercq's work to the cyber-student?
Start, perhaps, with The Love of Learning and the Desire for God as providing plenty of hooks for hyperlinked primary sources. More gauntlets anyone?
I recall speaking to a novice from Duluth who inherited Dr. Julian Plante's archive of 2-D images of St. Benedict. It's time to publish that now. When the technology is mature, in about two years, I'd like to see a digital video team outfitted with 3-D scanners bring back some high definition renderings of Benedictine art so we can produce some stunning educational content for the PC-Internet-HDTV convergence.
There are ideas like these, some much better, that I've heard circulating out there but I don't want to tip anyone's hand. Watch and pray.
A second need is to bring the tools and skills of digital literacy to our scholars.
I'd like to see Father Hugh Feiss OSB's excellent
Benedictine Distance Learning initiative receive the support it needs to succeed.
I'd like to see others find the support to launch a "Studium" or other Web resource.
I'd like to see Brother Richard Oliver OSB's skills learned by many more monastics (yes, even if that means I'll be out of a job at his
In the last AMN I noted a call for suggestions on increasing membership. Here's mine.
The ABA should establish awards for innovative work in promotion and publication of monastic studies research and in the education of monastics/monastic studies students.
One area should cover developments in computers and other educational technology.
A third need is to direct the development of software to our uses. Logos should be looking outside its niche so it isn't surpassed by developments in the XML language or in
knowledge management software.
To finish this CD as a foundational level tool for RB studies, that is,
to accommodate the work of André Borias, Logos must add a data-visualization function which can graphically display relationships between sources, syntactic/rhetorical structures or semantic threads.
One approach could be
Xerox Inxight's semantic-space maps. A quicker, more practical solution could be to add-in Tom Sawyer Software's graphics module (www.tomsawyer.com).
I'd like to see a collaborative project for next generation computer-assisted monastic research software and strategies.
Benedictine colleges teamed up with the ABA, a foundation, and maybe a cooperative software company like Logos would hold a unique sort of academic conference.
Monastic scholars would present their work to their peers but humanities computing scholars would be equal participants there to analyze the methodologies, processes and tools used.
This event could pass Benedictines over the threshold from mastering digital literacy to shaping and evangelizing it.
There are more people ready to jump at this opportunity than you would imagine unless you had been looking for them, as I have.
My work on the Rule of St. Benedict Library CD has taught me that this project will be both expensive (an estimated $50,000) and intensive.
If the project is to succeed I must raise the first half in very short order and the remainder by fall.
I will also need polyglot editors who are willing to closely read the Rule in various languages. I just received permission to publish the SODEC-AIM French edition today. Czech, Italian and Polish are on their way.
I am anxious to locate translations in Third World languages. Contact me at email@example.com and I can provide project details and a report on progress-to-date.
This is an open invitation to ABA individual and institutional members and friends for editors and financial patronage.
How has this immersion in the Rule affected you personally? Why do you think the Benedictine way is so popular right now among people of so many faiths and lifestyles?
I think one reason the Rule of Benedict is now so popular is because Benedict's thought predates the divisions of the Protestant Reformation era.
In fact, I hope the decision to hone this CD as a tool for understanding Benedict's use of Scripture and the selection of an evangelical Christian-based software developer reinforces that aspect of the natural appeal of the Rule.
On another level, people today are looking for persons. They want to be brought back in touch with honesty, equanimity, a sense of place, history and belonging.
They want continuity in this chaos. Even if current conditions have also brought them prosperity, they want meaning and justice.
Benedictines as persons-in-community are what brought me to monastic studies. I think people find Benedictinism so popular because it has flowered, and hidden, seeds in all fields of human endeavor: art, music, literature, architecture, care of the land, etc. and not only liturgy, theology and spirituality where one might first think to look.
This CD is not a catalog of the flowers but one of the tools of the monastery for tending the seeds. It belongs in every monastery and in the hands of anyone who has heard themselves called out of the multitude and answered, "I do."
But, "Obsculta!" This CD is even more for those whom I have watched lose their way in the din of affluence, whose very brilliance has made this technology possible.
It is for those too young to recognize the calling voice or formulate their own questions but who will recognize this attempt to speak to them in their own media. See to it that they receive a copy.
They will know how to use it better than any of us.