in Middle English

in the series

Feminine Versions of the Rule of St. Benedict

Home Page

See Bibliography for editions, bibliographies and studies.

The Caxton Version (in frames) of the Rule of St. Benedict is an abridged, printed version of the Rule, translated and condensed by the London printer, William Caxton. Entitled A Compendious Abstract. . . of the Holy Rule of St. Benet, it was published as one of four parts of The Book of Divers Ghostly Matters, variously dated 1490 or 1491.

This work begins with a foreword (no frames) that explains the translator-editor's audience and purpose. It is intended for Benedictine nuns and monks who understood Latin little if at all. Its purpose was to help these monastics keep the Rule better both for their own sakes and to be better examples of the monastic life.

The Rule itself is presented in 36 sections; each begins with a large capital letter, represented here by a bold-face, upper-case letter. Most sections are also separated from the preceding text by an extra space. There are no chapter titles or numbers, and the text is written is narrative fashion. These sections are of unequal length, but in general the material follows the order found in the Rule; these are some exceptions.

In accordance with Caxton's stated purpose, the language is mostly gender-neutral rather than either masculine or feminine. Thus soveriegn is used instead of either abbess or abbot. Towards the end, however, Caxton uses mostly masculine language.

Caxton condensed the Rule in an uneven manner; some parts are mostly intact, others omitted entirely; five approaches may be distinguished.

Some chapters are rendered almost in full; that is, almost every verse is translated, though individual verses may be shortened (Chapters 3, 5, 19, 20, 32, 31, 33, 34, 36, 38, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72).

Substantial but not complete (ca. 50-90% of the original text) versions of other chapters are provided (Chapters 4, 6, 7, 45, 46, 48, 53, 64).

Much shorter versions of certain chapters (10-50%) are provided (Chapters 2, 18, 21, 35, 42, 43, 55, 59, 63).

Still other chapters are simply referred to (Chapters 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 37, 39, 40, 41, 60, 61, 62).

Finally, some chapters are not included or mentioned at all (Prologue, Chapters 1, 8-17, 26, 32, 44, 47, 50, 51, 57, 65, 73).

The text presented here was transcribed from a microfilm of the original text. It has been compared with the published edition of Ernst A. Kock, Three Middle-English Versions of the Rule of St. Benet and Two Contemporary Rituals for the Ordination of Nuns. Early English Text Society Original Series 120, 1902, 1987, pp. 119-140.

The character yogh occurs four times; it is represented here by gh or z, as appropriate in each case.

To facilitate comparison of the Caxton Version with the full text of the Rule of St. Benedict, chapter and verse numbers have been supplied, where these can be identified. Portions of text that cannot be so identified, e.g., summaries of entire chapters or portions of chapters, or conflated verses, are identified by letters (a, b, c) and are treated like regular verses. Two chapters (63, 64) appear in two places.

Each verse is identified by number and begins on a new line.

Notes are numbered consecutively throughout and are placed at the end of the relevant chapter.

Individual chapters of the Caxton Version of the Rule of St. Benedict are linked to the chapters of the following Table of Contents. (These chapter headings ae taken from the translation, RB1980). Chapters not highlighted as links below are not included in the Caxton Version.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. The Kinds of Monks

Chapter 2. Qualities of the Abbot

Chapter 3. Summoning the Brothers for Counsel

Chapter 4. The Tools for Good Works

Chapter 5. Obedience

Chapter 6. Restraint of Speech

Chapter 7. Humility

Chapter 8. The Divine Office at Night

Chapter 9. The Number of Psalms at the Night Office

Chapter 10. The Arrangement of the Night Office in Summer

Chapter 11. The Celebration of Vigils on Sunday

Chapter 12. The Celebration of the Solemnity of Lauds

Chapter 13. The Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days

Chapter 14. The Celebration of Vigils on the Anniversaries of Saints

Chapter 15. The Times for Saying Alleluia

Chapter 16. The Celebration of the Divine Office during the Day

Chapter 17. The Number of Psalms to be Sung at These Hours

Chapter 18. The Order of the Psalmody

Chapter 19. The Discipline of Psalmody

Chapter 20. Reverence in Prayer

Chapter 21. The Deans of the Monastery

Chapter 22. The Sleeping Arrangements of the Monks

Chapter 23. Excommunication for Faults

Chapter 24. Degrees of Excommunication

Chapter 25. Serious Faults

Chapter 26. Unauthorized Association with the Excommunicated

Chapter 27. The Abbot's Concern for the Excommunicated

Chapter 28. Those Who Refuse to Amend after Frequent Reproofs

Chapter 29. Readmission of Brothers Who Leave the Monastery

Chapter 30. The Manner of Reproving Boys

Chapter 31. Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer

Chapter 32. The Tools and Goods of the Monastery

Chapter 33. Monks and Private Ownership

Chapter 34. Distribution of Goods According to Need

Chapter 35. Kitchen Servers of the Week

Chapter 36. The Sick Brothers

Chapter 37. The Elderly and Children

Chapter 38. The Reader for the Week

Chapter 39. The Proper Amount of Food

Chapter 40. The Proper Amount of Drink

Chapter 41. The Times for the Brothers' Meals

Chapter 42. Silence after Compline

Chapter 43. Tardiness at the Work of God or at Table

Chapter 44. Satisfaction by the Excommunicated

Chapter 45. Mistakes in the Oratory

Chapter 46. Faults Committed in Other Matters

Chapter 47. Announcing the Hours for the Work of God

Chapter 48. The Daily Manual Labor

Chapter 49. The Observance of Lent

Chapter 50. Brothers Working at a Distance or Traveling

Chapter 51. Brothers on a Short Journey

Chapter 52. The Oratory of the Monastery

Chapter 53. The Reception of Guests

Chapter 54. Letters or Gifts for Monks

Chapter 55. The Clothing and Footwear of the Brothers

Chapter 56. The Abbot's Table

Chapter 57. The Artisans of the Monastery

Chapter 58. The Procedure of Receiving Brothers

Chapter 59. The Offering of Sons by Nobles or by the Poor

Chapter 60. The Admission of Priests to the Monastery

Chapter 61. The Reception of Visiting Monks

Chapter 62. The Priests of the Monastery

Chapter 63. Community Rank

Chapter 64. The Election of an Abbot

Chapter 65. The Prior of the Monastery

Chapter 66. The Porter of the Monastery

Chapter 67. Brothers Sent on a Journey

Chapter 68. Assignment of Impossible Tasks to a Brother

Chapter 69. The Presumption of Defending Another in the Monastery

Chapter 70. The Presumption of Striking Another Monk at Will

Chapter 71. Mutual Obedience

Chapter 72. The Good Zeal of Monks

Chapter 73. This Rule Only a Beginning of Perfection


Rev. 13.i.2000 /