The Order of Saint Benedict

American Benedictine Academy


 

Letter from Scott Rains DMin to ABA Members

June 1996

Dear Colleagues,

The attached essay is an attempt on my part to stimulate discussion on computer-assisted methodology for the study of the Rule of Saint Benedict. It was originally written for an audience of software developers and book publishers with an interest in religious publishing. A version was also circulated among my colleagues at the time it was written at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL.

The discussion took concrete form when The Liturgical Press and Logos Research Systems <www.logos.com/> became interested in the possibility of developing a computer based environment for Rule study and invited me to participate, In the fall of 1996, The Liturgical Press released a CD-ROM tool of the Documents of Vatican II and plans a similar CD for the study of the Rule of Saint Benedict for the fall of 1998. It will include the original latin and English sections of RB 1980, Terrence Kardong OSB's commentary, the Vulgate, the Roman Psalter, the Rule of the Master in latin & English, various shorter monastic texts, and a collection of scripture, commentaries and sources.

I would greatly appreciate your help in shaping this tool. With the selection of the Logos search engine and environment, which I will explain below, most of the capacities outlined in the essay will be available on this CD-ROM. Understanding how you are going about your current research into the Rule will help us adapt the Logos portion of the package. Knowing specifically which print materials are critical to your work will help us prioritize the textual content to include.

Our goal is to create a tool which, because of its specificity allows for original research in monastic studies, because of its breadth allows for the repetition/validation of previous research, and because of its ease of use allows the teacher or student the possibility of progressively more challenging engagement with the texts.

The CD's Logos environment allows access to texts in a number of ways. It is a Windows (3.x or 95) environment which allows for multiple documents to be open simultaneously. For example, you can open a Latin version of the Rule next to an English translation and link them so that as you scroll through one the other follows along. Further, Logos allows for word searches within a single work or across the entire contents of the CD-ROM using wild card and regular expression searches. Up to eighty of these searches can be stored. In addition, key words may be hyperlinked to explanatory articles, footnotes or the full text of the citation. Also, you may attach your own notes to any line of text or export the text to your word processor.

As I say in the essay below, a new definition of literacy is evolving. It already impacts many aspects of our research, This project is an effort to consciously direct that impact. My hope is that the dialogue leading up to the release of this CD-ROM will clarify some of the limitations and possibilities of the project. In the end, I hope this work can serve as a bridge to a new generation of scholars and others interested in the Benedictine tradition.

I may be reached in a number of different ways depending on your convenience. My office phone with voicemail is (708) 829-6028. Do not hesitate to ask me to call you back. I can be reached via e-mail at <srains@slip.net>.

I look forward to your collaboration,

Sincerely,

Scott Rains, D.Min.

 

Computer Assisted Research in Monastic Studies

Scott Rains DMin
written while at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

The Rule of Saint Benedict (RB) is a foundational document in the history of Western Christianity. It serves as a bridge between the patristic Eastern tradition and the emerging European tradition of the sixth century. Scholarship on the Rule has matured to produce a well defined research methodology and an exhaustively researched corpus of literature. While all this has been accomplished without the aid of computers, the character of the text and the methodology subsequently devised, lend themselves to computerization. Recent software developments make the computer an essential tool in the further development of Rule Studies.

Accommodating the Past and the Future

The scholarly study of the Rule of Saint Benedict is at a crossroads. Meticulous study of the Latin manuscript tradition of the Rule produced maps of RB's literary structure, lexical concordances and thematic indices. Scanning the Rule for scriptural quotations and allusions generated tables of correspondence. Similar study revealing the numerous patristic sources of the Rule, including its dependence on the Rule of the Master, resulted in still other concordances, indices and graphical representations of textual relationships. Each tool reflected, and in turn modified, the methodology of Rule Studies.

Events outside the field of Rule Studies have determined the next turn in methodology. Computer assistance provides new avenues for pursuing the scholarly study of RB. Carefully designed, software could preserve and consolidate each of the scholarly advances described above. Skillfully used, it would reveal previously undiscovered relationships in the texts as currently studied and suggest new, fruitful avenues for further study. What would such software look like?

Notes on Software Suitable for Rule Studies

In order to visualize software for Rule Studies, it is helpful to review the nature of the text being studied: The Rule of Saint Benedict for Monks or RB.

This sixth century piece of Christian literature is the work of Benedict of Nursia, a hermit turned cenobitic (community-focused) monk. By intent it is a regula; a rule of life for monks choosing to live together under the authority of an abbot and a codified, scripture-based way of life. As writing it falls in the genera of "wisdom literature." The Rule scholar habitually and methodologically approaches scripture cognizant of Benedict's unique approach to the Word. RB, however, is no less important a lens for the scripture scholar seeking to understand the historical development of exegesis in the West. As such, RB might be seen as a pragmatic, rather than dogmatic, systematic or devotional, commentary on scripture.

RB is heavily dependent on another monastic rule - the Rule of the Master, Benedict's Rule follows much of the structure and content of the Master. RB is approximately one third the size of the Rule of the Master. The consensus of scholars is that Benedict's unique contribution to Christian literature lies as much in what he carefully omitted from his predecessor as in the new elements he introduced. Behind his redaction there is evidence that Benedict had a mastery of the patristic and early monastic tradition. Over forty such works can be demonstrated to have influenced his Rule.

Scripture holds a primary place in the monastic tradition. Psalmody is the fundamental prayer form. Recited in private, repeated in synaxis, chanted in liturgy, Psalms mark the opening and closing of each monastic day, punctuating it in between. They constitute a major element in the formation of a distinctly monastic consciousness. Benedict devotes twelve chapters to psalmody. Oral reading of other books from scripture also figures importantly in RB. Rule scholars are interested to observe the patterns in Benedict's utilization of scripture in order to better understand his exegetical and theological presuppositions.

Software designed with Rule Study in mind must take into account the nature and structure of RB. This software would create a research environment which is:

Multilingual. English, German and French predominate in the literature of Rule Study. Latin is the language in which RB and its sources are primarily written. The results of Benedictine Rule Studies have applicability to members of Benedictine monasteries worldwide for whom RB is a formative, living document translated into many modern languages, thus, this software must not be constrained by language or orthographic limitations in either its word processing or search engine capabilities.
Expandable. A basic package would include the Latin and English texts of the Rule of Benedict, the Rule of the Master, Scripture (i.e. the Roman Psalter, Vetus Latina and Vulgate) and various Patristic authors. Chief among the monastic rules cited by Benedict are those of Basil, Augustine and Pachomius. Additional modules of interest to scholars would include early commentaries on the Rule (e.g., Smaragdus which has not yet been translated to English from the Latin, etc.) Popularization of the Rule has occurred among Catholics and non-Catholics creating a demand for contemporary commentaries such as those by Esther de Waal, Norvene Vest, Terrence Kardong, Brian Taylor, Adalbert de Vogue, Luke Dysinger and Joan Chittister. With the current interest in chant it is possible that an audio applet would be useful in both research and classroom instruction.
Queriable. At its current stage of development Rule Studies is a classic example of a methodology consisting of queries to a stable database. The field is surprisingly devoid of lexical frequency counts or statistical analyses. The complexity of the textual relationships between Rule and sources guarantee first generation computer-assisted researchers a multitude of lines of inquiry to pursue. Queries to the RB database would allow scholars to prove/disprove for themselves the appropriateness of the various concordances and indices available to the field. This, in turn, will generate new scholarly questions.
Editable. Word processing capabilities would be necessary. The ability to print textual selections, results of queries and other reports would make this tool applicable to the teaching scholar. Standard Windows features such as Bookmarks, Notepad, MDI configurations would be expected. In addition, the ability to input variant texts (manuscripts) or translations would allow the scholar to customize the database according to the best recent discoveries and run queries to examine for subsequent insights into the material. Similarly, the ability to create and save multiple (sometimes competing) outliness of the literary structure of the texts is essential.
Graphical. The complexity of the next level of textual, metaphorical and conceptual relationships which Rule Study must address, requires a new level of sophistication in the presentation of scholarly discoveries. Tabular representations suffice for one-to-one comparisons such as RB/Scripture or RB/Rule of the Master. Outline formats serve for lexical concordances or thematic indices and representations of literary structure. Studies depicting the multiple relationships of the dozens of sources behind a particular chapter, paragraph or verse require a 3-D interpretation. Relationships between linked concepts or metaphors benefit from a flowchart format. Classroom presentation can call for sound, slide or video capability.

An Appeal to Rule Scholars

A software solution which is multilingual, expandable, querible, editable and graphical will be applied to Rule Studies in the near future. How will that come about?

A process as uninspired as demand -"pure market forces" -- guarantees the inevitability of the adoption of computer tools as standard in Rule Study. The prevalence of personal computers and dramatic improvements in both sophistication and ease of use of PC software, insures that this solution will be within the grasp of Rule scholars. The text-focused nature of the field and the ease of automating much Rule Study methodology indicates that the tradition to a new technology can preserve continuity with the past. But is the merely inevitable desirable or is there a place for the exercise of choice in the future direction of the field?

That is, do scholars have responsibility for the "marketing" of the Rule of Benedict as global culture meets the impact of a transition from a print to a digital civilization? As the world adopts a computer-based culture of literacy, the Rule of Benedict will become available electronically as well. The manner in which it is presented and the context within which it is placed, its media, are as crucial as the message contained in the Rule itself for all those whose first contact with this wisdom writing is as lectio divina in cyberspace.

Many, if not most, Rule scholars are intimately, personally involved with the way of Benedict. We are monks, male and female. We are laity, married, single, divorced and widowed. We are pure scholars or "hyphenated" scholars -- teachers, administrators, formation directors, etc. We approach our scholarly, religious, professional and family lives with a sense of purpose. We present the Benedictine tradition with integrity. We do so because we understand that we have a responsibility to carefully develop and pass on a tradition which we have received.

Our mastery of emerging means of communication will, in some measure, contribute to the faithful transmission of our tradition. The same Benedictine tradition which has insisted that literacy was fundamental to Christian worship, must now meet the challenge of the new literacy - and infuse it with the Benedictine experience of the sacred.

Scott Rains DMin
California, USA

E-mail: <SRains@slip.net>

OSB Index | RB Studies
American Benedictine Academy
The Liturgical Press
 


 

OSB. ABA. Rule Study Projects / 961220; rev. 990715 / © Copyright 1996-99, by Scott Rains, D. Min. / www.osb.org/aba/rb.rbproj.html