A statement on the American-Cassinese Benedictine Monastic Life
Thirty Sixth General Chapter, Second Session, June 1969
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Problems
Part 3 - Life
Elements of Benedictine Life
Part 4 - Conclusion
This section proposes to set forth those areas of spiritual doctrine and structure which have traditionally been associated with Benedictine life. The elements presented in the following pages are an endeavor to describe the heritage from which any movement toward the future must proceed (cf. No. 4 and No. 5, Part I - Introduction). This is the principal task envisioned by this section.
On occasion departure is made from a purely historical exposition in order to suggest a creative interpretation through the use of contemporary theology and the insights of recent biblical studies. This approach seems justified if only because the Rule itself represents a particular specification of the gospel message in accordance with the understanding of the Bible available at that time.
(1) Life According to the Rule. Benedictine life is defined generically as "life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict." Life according to the Rule does not imply juridical literalness, nor does it mean selecting some aspects of the Rule which appeal, while disregarding others that do not. Furthermore, the problem is not solved by saying that there is a broad spirituality embodied in the Rule which can be detached from the Rule itself, or by pointing to external oblates to exemplify the principle that holds it possible to embrace this broad spirituality even though one does not live the monastic life.
Rather, Benedictine life ought to be regarded as a specific form of life with its own proper inspiration. This inspiration is of crucial importance, since monastic inspiration is logically and temporally prior to the Rule, and can thus be invoked as a criterion -- indeed, the criterion -- for the interpretation of the Rule. This basic inspiration, moreover, is both served by and produces a specific spirituality. (By Benedictine spirituality we mean the complex of doctrine and means which in their combination and emphases can be differentiated from the spirituality common to all Christians.) This inspiration is sustained and supported by structures that are commensurate with that spirituality. Thus, three factors converge to define the area signified by life according to the Rule:
a. an inspiration peculiar to the Benedictine monastic life, distinct from other forms of Christian life;
b. a particular spirituality that is not common to all Christians or to all religious;
c. structures that provide the necessary framework for this inspiration and spirituality, and aid in their implementation.
(2) Inspiration and Spirituality. Since the inspiration is crucial in determining Benedictine identity, it is necessary to clarify this as accurately as possible. By inspiration is meant the charism that lies at the origin of the monastic movement, and, more particularly, the charism which the author of the Rule possessed. This gift called into existence a form of life in the Church which has a specific role to play, a function which enables a particular aspect of the total Christian teaching to be brought into special prominence.
Christ our Lord proclaimed the kingdom or reign of God, and calls all to respond to his gospel by faith and conversion. Not all Christians will manifest this faith and conversion in the same way. The monastic charism embodies the gospel command of love in a community which places special emphasis on the transcendence of the kingdom and on the passing character of this present world. The prophetic facet of Christian existence is accentuated in Benedictine life. Thus the special inspiration underlying this form of life accords prominence to the eschatological aspect of the Christian's response to the gospel, so that certain values which are common to all Christians receive special emphasis in Benedictine life:
a. the seeking of God and his kingdom are stressed in the attempt to be increasingly united to God through intense and loving prayer;
b. the attitude of not being of this world is given expression in a certain separation from the ordinary society of men;
c. the gospel call to conversion -- metanoia -- is sacramentalized by a life of penance and renunciation.
The Rule of Benedict was meant to serve this threefold complex of means towards the kingdom, and consequently it articulates very well the basic inspiration, the spirituality, and the structures spoken of above. The inspiration itself arises from the Spirit moving men to exercise a particular function in the body of Christ. The inspiration must underlie the functioning of all the elements, and these must be understood as serving and expressing it.
(3) Dynamism and Creativity. Time and again one sees the author of the Rule of Benedict suggest revision to accommodate the Rule to circumstances of time and place. At the same time, the Rule inculcates fidelity to the tradition from which it arose and to the lasting enrichments added to this tradition by the Rule itself. In short, the Rule does not suggest simply a balance of factors to make for a monastic life; rather, a creative fidelity is evoked, a spirit by which monastic tradition is constantly reshaped in the light of the exigencies of each succeeding age.
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