A Declaration on Benedictine Monastic Life
for the Monasteries of the
Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation

Adopted 1975 by the General Chapter with changes approved in 2005.

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In the Apostolic Letter Ecclesiae sanctae, issued motu proprio the 6th of August 1966, Pope Paul VI set down norms for implementing certain decrees of the second Vatican Council. Among them was the Decree Perfectae caritatis on the renewal of religious life. According to the norms for implementing the latter, the general chapter of each religious institute was to go about revising that institute's constitutions. Ecclesiae sanctae, presupposing the constitutions typical of modern religious institutes, distinguished two kinds of material which were to be found in revised constitutions: the theological principles of religious life in the Church, and the juridic norms needed for defining the nature of the institute, its purpose, and the means to be used in achieving that purpose. This led the Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation's general chapter of 1969 to adopt two separate documents: one called a Constitution, containing the juridic elements, and the other called a Declaration, containing theological principles.

St. Benedict's Rule itself, however, abounds in statements of principle for the pursuit of the monastic ideal, as well as in prescriptions and prohibitions which constitute elements of proper law, indeed the only proper law shared by all Benedictine and Cistercian institutes today. Mindful of this, the general capitulars of 1969 tried to be attentive both to the Roman norms for constitutional revision and to the reality of our Benedictine polity by recognizing not two but three normative documents of the Swiss-American Congregation: the Rule, the new Declaration, and the new Constitution. They saw these three documents as integral parts of a whole to which they gave the name Covenant of Peace.

The choice of the terms "declaration" and "constitution" was inspired by the two parts of our previous code of proper law, the "Declarations on the Holy Rule" and the "Constitutions of the Swiss-American Congregation." In customary Benedictine usage, declarations are actually laws, by which a monastic congregation officially adapts sections of the Rule to the congregation's own observances and circumstances. Since 1969 our laws of this type have been placed either in our new Constitution or in the Customary which each monastery has drawn up to regulate its own observance. The new Declaration on Monastic Life is thus not a collection of declarations in the classical Benedictine sense. It is an attempt rather to draw vital principles from the Rule and other sources and to apply them to our life in the Church today, in order to complement our juridic elements, in response to Ecclesiae sanctae.

The general chapter of 1975 adopted a revised Declaration on Monastic Life, without repudiating the Declaration of 1969. In conformity with the original intention of Ecclesiae sanctae, a copy of this revised Declaration accompanied the definitive text of our Constitution and Statutes when it was submitted to the Apostolic See for the approval which it received on the 8th of December 1988.

By that time, however, the Declaration had gone out of print. Although by its nature it is always open to revision, the general chapter of 1990 determined that the Declaration of 1975, with its introduction and index, be reprinted without change, except for the adjustment of terminology and references which are now obsolete, and the alteration of expressions which are needlessly exclusive of women.

Acceding gladly to this wish, I direct that it be carried into effect as it was proposed.

+ Patrick Regan, O.S.B.
President of the Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation
Saint Joseph Abbey
The eighth day of December 1990


Foreword to 2006 Edition

A few years ago, in the course of an Abbot President's Council meeting, the suggestion was made that the Swiss American Benedictine Congregation's Declaration of Benedictine Life be reedited. The Council agreed, a committee was appointed, and it produced a revised text which was presented to, and approved by the 2005 General Chapter.

There was no intention to make a completely Revised Edition. Rather relatively minor changes were made in the text to improve the flow or replace slightly dated expressions or terms with more contemporary language.

The new edition was timely because the supply of the 1990 edition was almost exhausted. The Declaration of Benedictine Life would therefore have to be reprinted. However, when this matter was brought up at the 2005 General Chapter, it was suggested that the present edition doesn't need to be printed; it could simply be posted on the Swiss American Congregation Website. The abbots and delegates agreed with this proposal and this posting is the result. I hope that through this means, these Declarations will enjoy an even wider dissemination than the printed word would have given them.

Abbot Peter Eberle, O.S.B.
Swiss American Congregation
Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2006



The Rule of Benedict establishes a structure of monastic life. This Rule remains for succeeding ages the touchstone of authentic Benedictine life, but its principles must be applied to the present age with understanding and reflection.

This Declaration is an attempt to translate the lasting heritage of the Rule for monks of the Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation, preserving its unchanging principles while applying them to modem life. It brings to the understanding of the Rule the experience of monks of our day, and relates the particular goals and values of these monks to the larger communities of Church and world.

This statement, like others before it, serves for the current period. It aims to promote a better understanding of the monastic life for our times and hopes to encourage faithful response to its challenge.



In the listings of references to Scripture, the Rule and Council documents, the following are used for abbreviations:

LG -- Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
SC -- Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Liturgy
PC -- Perfectae Caritatis, Decree on Religious Life
GS -- Gaudium et Spes, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
DV -- Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation
AG -- Ad Gentes, Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity
UI -- Unitatis Redintegratio, Decree on Ecumenism
RB -- Rule of Benedict


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Rev. 08 Apr 2009 | www.osb.org/swissam/declaration/preface.html