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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/502

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BENEDICT


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BENEDICT


accomplishing that conversio morum which is in- fieparable from a life-long perseverance in the maxims of the Rule. The practice of obedience is a nec- essary feature in St. Benedict's idea of the religious life, if not indeed its very essence. Not only is a special chapter of the Rule devoted to it, but it is repeatedly referred to as a guiding principle in the life of the monk; so essential is it that it is the sub- ject of a special vow in every religious institute, Benedictine or otherwise. In St. Benedict's eyes it is one of the positive works to which the monk binds himself, for he calls it labor obedientice (Prologue). It is to be cheerful, unquestioning, and prompt; to the abbot chiefly, who is to be obeyed as holding the place of Christ, and also to all the brethren according to the dictates of fraternal charity, as being "the path that leads to God (Ch. Ixxi). It is likewise extended to hard and even impossible things, the latter being at least attempted in all humility. In connexion with the question of obedience there is the further question as to the system of government embodied in the Rule. The life of the community centres round the abbot as the father of the family. Much latitude with regard to details is left to his ■"discretion and judgment", but this power, so far from being absolute or unlimited, is safeguarded by the obligation laid upon him of consulting the brethren — either the seniors only or else the entire <'ommunity — upon all matters affecting their welfare. And on the other hand, wherever there seems to be a certain amount of liberty left to the monks themselves, this, in turn, is protected against in- discretion by the repeated insistence on the necessity for the abbot's sanction and approval. The vows of Poverty and Chastity, though not explicitly men- tioned by St. Benedict, as in the rules of other orders, are yet implied so clearly as to form an indis- putable and essential part of the life for which he legislates. Thus by means of the vows and the practice of the various virtues necessary to their proper observance, it will be seen that St. Benedict's Rule contains not merely a series of laws regulating the external details of monastic life, but also all the principles of perfection according to the Evan- gelical Counsels.

With regard to the obligation or binding power of the Rule, we must distinguish between the stat- utes or precepts and the counsels. By the former would be meant those laws which either command or prohibit in an absolute manner, and by the latter those that are merely recommendations. It is generally held by commentators that the precepts of the Rule bind only under the penalty of venial sin, and the counsels not even under that. Really grave transgressions against the vows, on the other hand, would fall under the category of mortal sins. It must be remembered, however, that in all these matters the principles of moral theology, canon law, the decisions of the Church, and the regulations of the Constitutions of the different congregations must be taken into consideration in judging of any par- ticular case.

III. Practical Working of the Rule. — No higher testimony as to the inherent excellencies of the Rule can be adduced than the results it has achieved in Western Europe and elsewhere; and no more striking quality is exhibited by it than its adaptability to the ever-changing requirements of time and place since St. Benedict's days. Its en- during character is the highest testimony to its wisdom. For fourteen centuries it has been the guiding light of a numerous family of religious, men and women, and it is a living code at the present day, just as it was a thousand years ago. Though modified and adapted, from time to time, to suit the peculiar necessities and conditions of various ages and countries, by reason of its wonderful


elasticity its principles still remain the same, and it has formed the fundamental basis of a great variety of other religious bodies. It has merited 'the en- comiums of councils, popes, and commentators, and its vitality is as vigorous at the present time as it was in the ages of faith. Though it was no part of St. Benedict's design that his spiritual descendants should make a figure in the world as authors or statesmen, as preservers of pagan literature, as pioneers of civilization, as revivers of agriculture, or as builders of castles and cathedrals, yet circum- stances brought them into all these spheres. His sole idea was the moral and spiritual training of his disciples, and yet in carrying this out he made the cloister a school of useful workers, a real refuge for society, and a solid bulwark of the Church (Dudden, Gregory the Great, II, ix). The Rule, instead of restricting the monk to one particular form of work, makes it possible for him to do almost any kind of work, and that in a manner spiritualized and ele- vated above the labour of merely secular craftsmen. In this lies one of the secrets of its success.

The results of the fulfilment of the precepts of the Rule are abundantly apparent in history. That of manual labour, for instance, which St. Benedict laid do«Ti as absolutely essential for his monks, produced many of those architectural triumphs which are the glory of the Christian world. Many cathedrals (especially in England), abbeys, and churches, scattered up and down the countries of Western Europe, were the work of Benedictine builders and architects. The cultivation of the soil, encouraged by St. Benedict, was another form of labour to which his followers gave themselves with- out reserve and with conspicuous success, so that many regions have owed much of their agricultural prosperity to the skilful husbandry of the sons of St. Benedict. The hours ordered by the Rule to be devoted daily to systematic reading and study, have given to the world many of the foremost scholars and writers, so that the term " Benedictine erudition" has been for long centuries a byword indicative of the learning and laborious research fostered in the Benedictine cloister. The regulations regarding the reception and education of children, moreover, were the germ from which sprang up a great number of famous monastic schools and universities which flourished in the Middle Ages.

It is true that as communities became rich and consequently less dependent upon their own labours for support, the primitive fervour for the Rule di- minished, and for this reason grave charges of cor- ruption and absolute departure from monastic ideals have been made against the monks. But, although it is impossible to deny that the many reforms that were initiated seem to give colour to this view, it cannot be admitted that the Benedictine Institute, as a whole, ever became really degenerate or fell away seriously from the ideal established by its legislator. Individual failures there certainly were, as well as mitigations of rule, from time to time, but the loss of fervour in one particular monastery no more compromises all the other monasteries of the same country than the faults of one individual monk reflect neces-sarily upon the rest of the com- munity to which he belongs. So, whilst admitting that the rigour of the Rule has varied at different times and in different places, we must, on the other hand, remember that modern historical research has entirely exonerated the monastic body as a whole from the charge of a general departure from the principles of the Rule and a ^-idespread corruption of either ideal or practice. Circumstances have often rendered mitigations necessary but they ha\-e always been introduced as such and not as new or better interpretations of the Rule itself. The fact that the Benedictines still glory in their Rule, guard it