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The Rule of Saint Benedict

Rule of Saint Benedict
Medal of Saint Benedict

The holy beauty of the rule of St. Benedict is apparent even today to those who step inside a Benedictine monastery. Saint Benedict designed his rule for the laity, not clerics. He wanted everyday people to live their lives according to the will of God. In fact, the clerical state of the Benedictines was imposed at a later date by the papacy; it was not what Benedict had in mind at all. St. Benedict created an order of religious life that is essentially social, using the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount as its guide. The monks and sisters of St. Benedict were to interact with each other as well as the poor and passers-by. St Benedict did not designate a particular work for his monks. However he believed strongly in work as being essential to man’s life. It is "the universal lot of man, necessary for his well-being as a man and essential for him as a Christian." 1

St. Benedict Cross

Benedict wrote his rule in the sixth century. The Rule became so popular with religious orders that, by the ninth century, the Church was referred to as monastic. The best original copy of the Rule of St. Benedict manuscript we have today comes from the 9th century and is kept in St. Gall, Switzerland. St. Benedict’s greatest source for his Rule was an anonymous essay called "The Rule of the Master," which was written two or three decades before he wrote his Rule. The Rule of St Benedict consists of 73 chapters and a prologue. Benedict tried to account for every happenstance of daily life that could occur within a community as he wrote. The abbot ruled as a monarch but he was bound to listen to the advice of the elders of the community and the community at large. Interestingly, St. Benedict did not require his followers to take a vow of poverty in his Rule. The individual monk was not to own anything but the community as a whole should be in the position to offer charity. In fact, the Benedictine order quickly became famous for its hospitality, a trait that continues to be Saint Benedict Rulehonored by all Benedictine communities today.

Many religious orders follow Benedict’s famous Rule. The white robed monks of St Benedict are one more modern community that combine the Rule of St. Benedict with a meditation practice called "zazen." The white robed monks claim to be neither Roman nor Orthodox, but Catholic, as Christ was Catholic. 2

Benedict’s Rule holds an attraction for lay Catholics as well; many pursue their devotion to St. Benedict by becoming oblates. An oblate is a clerical, religious or layperson that dedicates him or herself to living by Saint Benedict’s Rule, without joining a particular community. 3 They continue to live in their own homes and pursue their own individual work, but all in the spirit of St. Benedict.