I’m afraid that I have a tendency to try and read too many books at a time. Anyway, seeing that I’m reading de Vogüé and that I haven’t focussed that seriously on the Rule before (I’m ashamed to admit it, but there are a number of important areas where I haven’t focussed that seriously before), and that we’ve recently acquired Introducing Benedict’s Rule by Michael Casey and David Tomlins (the prior and abbot respectively of Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia), I thought that I’d dip into it too as I proceed.
The first chapter addresses the issue I raised in my last post on Father de Vogüé’s book, namely the possibility and desirability of a literal following of the Rule today. This chapter (written by Father Michael Casey) outlines the following six “Principles of Interpretation and Application” to guide a study of the Rule.
- First principle: RB does not act directly upon community regimen, but on the minds and hearts of community members.
- Second principle: Understanding RB is facilitated by appreciation of its historical cultural and linguistic characteristics.
- Third principle: RB is part of a living tradition. Understanding the Rule involves an appreciation of the values and beliefs of both previous and subsequent tradition.
- Fourth principle: Not all aspects of the thought of RB are worthwhile; having attended closely to the meaning of some sections, one may judge them to be inapplicable.
- Fifth principle: Understanding RB is facilitated by a commitment to the program of which the Rule is part; participation in a living tradition gives “family access” to the texts which give expression to the tradition.
- Sixth principle: The capacity of RB to enhance the consciousness of modern readers is grounded in the fact that it proposes an alternative perspective to that normally adopted by them.
Perhaps his discussion of the last principle is worth quoting more fully.
The whole impact of an ancient text such as RB derives from the fact that it preserves a “memory” of a way of seeing and doing things which is not governed by contemporary ideology. The ancient approach is not normative; there is no question here of advocating neo-primitivism. It does have the effect of reminding us of the sheer relativity of many aspects of thought and conduct which we have come to think of as absolute. Too often we appear to accept uncritically beliefs and values which contribute little to the unfolding of a vocation; it does us no harm sometimes to be reminded of an alternative system. If it is true that we are not easily able to assess the impact of values which we have absorbed in the process of growing up – we take them for granted; they are self-evident – then it is also true that we have internalised beliefs and attitudes that work contrary to our vocations, but without knowing it. By allowing such presuppositions and prejudices to enter into dialogue some of their potential for harm can be voided. Out in the open we are able to asses them critically and either accept, modify or reject them. Such dialogue works best when it is transcultural, when we allow the views of one not reared in our culture to percolate through our awareness; then there is possibility of change. The very strangeness inherent in RB which at first seemed to be such an obstacle to its understanding, now appears as an asset. It is good to read something about monastic life that comes from another setting and from a different world. It may challenge us to re-examine aspects of our thought and practice; it may also confirm us in what we hold and do. In either case it will have impact only to the extent that it acts as an autonomous agent, piercing the habitual shell of our customary positions and causing us to wake up. (20-21)