Rule of the Master


This feeling for, and respect of, persons is generally one of Benedict’s distinctive traits in comparison to the Master, but it is particularly interesting that he makes it a special duty of the abbot. In this way he replies to one of the chief criticisms addressed in our days to authority as it seems to have been exercised traditionally in the religious life. Superiors are much reproached for having ignored the graces and personal needs of their subjects, who are sacrificed to collective interests and to an inhuman concept of obedience. These complaints seem motivated in large part by an aspiration for a new statute concerning the religious superior, who would henceforth be placed ‘in the center of the community and in no way above it’.

We scarcely need to say that this new image of authority is alien to our rules and the efforts made recently to find it in primitive Pachomianism have turned out to be quite vain. But if the abbot of the monastic tradition is decidedly above the community, this fact, which can in no way be changed, does not prevent an extreme sensibility on the part of the legislator – as we see in Benedict – to the needs and weaknesses of individuals, a sensibility which he seeks in every way to communicate to the abbot. In this way the Benedictine Rule offers a permanent remedy to what seems to be one of the chief causes of the present uneasiness. (72)

In this third chapter of his The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary, Father De Vogüé continues to develop a theme that he has touched on previously, namely the importance of spiritual paternity in the Rule of Saint Benedict and the priority of the master-disciple model of community over and against that of a community of brothers.

Unlike the Augustinian or Basilian rules, both Benedict and the Master give priority to the abbot.

‘What sort of man should the abbot be?’ This is the first question which our authors pose. Nothing takes precedence over the abbot in their description of cenobitism, which they have just located on the map of the monastic world. The primordial place which they thus recognize in the abbatial office contrasts with the last place which Augustine assigns it in his directory for a superior. What came first in the Augustinian Rule was the union of hearts and the community of goods, of which our rules say nothing at the outset. The two perspectives are thus clearly distinct: on one side, Augustine’s communion, and on the other, the Master’s and Benedict’s school. And this school, as is right, has nothing more important than its teacher, the abbot. (66)

What is interesting, however, is that De Vogüé also identifies the Pachomian tradition with this emphasis on spiritual paternity (against scholars who have argued otherwise) and thus speaks of a common Egyptian tradition, whether eremitical or coenobitical, that has influenced both the Rule of Saint Benedict and that of the Master.

Central to both the Master and Saint Benedict is the question of the identity of the abbot and what it means to see him as the representative of Christ in the monastery. This concept was widely accepted in the Church of their day and

The Master therefore is not innovating in making the abbot the vicar of Christ in the monastery and the homologue of the bishop. His chief originality lies in explicating and systematizing thoughts which had remained till then more latent than formulated, more lived than reflected upon. The concept of ‘teacher’, the successor of the apostles, helps him thus integrate the abbatial office into the Christian hierarchy, alongside the episcopate. …

The abbot therefore is the successor of the apostles as ‘teacher’ (doctor), and the representative of Christ as abbas. … Christ’s scola should have as its doctor who holds the place of the one and only Master. (70)

While Saint Benedict sees the abbot in substantially the same terms as the Master does, he gives a more personal interpretation to the question ‘How should the abbot behave?’ and it is here that we see his development of the sensitivity that the abbot should have and his respect for the diversity of his subjects. Moreover, while the Master had only made a veiled allusion to the Rule,

With Benedict it appears as the supreme norm which should absolutely dominate every consultation of the monks and every decision of the superior. Doubtless this recourse to the Rule is related to the difficulties of the moment which we have just glimpsed, namely, that the law should both sustain the authority of the leader, and contain it. But the reminder has a permanent significance. At all times and especially in periods of universal decline, the community and the abbot have no better safeguard than a religious respect for an untouchable rule. An abbot is nothing without a rule. (73)

***

I’m aware that there are issues emerging in this reading that could be engaged and perhaps contested, or at least clarified, or that in any case raise interesting questions (e.g. what about abbesses?!) but I’m leaving them floating around at the back of head for the time being (in the hope that I may read some other perspectives too) and may or may not come back to them at some point…

Like their source, this section only aims at establishing the primordial necessity of the common life. The celebration of the anchorites is itself, after all, only an element of this demonstration. Not that there is room to suspect its sincerity, but if our authors admit with Cassian that the anchorite is great and admirable, this is precisely because they see in him a perfect cenobite, capable of doing without cenobitic discipline after having fulfilled it to perfection.

Perhaps the chief interest of this account of anchorites is that it places mercilessly before us an embarrassing fact; the Master’s cenobitism, like Cassian’s, regards the common life as a means and not as an end. We made this remark when commenting on the definition of the monastery as a school. We verify it here again. The most important thing in the cenobium does not seem to be the fraternal union in itself, but the struggle against the common enemy. When a member of the ‘battle line of brothers’ becomes capable of fighting alone, the monks admire his assurance and let him display his skill in solitude, with the help of God. Doubtless the Master gives cenobitism a more communitarian aspect by the Leonine touches of which we have spoken, but this community is a community of action, turned towards a well-defined goal and one exterior to itself, so to speak. We would dare call it an open cenobitism, both because it can empty out into a further eremitical stage and because, far from taking itself as an end point, it is ordered to a purification of consciences which is each person’s business.

Thoroughly ascetic and individualist, such a concept presupposes that the monk takes very seriously ‘the struggle against the vices of the flesh and of thoughts’. Monasticism, under its two valid forms, pursues this enterprise methodically. It has a task to accomplish which it holds as sovereignly important and absorbing. It is not by chance that the paragraph on hermits ends with the warlike formula we have just cited. The same formula is found equivalently at the end of the chapter on the abbot and on humility. It expresses a constant thought, a definite design. The purification of man, the elimination of ‘vice’ – that is indeed the great business of monastic life.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 57-58.

In his second chapter on “Common Life and Solitary Life,” a commentary on the first chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which discusses the four types of monks, Father de Vogüé returns to themes that he had raised in his previous chapter. His discussion serves to situate Saint Benedict’s perspective on eremitical and coenobitical life against the backdrop of its sources and to show its function in relation to the whole Rule.

Saint Benedict’s teaching on coenobites and hermits has received different interpretations and emphases, with some emphasising his preference for coenobites and others emphasising his praise for hermits as the fulfilment of coenobitical life. However, both presuppose that this chapter is intended to introduce the coenobitical legislation of the rest of the Rule, something that de Vogüé questions by returning to Saint Benedict’s sources. As with the Prologue, Benedict took this chapter over from the Master although reducing the sections on sarabites and gyrovagues. More importantly, however, he omits the Master’s presentation of the abbot as teacher and

removes what was in the Master’s eyes the very reason for the whole chapter. In the Master this chapter aimed only to introduce the one ‘On the Abbot’. Its real object was not to describe the various kinds of monks, or even to situate cenobitism among them or give it a definition, but to present the ‘teacher’ of the monastic scola, that is, the abbot. (46)

Moreover, behind the Master’s text lies Saint John Cassian’s Conference 18, attributed to Abba Piamun, thus placing him firmly in within Cassian’s monastic doctrine which viewed the coenobium as a training ground for the eremitical life, a position that was by no means universally accepted. In fact he even omitted Cassian’s own reference to the apostolic origins of coenobitical life, just as he shows little interest in providing a scriptural or Hellenic basis for eremitical life. This is because the Master’s priority is to present the three fundamental realities of Rule, monastery and abbot in order to lead to the theme of the abbot as teacher.

Given that Saint Benedict omits this presentation of the abbot, he has effectively “removed the end towards which the whole discourse moved.” (48)

Since these elements no longer support the final segment, we are tempted to see them only as teething stones now unused, or the foundations of a ruined edifice. Yet when we consider the new edifice, the Benedictine Rule, we can still recognize a function and meaning in them, but the function and meaning have been profoundly renewed. (48)

This Benedictine renewal consists in the introduction of the element of the Rule alongside that of the abbot, making these “for the first time the two constitutive principles of cenobitism.” (49) Furthermore, Benedict’s phrase “Let us go on to organize the valiant kind, the cenobites” now signifies a transition to something new.

A break has thus been established between the chapter ‘On the Kinds of Monks’ and the rest of the Rule. The chapter seems a preamble to the presentation, no longer merely of the teacher, but of the entire Rule. As a result a new meaning is attached to the whole description of the different kind of monks. (49)

However, we cannot know to what extent Benedict consciously did this, hence the importance of reading him against the backdrop of the Master and of Cassian, who clearly viewed the coenobium not only as a training ground for eremitical life, but who also situated the purpose of monastic ascesis in inner individual purification and the removal of vice. It is in this context that de Vogüé sees Saint Benedict and the Master as treating community as a means rather than an end.

When we have restored to Benedict’s definition the fullness of its meaning and significance, thanks to the Master, we can ask ourselves what it means for us today. Let us confess that at first sight it disappoints our expectations. Avid as we are for fraternal communion and charity, we experience some surprise at not finding these values explicitly proposed as the principal element of a rule for the common life. Just as the way in which Augustine, Basil and the Four Fathers began their work seems proper to us, so the ways of the Master and of Benedict leave us perplexed and unsatisfied. In spite of the plural which predominates in their introductions, we feel that their appeal is addressed more to the individual than to the group, and that this was viewed as a necessary means rather than as a good in itself.

On the other hand, if their invitation to listen to the word of God touches us by its biblical resonances, it seems to us too general to be the foundation for the particular kind of life they are proposing. What Christian with an eye on eternal life cannot, and should not, enrol himself in Christ’s school, whether he is in the world or in the cloister? The question is the more pressing because entry into this school implies leaving the world, and therefore a restriction of charity’s sphere, a break with human society, if not with the Church herself, and this raises a problem.

Finally, we do not see clearly the benefit to be derived from an institution conceived chiefly as a teaching establishment. What has this school to teach us? With what superior knowledge are its masters provided that they can teach us all our lives long? The Gospel is simple, clear, ready for being lived wherever one is, and it seems that a person will progress better in the knowledge of Christ by living it simply and intensely in the concrete condition where he is.

This sketch of our objections as moderns, to which each reader can easily make his own additions, does not really call for a reply. Rather than devising a section refuting objections, which would convince no one, we would do better to substitute the astonished, respectful attention of a person confronted with a way of thinking which in part remains alien to him. We do not have to banish this voice coming to us from ancient monasticism with the noise of our familiar themes, nor do we have to force it into unison with them, but rather let its original, irreplaceable sound resonate in us in all its purity.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 34-35.

Father de Vogüé concludes his introductory chapter on the Prologue by addressing the disillusionment and disappointment that a reading of Saint Benedict’s Prologue against the background of the Rule of the Master can cause, for such a reading does not sit easily with the comfortable appropriations of the Rule that are influenced by our own contemporary presuppositions. In addition to the points mentioned above, one can also mention the vertical nature its coenobitism (as “paternal” rather than “fraternal”) and its orientation to a future life.

We can, nevertheless, learn something from such a reading which jars with our assumptions. De Vogüé suggests that the Master and Saint Benedict can serve to remind us that Christianity is a serious thing, that

The christian law has a moral and ascetic content which is not encompassed at the first glance; its spiritual demands are far-reaching. To receive this teaching in its fullness and to put it into practice requires nothing less than a life wholly consecrated to the task. … This demands both the direction of qualified masters, capable of helping a man see clearly and reform himself, and an appropriate framework to life which makes it possible for him to attend continually to God and to his will. (35)

Moreover, such a commitment required separation from the world, or, as Saint Benedict phrases it “To become a stranger to the world’s ways,” (4, 20) a commitment which both the Master and Saint Benedict trace back to the Gospel, for

Our authors considered their monastery, separated from the world, as a simple consequence of the teachings of Christ and his apostles. In no way was monasticism to their eyes a universal religious phenomenon, originally independent of Christianity, which Christianity had assumed as best it could. On the contrary, according to them, monastic conversion replies purely and simply to the Gospel; the monastery is connected only with the baptistery; the school of the Lord’s service can be compared only with the Church. (36)

Thus grace and divine love intervene as we advance in the monastic life, and lessen the initial impression of severity. The observance still remains objectively what it is, but the heart within is changed. In other words, Benedict relativized the concept of ‘narrow way’, drawing attention to the subjectivity of the man who follows it. The opposition between the ‘narrow way’ and the ‘sweet yoke’ is not suppressed for all that, but this way of interiorizing the problem makes it lose its sharpness. ‘Narrowness’ and ‘breadth’, difficulty and ease are measured less by the objective tenor of the ascesis imposed than by the inmost dispositions of the ascetic. These latter improve with time and by virtue of the ascesis itself, until one experiences something more than the ‘easiness’ and the ‘lightness’ announced by Jesus, namely a ‘sweetness’ that cannot be expressed because it proceeds from ‘love’.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 32.

Having considered the background that the Rule of the Master provides to our understanding of Saint Benedict, and especially his understanding of the monastery as “school of the Lord’s service” Father de Vogüé now turns to Saint Benedict himself. He points out that the Master’s understanding of a school, both in the sense of learning and in the sense of service and suffering, are present in the Rule of Saint Benedict, and especially in his understanding of obedience. However, he also introduces a new note.

But it is especially in his final addition that he seems to have been preoccupied with this painful aspect of the ‘school of the Lord’s service’. He was invited to it by the Master’s austere conclusion: ‘to persevere until death … to share in the passion of Christ by patience’. This perspective of endless suffering here below visibly disturbed Benedict. By his addition he introduced into it a series of comforting touches, the chief of which is the promise of the expansion of the heart through love, and a sweet running in the way of God’s commandments once the initial tightness of the narrow way has been passed. The monk’s earthly life therefore is not a continual agony. Before the heavenly kingdom, it knows a certain happiness which Benedict even qualifies as ‘ineffable’.

Optimism, care to encourage the weak, interest in spiritual progress here below, an augustinian sense of the role of love in this progress, – many aspects deserve being picked out of this remarkable passage. But especially should be measure its impact on the notion of ‘the school of the Lord’s service’. Indeed, the only purpose of these lines is to brighten the sombre atmosphere in which the Master wrapped his scola. (30)

By declaring his intention to establish nothing harsh or burdensome, Saint Benedict alludes to the Gospel logion of Matthew 11:28-30 which the Master had used in his parable of the spring, but gives it a different interpretation by identifying heaviness not with sin but rather with the weight of observances. However, this does not mean that the Rule should not be demanding and so he introduces the image of the narrow way (Mt 7). Father de Vogüé suggests that Saint Benedict is playing with images here and that his purpose is to show that the way of salvation is only narrow at the beginning and becomes lighter as the heart enlarges and love takes over. Thus Benedict shifts the focus from the difficulty of the way to the transformation of the one who follows it.

This whole note therefore is an amendment to the sombre project of the scola laid down by the Master. The ‘Lord’s service’ will not be uniformly hard and painful. It will include restrictions, to be sure, but love will transform them into sweetness. And Christ does not reserve consolations for us only in his kingdom; even now he is for us both a lovable master and a companion in suffering.  (33)

These texts at the end of the Rule throw light on what the Master, meant by dominici scola servitii in his introduction. What the word servitii had made us suspect is confirmed strikingly. For our author, servitium was equivalent to militia, and this latter term, which evokes military or civil service is ordinarily associated with the term scola. The definition given in the commentary on the psalms has therefore a double meaning. In the first place scola there designates a scholastic establishment, as the words magisterium (teaching authority) and doctrina (teaching) used soon afterwards show. But the word also connotes a corps of soldiers or civil servants, suggested by servitium (service).

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 26.

Having discussed the educational implications of the word scola in the Rule of the Master, which serve to connect monasticism to the teaching of Christ, Father de Vogüé turns to another aspect of this word which was also important for the Master. He points out that in antiquity a school could refer to a professional fellowship or to a place set aside for it. It could also refer to a body of soldiers or civil servants. This suggests that

the activity exercised in this scola is a service, indeed a public service (militare), like that of the soldier or civil servant. (26)

De Vogüé continues:

The ‘school of the Lord’s service’ is therefore a complex metaphor which makes the monastery appear both as a teaching establishment and as a corps of soldiers or civil servants. (27)

Such an image is not as secular as it may sound, for it was also used to designate ecclesiastical orders. Its use by the Master highlights his understanding of the relationship between the monastery and the Church in which

Like the soldiers and functionaries in the state, the monks, together with the clergy and other ecclesiastical agents, fulfil a sort of public function in the midst of the christian people. They are enrolled in the service of God, withdrawn from every other occupation; and they give themselves wholly to serve God, and to do the will of the king, the Lord Christ. (28)

This meaning of the word scola has two important implications for the Master’s understanding of monastic life. Firstly, monasticism is about more than just “learning” – monks do not stay students forever, but are expected to grow up and to serve. And, secondly, this service will involve struggle, weariness and danger in which the monks come to share in the passion of Christ.

This theme of patience [mentioned to the postulant at the end of the Rule] , which gives rise to the well-known developments in the chapters on obedience and humility, has therefore a relationship with the definition of the monastery as a scola. Thus the image proves astonishingly rich. It suggests in turn the docility of the pupil and the obedience of the soldier, activity and endurance. Correlatively, it allows the person of Christ to be invoked under three complementary aspects: the master who teaches, the leader who commands, and the redeemer on the cross. (28-29)

If the Master and Benedict, following Cassian, recognize the legitimacy of anachoresis this is precisely because they represent cenobitic society as an educative enterprise rather than as a community of brothers living together a life which has value in and for itself. If they, like other monastic legislators, had taken as their model the primitive Church, where the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul, they would scarcely have allowed an exodus to the desert which might seem to assail this communion in charity. There is scarcely any place for eremitism when the union of hearts appears as the supreme value. On the contrary, nothing prevents one from leaving a school, if it is certain that one has exhausted its educative resources and can lead a more difficult combat in the wilderness.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 23.

Having considered the monastery’s relationship to the broader Church, Father de Vogüé turns his attention to the relationship between the monastery and the solitary life. He argues that, following Cassian, the Master and Saint Benedict see the monastic community in what could ultimately be thought rather functionalist terms as a preparation for solitude. While solitary life requires a thorough formation in the coenobium, the validity of eremitical life makes the monastery a school for eremitism. Moreover, the relationships in this school are primarily between a Master and disciples rather than between brothers in community.

The Christian community, either ecclesial or monastic, appears in the Master as an educative institution, where the relationship of disciples to master means almost everything and the relations of the disciples to one another means almost nothing. The aim of this institution is to lead to eternal life each of the persons entrusted to it. There is scarcely any building here below of a house of brothers where it is ‘good and pleasant to dwell together’. (23)

In contrast to Saint Basil, Saint Augustine and the rule of the Four Fathers, the Master and Saint Benedict do not begin with scriptural references to brothers living in unity (Ps 132) or the ideal community of the first Christians (Acts 2). Instead, the aspiring monk is addressed as an individual. De Vogüé concludes:

Our author was absorbed by his preoccupation with individual salvation, and could not give much attention to the communitarian dimension of christian prayer and life. If he firmly resolved to insert the neophyte and the new monk into a social framework, it was less to make him experience the riches and joys of a brotherly communion than to subject him to a sure guide, an authentic ‘teacher’. His monastic society was less a community than a school, and the school’s biblical foundation was found, not in the sweet words of the psalmist about the unanimity and joy of dwelling together or in the example of concord given by the Church of Jerusalem, but simply in the saying of Christ: ‘Enter my school, learn of me’. (25)

***

I must admit to a little disquiet at this perspective, especially as it applies to the Rule of Saint Benedict, although for now I shall suspend judgement and see how the theme develops in the rest of the book. Perhaps I have been more formed by a Cistercian reading of the Rule than I realised! And it is certainly the case that there is a solitude-community antinomy that seems to run through all forms of monasticism and that this perhaps should not be easily resolved. I suppose that I’m also reacting against the background of my reading of Being as Communion, and wondering about de Vogüé’s use of the contrast between individual and institution and whether this represents something significant ecclesiologically. But these are just less than half-baked thoughts that I need to work out more!

At this point we cannot evade a crucial question: is this monastic ‘school’ a part of the Church, or is it distinguished from it? The Master’s expressions we have analysed thus far give the impression that the two societies are certainly analogous and connected, but when all is said and done, outside each other. Whether we regard them as two successive moments in the same work or as two institutions of the same type, it is not clear that the monastery is in the Church. The same sentiment is felt when we see the Master having direct recourse to Scripture for the foundation of the monastic institution as for the Church itself. According to him, the scola of the monks has its proper foundation in the words of the Gospel ‘Learn of me’, just as baptism and the motherhood of the Church have theirs in the preceding words, ‘Come to me’. Similarly abbots seem to enjoy the charism of ‘teacher’ by the same title as bishops, and the most solemn words of Christ to his apostles are applied equally to both. All this seems to make the monastery and the Church two independent entities of the same rank, equally rooted in the soil of revelation.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 20-21.

Having pointed to the near identification between monasticism and Christian life in general, Father de Vogüé continues to probe the ambiguity in the Master’s view of the relationship between the monastery and the Church. Despite his tendency to see the monastery as independent from the broader Church, this is tempered by the liturgical role that he assigns to the bishop in the “ordination” of the abbot so that

abbots do not constitute an order perfectly symmetrical to the teaching-authority of the Church and independent of it. Only the episcopate inherits the apostolic succession in direct line. The hierarchy of the monasteries is grafted onto that of the Church at each generation. This crucial fact indicates a real subordination of the scola to the ecclesia. From the latter the monastic school receives not only its pupils, the baptized, but also its master, the abbot. (21)

Moreover, despite the Master’s apparent dismissal of those Christians who do not enter the monastery, in other places admits the existence of an “ecclesia in the world” as his recognition of the bishop’s authority also indicates. De Vogüé concludes:

If the monastery defines itself [as a school of Christ], it is not because it has an exclusive right to this title, or because it owes this quality only to itself. Rather, it holds its nature as a school from the Church and shares it with her. In the monastery, ecclesia mater develops and shows to the highest degree one of her essential attributes; the power to educate souls according to the teaching of Christ and to lead them to salvation. The monastery is therefore a ‘school’ only in the Church, by the Church, and for the Church. (22)

Monastic life then appears as the natural development of the being who is ‘renewed’ by baptism and as the normal existence of the ‘risen’. It tends to conform the sons of God to him whose image they bear from their ‘rebirth’, and whom they dare henceforth to call ‘Father’. Consequently it consists in submitting to the divine law, and more precisely to the ‘Christian law’, the Lord’s commandments. In addition, since our reparation has been obtained by the cross of Christ, we can complete it only by sharing in his passion. Only the sharing of his sufferings will make us co-heirs of his glory.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 18.

Having showed that The Rule of the Master uses the category of scola to connect the monastery to the Gospel so that one enters it in order to place oneself under Christ’s tutelage, Father de Vogüé proceeds to outline the Master’s perspective on monasticism’s intimate connection to baptism. Indeed, he does not seem to make much distinction monks and other Christians or – at least in places – to envisage the possibility of non-monastic Christians. The monastery simply forms the bridge between baptism and the Kingdom.

This sort of convertibility between monasticism and Christianity explains the at first sight the astonishing simplicity and indetermination of the long invitation to monastic life which forms the last part of the Thema. In order to move his reader along to his monastic ‘school’, the Master finds nothing to offer him but the prospect of the eternal ‘life’ and ‘repose’ which are proposed to every Christian. …

The scola of the monastery therefore plays in the Master’s thought a mediating role between the baptismal spring and the fulfilment of the kingdom. It allows passage from one to the other. After having been ‘re-created’ by the sacrament, one must ‘place oneself in the school’ of Christ in order to arrive at the ultimate ‘repose’ which he has promised. …

Thus the Christian or the monk – it is all one – is in a dubious position. Already the son of God, of the Church, and of the christian law, he remains nevertheless a son of folly, incapable of directing himself and subject to the fatal illusions of his self-will. The exact purpose of the monastery is to procure for him the sure direction which he cannot do without, while awaiting the day when alone he will perhaps be able to keep himself from sin, with the help of God. (18-19)

As a synonym of monasterium, which figures in the following phrase, the word scola makes the monastery the chief place where Christ teaches. The use of this term scola is laden with meaning. First of all, by means of it the monastery is connected to a word of the Gospel. Although neither the word monasterium nor even the idea of a monastery is found anywhere in the New Testament, indeed in the whole of Scripture, recourse to the word scola amounts to basing this new type of society on the word of God by making it seem like a response to the words of Christ, ‘Learn of me’.

Adalbert de Vogüé. The Rule of Saint Benedict. A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary.Kalamazoo, Michigan; Cistercian Publications, 1983. 17.

In a previous post we saw Father de Vogüé’s argument that Saint Benedict took over the Master’s commentary on the Psalms precisely because it ended with the intention to establish “a school of the Lord’s service.” For the Master, this imagery of a school is rooted in Christ’s appeal that he invokes in the parable of the Spring and which Benedict leaves out:

Take up my yoke upon you, and put yourself in my school, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light. (Mt 11: 28-30)

The Master sees this call as addressed to all human beings and thus monastic life appears as a prolongation of baptism. Moreover, he sees this call as containing two elements. In the first place, we are to turn away from sin – “Come to me … and I will refresh you” – which is identified with baptism. And in the second place, we are called to leave the world – “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me” – which is identified with the monastery.

The Master understands the burden of sin to which the Lord refers not as the weight of the law, but rather as “the torments and servitudes of sin.” (15) For those crushed by the consciousness of sin, the law of Christ represents a liberation. Thus he sees the contrast not so much as a contrast between Law and Gospel (as modern and even some patristic commentators do) but between sin and the renunciation of sin brought by baptism. This is in keeping with the logion of the two ways (Mt 7: 13-14) which the Master invokes in his Prologue.

This superficial antinomy between the ‘narrowness’ of the way and the ‘lightness’ of the burden resolves itself, if we with our author understand the second, not as the easiness of a rule that does not demand much, but of the interior liberation and relief procured by purity. Objectively the way is narrow, certainly, and Christ’s demands are formidable, but the deliverance from sin which is bought at this price gains the soul quiet, ease, and relief. The perspective opened by the Master is not very different from the views that Benedict was to expound in the final addition to his Prologue, when he spoke of the way of salvation, whose beginning seems narrow but whose sequel is only enthusiasm, love, and inexpressible sweetness. (15-16)

I don’t normally watch videos online – sort of an unofficial personal rule, after all, what’s the point of not watching television if one can simply go online and watch virtually anything? – but while searching (unsuccessfully) for an English translation of the Rule of the Master I came across this short (six minute) video of Father Luke Dysinger OSB speaking on the difference between the Rule of the Master and the Rule of Saint Benedict, particularly in their view of the abbot, which may be of interest to others.

On the topic of Fr Dysinger (whose work on Evagrius I’d really like to read sometime, but that’s a longer term project), he has made some useful resources available here.

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