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The Presumption of Striking Another Monastic at Will

Sunday, April 28, 2024

In the monastery every occasion for presumption is to be avoided, and so we decree that no one has the authority to excommunicate or strike any member of the community unless given this power by the prioress or abbot. "Those who sin should be reprimanded in the presence of all, that the rest may fear (1 Tm 5:20)." The young up to the age of fifteen should, however, be carefully controlled and supervised by everyone, provided that this too is done with moderation and common sense.

If any member, without the command of the abbot or prioress, assumes any power over those older or, even in regard to the young, flares up and treats them unreasonably, let that one be subjected to the discipline of the rule. After all, it is written: "Never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tb 4:16)."

This chapter of the rule is not about fist fighting. This chapter is about the arrogant usurpation of authority and the legitimization of violence. Even in a culture that routinely disciplined its young or unlettered with physical whippings, Benedict simply does not allow a culture of violence. Benedictine spirituality depended on personal commitment and community support, not on intimidation and brutality. Benedict makes it clear that the desire for good is no excuse for the exercise of evil in its behalf. This is an important chapter, then, for people whose high ideals lead them to the basest of means in the name of the achievement of good. To become what we hate-- as mean as the killers, as obsessed as the haters--is neither the goal nor the greatness of the spiritual life.