Skip to main content

The Manner of Reproving The Young

Sunday, July 7, 2024
Chapter 30

Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment. Therefore, as often as the young, or those who cannot understand the seriousness of the penalty of excommunication, are guilty of misdeeds, they should be subjected to severe fasts or checked with sharp strokes so that they may be healed.

In the early centuries of monasticism, it was not uncommon for people to dedicate their children to religious life at a very early age or, much in the style of later boarding schools, to send them to an abbey for education where they lived very like the monastics themselves. The monastery, then, was a family made up of multiple generations. Benedict made provisions for every member of the community. Life in the Benedictine tradition was not a barracks or a prison or an exercise in deindividuation. On the contrary.

In the age of Benedict, however, the corporal punishment of children was a given. It was a given, in fact, in the homes and schools of our own time until, in the late twentieth century, social psychology detected the relationship between violence in society and violence against children. Only in our time has it finally become been questionable for a teacher to whip a student or for a parent to spank a child. The question is then, should this chapter now be discounted in the Rule? Children don't enter monastic communities anymore and children are not raised in them. The answer surely is no. The real lesson of the chapter is not that young people should be beaten. The continuing value of the chapter is that it reminds us quite graphically that no one approach is equally effective with everyone. No two people are exactly the same. In bringing people to spiritual adulthood we must use every tool we have: love, listening, counsel, confrontation, prayer that God may intervene where our own efforts are useless and, finally, if all else fails, amputation from the group.

The real point of this and all seven preceding chapters of the penal code of the Rule is that Benedictine punishment is always meant to heal, never to destroy; to cure, not to crush.