Skip to main content

This Rule Only a Beginning of Perfection

Saturday, August 31, 2024

The reason we have written this rule is that, by observing it in monasteries, we can show that we have some degree of virtue and the beginnings of monastic life. But for anyone hastening on to the perfection of monastic life, there are the teachings of the early church writers, the observance of which will lead them to the very heights of perfection. What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life? What book of holy writers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator? Then, besides the Conferences of the early church writers, their Institutes and their Lives,there is also the rule of Basil. For observant and obedient monastics, all these are nothing less than tools for the cultivation of virtues; but as for us, they make us blush for shame at being so slothful, so unobservant, so negligent. Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with Christ's help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners. After that, you can set out for the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we mentioned above, and under God's protection you will reach them. Amen.

Church and their commentaries on scripture, and the classic contributions of other writers on the monastic life. But Benedict does not believe that the simple reading or study of spiritual literature is sufficient. He tells us to keep this rule, its values, its concepts, its insights. It is not what we read, he implies, it is what we become that counts. Every major religious tradition, in fact, has called for a change of heart, a change of life rather than for simply an analysis of its literature. The Hasidim, for instance, tell the story of the disciple who said to the teacher, "Teacher, I have gone completely through the Torah? What must I do now?"

And the teacher said, "Oh, my friend, the question is not, have you gone through the Torah. The question is, has the Torah gone through you?"

Even at the end of his rule, Benedict does not promise that we will be perfect for having lived it. What Benedict does promise is that we will be disposed to the will of God, attuned to the presence of God, committed to the search for God and just beginning to understand the power of God in our lives. Why? Because Benedictine simplicity gentles us into the arms of God. Benedictine community supports us on the way to God. Benedictine balance makes a wholesome journey possible. Monastic prayer, rooted in scripture lights the way. It is a way of life, a spirituality that makes the humdrum holy and the daily the stuff of high happiness. It is a way of life that lives life to the fullest offering, as this final chapter promises, that even more of the meaning of life is there for our taking if we will only follow this simple but profoundly life-altering way.