The Rule of St. Benedict was composed in the 6th century by St. Benedict of Nursia when he was abbot of Monte Cassino. It is a relatively short document, comprising a prologue and 73 chapters. Many scholars maintain that ch. 67 to 73 are additions to an earlier version of the rule. Its directions for the formation, government, and administration of a monastery and for the spiritual and daily life of its monks have been found valid and practical for almost 15 centuries. It gives advice to the abbot and other officials and outlines the principal monastic virtues such as obedience (ch. 5), silence (6), and humility (7). The rule provides for an autonomous, selfcontained community (66) and gives instructions for the election of an abbot (64); for the reception, training, and profession of novices (58–60); and for the appointment and duties of prior (65), cellarer (31), novice master (58), guestmaster (53), and councillors (3). Psalmody and prayers at the Divine Office (opus Dei ) are regulated in detail (8–19). Food (39–41, 56), sleep (22), clothing (55), and daily work (48) have their chapters. The monastery described in the rule is a microcosm containing members of every age and condition, from children and boys to old men (37), oblates (59), converted adults (85), former serfs (2), clerics (60 and 62), monks from other houses (61), and sons of men of means and position (58–59). The waking hours are divided almost equally between three occupations: prayer in common (opus Dei ), religious reading (lectio divina, 48), and manual work of domestic, craft (57), and horticultural (48) character.
A unique feature of the rule is the space given to practical and spiritual advice. In many ways it is a sapiential document. The prologue and chapters on humility and obedience, and the chapters outlining the abbot's duties (2, 27, and 64), are recognized masterpieces of wisdom. Though strictly impersonal, the rule has impressed readers from the time of Gregory the Great as the reflection of a wise, holy, firm, and paternal character in an author who can combine strict principles with moderation and humanity. His use of common sense and natural inclination as criteria of moral goodness is notable in an age influenced by the more rigorous teaching of St. Augustine. St. Benedict indeed deprecates extreme severity more than once, and in the course of centuries, his authority has been invoked, not always validly, on the side of condescension
to human weakness. Among the virtues, humility, obedience, and stability stand out; the monk's life is a return from disobedience in sin to obedience in the service of God under an abbot who teaches and follows the rule. No works, pursuits, or ends outside the monastery are considered; there is no connection with any other establishment or superior save the local bishop. The lack of strict disciplinary sanctions and constitutional machinery, inevitable in a document of the 6th century, has sometimes been seen as a weakness in the rule. Yet it has served to maintain abbatial authority and the autonomy of the individual monastery throughout the ages. It has been well said that the rule presupposes and needs for its viability an abbot of unassailable virtue. No provision is made for new foundations, but varied climatic conditions are envisaged (55). The regulations for recruitment and profession, and the integration of Prime and Compline into the Office, passed from the rule into universal practice (although Prime has been excluded by most monasteries since Vatican Council II). As sources, St. Benedict used Eastern rules, patristic maxims, the work of John Cassian, and contemporary codes. He is recognized as having given to the West the wisdom of the desert adapted to a fully cenobitical life and to the capabilities of normal Western men and women.
Authorship. The attribution of the rule to St. Benedict was unquestioned until 1938, when Dom Augustine Génestout, a monk of Solesmes, argued that the rule was closely based on the anonymous Regula Magistri, of which the prologue and chapters one through ten are almost identical with the prologue and chapters one through seven of the Rule of Benedict, with many further resemblances. Numerous studies have been devoted to the problem. Today the weight of evidence is strongly in favor of the priority of the Rule of the Master; no prominent expert holds that the Rule of Benedict is earlier than the Rule of the Master. The genesis and development of the Rule of the Master and the form in which it was known to Benedict are still matters of dispute. In any case, the firm outline of the liturgical, administrative, and spiritual life are certainly the achievement of Benedict alone. The Rule of Benedict, and not the Rule of the Master, is the document that gave form to European monasticism and has been found valuable by every generation of Benedictine monks, nuns, and sisters.
Text. The rule was written in the vernacular Latin of the 6th century and is preserved in hundreds of manuscripts. Except for biblical literature, probably no other ancient text was copied in the Middle Ages as often as the Rule of Benedict. Since the first printing at Venice in 1489, more than a thousand editions have been published, including either the Latin text or translations into various vernacular languages or both together in bilingual versions.
The pioneer in the critical work on the text was Daniel Haneburg, a Benedictine scholar of Munich. After collating a number of manuscripts he turned over his material to Dom Edmund Schmidt of Metten who in 1880 published the first critical edition based on 15 manuscripts. The next critical edition was done by Eduard Wölfflin, an authority on Low Latin, who produced an edition in 1895 based on four manuscripts. In 1898 the German philologist Ludwig Traube reconstructed the history of the text of the rule in such a way that has determined its subsequent study. Critical editions produced in the 20th century followed Traube's principles. First was that of Dom Cuthbert Butler, monk and later abbot of Downside, which appeared in 1912. Intended for practical use, Butler normalized the grammatical irregularities and provided a text based on sound textual criticism; he did pioneer work in the investigation of the sources of the Rule of Benedict. In 1922 Bruno Linderbauer, a monk of Metten, produced a more accurate text, accompanied by philological notes; he provided a fuller apparatus than Butler's in a 1928 edition. Additional useful Latin editions were produced by Anselmo Lentini of Monte Cassino in 1947, with an Italian translation and commentary; by Justin McCann of Ampleforth in 1952, with an English translation and notes; and by Gregorio Penco of Finalpia in 1958, the first edition to indicate the Rule of the Master parallels and include the readings of the Rule of the Master manuscripts in the apparatus, together with an Italian translation and a commentary on the common and parallel passages.
The task of producing the definitive edition of the Rule of Benedict, which was to reconstruct the original text and trace the history of the text tradition, was entrusted by the Vienna Academy to Heribert Plenkers, one of Traube's pupils. After 30 years of work on the project, he died in 1931 without completing the task. In 1951 the work was taken up by Rudolph Hanslik, who produced his Vienna Corpus edition in 1960. He collated 300 manuscripts and retained 63 for his edition, but his work was strongly criticized both for its methodology and many errors (some of which were corrected in the second edition of 1977). Nevertheless, his edition contains the fullest apparatus so far assembled and provides useful tools for study in its extensive indices.
The most recent edition, appearing in 1972, is that of Jean Neufville of Pierre-qui-Vire. It is the first edition to adopt the priority of the Rule of the Master as a working principle for the establishment of the text. It is accompanied with a French translation, notes, and extensive commentary, all by the distinguished monk and prolific scholar of Pierre-qui-Vire, Adalbert de Vogüé. The definitive edition has yet to appear and is not thought to be imminent.
There are numerous commentaries on the Rule of Benedict, some learned, some devotional. That by Paul the Deacon (778–780) is an invaluable witness to the early tradition; that of Dom Augustin Calmet (1732) sums up the learning of the Maurists and others. Also to be noted is the commentary of Abbot Paul Delatte of Solesmes. Especially valuable is the excellent work of a number of United States's scholars, Revue biblique 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict with Notes, edited by Timothy Fry. More recently, Terrence G. Kardong has produced his own translation and extensive commentary, Benedict's Rule: A Translation and Commentary. Other authors who have written excellent commentaries on the rule include Aqinata Böckmann, André Borias, Michael Casey, Georg Holzherr, Eugene Lanning, Basil Steidle, and Ambrose Wathen.
Bibliography: e. c. butler, Benedictine Monachism (repr. Cambridge, Eng. 1961). Revue biblique 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, ed. t. fry (Collegeville 1981). t. g. kardong, Benedict's Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville 1996). a. bÖckmann, Perspektiven der Regula Benedict (Münsterschwarzach 1986). g. holzherr, Die Benediktus Regel: Eine Anleitung zu Christlichem Leben (Einsiedeln 2d ed. 1982). h. rochais and e. manning, Règle de Saint Benoît (Rochefort 1980). p. schmitz, Règle de Saint Benoît (Turnhout 1987). b. steidle, Die Benediktusregel (Beuron 1975). a. de vogÜÉ, La Règle de Saint Benoît (Paris 1977).
[m. d. knowles/
r. k. seasoltz]
"Benedictine Rule." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/benedictine-rule
"Benedictine Rule." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/benedictine-rule
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