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Nourished by Our Roots - the Rule of Saint Augustine: Day Eighteen

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Day Eighteen

4:10. Diligently and faithfully, then, attend to my words about suggestive glances at women. Such advice holds also for detection, prevention, disclosure, proof, and punishment of other offences, with love for the person and hatred for the sin.
4:11. Whenever anyone has gone so far in misconduct as to receive secretly from any woman letters or small gifts of any kind, if he confesses the matter freely, pardon him and pray for him. If, however, he is detected and proved guilty, he is to be rather severely corrected according to the judgement of the priest or the superior.

V.       You have made us for yourself, O Lord. [Alleluia].
       Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you.  [Alleluia].


Once again the priest appears here alongside the community leader. It is hard not to think that this co-existence of roles would create problems and perhaps not surprising that as monastic communities of men became increasingly clericalised it eventually reached the situation in Roman Catholic canon law that lay men could not be superiors of communities of priests. 

Augustine’s Rule is early in the history of monasticism, even within a few generations when Benedict came to write his Rule things have moved on and there is greater clarity over the division of roles. A reminder of the importance of good structures in all institutions, the necessity for Job and Role descriptions . Good management is also spiritually and morally vital.

Dame Catherine Wyborne a Benedictine nun in Herefordshire writes about priesthood and monastic life in this way:

“Priesthood in the monastery is exercised because of community need and at the abbot’s discretion (RB 62.1, 3). That is contrary to the way in which we tend to see priesthood nowadays, when the individual’s sense of being called by God is (usually) the starting-point for discernment. Benedict is aware of the tensions that can arise because of ordination and the temptation for priests and deacons to regard themselves as having a special status. They do, of course, in an ontological sense, but their status is not ‘special’ in the sense of conferring exemption from obedience or discipline (RB 62.2–4). Indeed, Benedict says priests should make ever more progress towards God, magis ac magis in Deum proficiat (RB 62.4). The priest is to be advanced in rank only if (a) the community chooses and (b) the abbot wishes because of (c) the worthiness of his life, si forte electio congregationis et voluntas abbatis pro vitae merito (RB 62.6). Those are very significant conditions, the second surprise, if I may call it that. Benedict goes on to emphasize yet again that priests must obey the Rule. If a priest does not, the bishop’s authority will be invoked; and if that doesn’t settle matters, the one at fault will be considered no longer a priest but a rebel, non sacerdos sed rebellio, and expelled from the monastery (RB62. 8 – 11). Every opportunity will have been given him to change his ways but ultimately, Benedict is implying, he has to decide whether he wants to be a monk or not. That is pretty strong stuff, even for Benedict!

What I find most arresting in chapter 62 is the insistence on the disponibility of the person chosen to be a priest. The abbot discerns the need of the community and himself puts forward the candidate he considers best suited to meet it. It suggests a humility in the individual, a willingness to accept the decision of another, that goes to the heart of the monastic commitment to obedience and service. Incidentally, it also suggests that the number of priests in Benedict’s first communities was comparatively few, which is rather different from the situation in most British monasteries today, where the majority of community members are priests or deacons. This chapter invites us to reflect on our approach not just to priesthood but to the way in which a Christian community (monastic or otherwise) meets its various needs and the importance of keeping the idea of service uppermost. There is to be no excess, no seeking power or privilege because of the role we are given (given, not assume, please note) or the service we provide. We can all take that lesson to heart, whether we are monastics or not.”


May the Lord
grant that we may observe all these things with love,
as lovers of spiritual beauty,
radiating by our lives
the sweet fragrance of Christ,
not like slaves under the law
but as free persons
established in grace.
Through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord. 



You can find the full text of the Rule of saint Augustine by clicking here