Rule of Saint Benedict
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Rule of Saint Benedict (Regula Benedicti) is a book of precepts written by St. Benedict of Nursia for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot. Since about the 7th century it has also been adopted by communities of women. During the 1500 years of its existence, it has become the leading guide in Western Christianity for monastic living in community for many Catholic Orders, and in Orthodoxy (since The Great Schism), and the Anglican Church (since the time of the Reformation).
The spirit of St Benedict's Rule is summed up in the motto of the Benedictine Confederation: pax ("peace") and the traditional ora et labora ("pray and work").
Compared to other precepts, the Rule provides a moderate path between individual zeal and formulaic institutionalism; because of this middle ground it has been widely popular. Benedict's concerns were the needs of monks in a community environment: namely, to establish due order, to foster an understanding of the relational nature of human beings, and to provide a spiritual father to support and strengthen the individual's ascetic effort and the spiritual growth that is required for the fulfillment of the human vocation, theosis.
The Rule of Saint Benedict has been used by Benedictines for fifteen centuries, and thus St. Benedict is sometimes regarded as the founder of Western monasticism. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that Benedict intended to found a religious order. Not until the later Middle Ages is there mention of an "Order of Saint Benedict". His Rule is written as a guide for individual, autonomous communities; and to this day all Benedictine Houses (and the Congregations in which they have associated themselves) remain self-governing. Advantages seen in retaining this unique Benedictine emphasis on autonomy include cultivating models of tightly bonded communities and contemplative life-styles. Perceived disadvantages comprise geographical isolation from important projects in adjacent communities in the name of a literalist interpretation of autonomy. Other perceived losses include inefficiency and lack of mobility in the service of others, and insufficient appeal to potential members.