Prayers, please, for Joy, having stomach surgery today, and for her
family. God's will is best. All is mercy and grace. Thanks so much! JL
January 16, May 17, September 16
Chapter 3: On Calling the Brethren for Counsel
Whenever any important business has to be done
in the monastery,
let the Abbot call together the whole community
and state the matter to be acted upon.
Then, having heard the brethren's advice,
let him turn the matter over in his own mind
and do what he shall judge to be most expedient.
The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel
is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.
Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions;
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot's judgment,
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.
However, just as it is proper
for the disciples to obey their master,
so also it is his function
to dispose all things with prudence and justice.
Benedictine government is not pure democracy, but it was a lot more
representative than Church government in its time or, for that
matter, our own. One wishes that both Church and state of today had a
more Benedictine flavor!
The Catholic Church actually had models in its early years that were
MORE democratic than St. Benedict, the synagogue model and the
charismatic, both more congregational in their aspects. Both were
abandoned for the monarchial episcopate model connected with Antioch.
The bishop became monarch and so it has largely remained. That model
fell far below the Benedictine standard of at least consultative
Over 15 centuries of Benedictine history, constitutions have divided
the powers of abbot and community more specifically. There are times-
not many, to be sure- when a chapter CAN thwart an abbot. There are
times the abbot cannot act alone. But, by and large, our superiors
have been left with a lot more power than the US President or the
Queen of the United Kingdom, but less power than the average bishop.
The way of St. Benedict is hardly mob rule, but it does ensure a
voice to those governed, a voice that must be listened to, even when
it is not definitive. How different the current scandals in the
US might be if people only had as much voice as the Holy Rule allows.
How clearly St. Benedict saw what would happen to a community in such
an instance: the members would feel ripped off, and rightly so. Very
important things had come to light, and the rank and file were left
in the dark. Trust was violated and trust is the very foundation of
There is no way at all that the world was ready for pure democracy in
St. Benedict's time, in diocese or monastery. Large majorities of the
populace were illiterate, few indeed were educated, and there were no
means of mass communication. Whole empires, like the Aztec and Incan,
rose without the slightest awareness that there were other people on
the planet, nor was the rest of the world aware of them. I would be
the last person to call for free elections in such a milieu. By
contrast, it almost makes feudalism look like a really good idea for
And maybe it was, but it has ceased to be for our own time. There are
clearly levels of education, communication and general ability in the
population today that call for more participation, not less. Tough
saying, but St. Benedict was writing for a society whose rank and
file was largely full of dopes. True, they got a lot of their rough
edges honed down in the monastic setting, but they were not as
capable of contributing to decision-making as people are today.
I am not writing this with an axe to grind, saying that the Church
and world should follow the Benedictine model. (Though that would
certainly be my personal wish.) What I am trying to point out is the
perennial wealth and freshness to be found in St. Benedict's Holy
Rule. Its wisdom is as germane today as it was 1,500 years ago. It
bears the proud hallmark of both truth and wisdom: it is ageless.
In Church and State, the people of the developed world are ready,
willing, and quite capable of having a lot more say than antiquated
standards have allowed them. No wonder the powers that be are
terrified of that.
Love and prayers,