February 29, June 30, October 30
Chapter 23: On Excommunication for Faults
(If there is no 29th of Feburary, append this entry to the previous.)
If a brother is found to be obstinate,
or disobedient, or proud, or murmuring,
or habitually transgressing the Holy Rule in any point
and contemptuous of the orders of his seniors,
the latter shall admonish him secretly a first and a second time,
as Our Lord commands (Matt. 18:15).
If he fails to amend,
let him be given a public rebuke in front of the whole community.
But if even then he does not reform,
let him be placed under excommunication,
provided that he understands the seriousness of that penalty;
if he is perverse, however,
let him undergo corporal punishment.
This excommunication, of course, is not the same as formal ecclesiastical excommunication by the Church, although it shares the
same purpose: to correct and heal. As becomes clear in coming chapters, this excommunication is internal to the monastery and excludes the offender from oratory and/or table depending on the seriousness of the offense. Saint Benedict is using a scriptural approach to keeping the peace in a community. Note how the verse just prior to the above-cited quote sets the tone:
Matt 18:14: In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. 15 “If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you have won over your brother. 16 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or
three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
The Rule was written in a time that was perhaps more comfortable with rulers unequivocally exercising authority than we are in our own day. This chapter surely tells us we must deal with those who undermine our community, whatever that may be. To me, though, the care and sensitivity called for in dealing with “troublemakers” is remarkable in a time when going “corporal” seemed to often be the first choice, not the last. Jesus, paraphrased by Benedict, gives us a progressive and gently considerate way of approaching those who disturb the community. Every attempt is made to truly treat the Other as a Brother instead of as an Enemy. Can we use this same measured approach in resolving conflicts in our present lives? Not avoiding the conflicts, but also not treating Brothers as Others…