March 18, July 18, November 17
Chapter 39: On the Measure of Food
We think it sufficient for the daily dinner,
whether at the sixth or the ninth hour,
that every table have two cooked dishes
on account of individual infirmities,
so that he who for some reason cannot eat of the one
may make his meal of the other
Therefore let two cooked dishes suffice for all the brethren;
and if any fruit or fresh vegetables are available,
let a third dish be added.
Let a good pound weight of bread suffice for the day,
whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper.
If they are to have supper,
the cellarer shall reserve a third of that pound,
to be given them at supper.
But if it happens that the work was heavier,
it shall lie within the Abbot’s discretion and power,
should it be expedient,
to add something to the fare.
Above all things, however,
over-indulgence must be avoided
and a monk must never be overtaken by indigestion;
for there is nothing so opposed to the Christian character
according to Our Lord’s words,
“See to it that your hearts be not burdened
with over-indulgence” (Luke 21:34).
shall not receive the same amount of food as their elders,
and frugality shall be observed in all circumstances.
Except the sick who are very weak,
let all abstain entirely
from eating the flesh of four-footed animals.
There are few things that come to mind that we have such a deep emotional attachment to as food. I occasionally am treated to a meal by the sister of a friend of mine and my friend, his twin brother, and their sister adamantly, emotionally refuse to eat any sort of seafood. Their mother never served it when they were kids and they refuse to try it now.
It is because of such issues that Benedict allows for two choices. He knows human nature well. He also allows fruit and vegetables when available as well as a pound of bread a day. It’s a vegetarian diet to be sure, unless one is ill.
He wants people to have enough, not too much. If the day has been one of hard labor, the monastic superior may choose to allow more food. This is Benedict’s compassion and tenderness at work again.