Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 40: On the Measure of Drink, November 18, 2016

March 19, July 19, November 18

Chapter 40: On the Measure of Drink

“Everyone has her own gift from God,

one in this way and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7).

It is therefore with some misgiving

that we regulate the measure of others’ sustenance.

Nevertheless, keeping in view the needs of the weak,

we believe that a hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each.

But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain

should know that they will receive a special reward.

If the circumstances of the place,

or the work

or the heat of summer

require a greater measure,

the superior shall use her judgment in the matter,

taking care always

that there be no occasion for surfeit or drunkenness.

We read

it is true,

that wine is by no means a drink for monastics;

but since the monastics of our day cannot be persuaded of this

let us at least agree to drink sparingly and not to satiety,

because “wine makes even the wise fall away” (Eccles. 19:2).

But where the circumstances of the place are such

that not even the measure prescribed above can be supplied,

but much less or none at all,

let those who live there bless God and not murmur.

Above all things do we give this admonition,

that they abstain from murmuring.

Some thoughts

First of all, I wanted to know what a ‘hemina’ is, so I looked it up on google. (What would we do without google?)

An ancient Roman unit of liquid capacity, about 265.5 millilitres or just under nine ounces. Here in the USA, a serving of wine seems to be about four ounces based on what I see when I order a glass of wine in a restaurant on those rare occasions.

I believe I read that in the USA today the medically recommended servings of wine per day for women, four ounces, and two for men, fourteen ounces. Comparatively, then, St Benedict is being, by modern standards, rather liberal in allowing nine ounces or 265 millilitres a day!

Presumably, they might have also drunk milk of some sort, goat perhaps, and possibly water.  If one’s only fluid intake were nine ounces of wine a day one would be dehydrated.

However this might be, please notice that Benedict would prefer that people in the monastery drink no wine at all but he has compassion on the weak who really want that daily ration of wine. Please note his wry comment that monastics of his day cannot be persuaded to do without wine.

Once again the monastic superior is given leeway in her judgment. If the day’s work is especially hard or the day is especially hot, more wine might be allowed.  But never to the point of drunkenness.

However, quantities and modern legal and medical guidelines aside, the line that really struck me in this morning’s reading is, ‘above all let them abstain from murmuring.’ Almost as if it’s more important to abstain from murmuring than to abstain from alcohol. And it is, isn’t it?

Sometimes, wine is not available.  Perhaps that means the monastery is placed where grapes cannot be grown or the wine is too expensive for the monastery to afford. If that happens, monastics are not to murmur.

It seems to me that ‘murmuring’, that low, insidious, grudging, dissatisfied muttering that goes on in families, communities, churches and workplaces, wherever human beings gather together, is an extremely destructive force. It promotes division, discontent, disharmony and ultimately disobedience. It’s not honest either – it’s a ‘behind the back’ kind of murmuring, something that undermines leadership and fellowship. Scripture tells us that if we have any complaint against another it should be brought out into the open. And I’m reminded of St John’s admonition to ‘walk in the light as he is in the light’.

Any community in which ‘murmuring’ takes hold will struggle to maintain the bonds of fellowship intact; the murmuring grows to a grumble and then a thunder and then comes the lightning flash of schism.

For me, this is one of the most important lines in the RB.


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