Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 51: On Brethren Who Go Not Very Far Away, December 2, 2016

April 2, August 2, December 2

Chapter 51: On Brethren Who Go Not Very Far Away

A Brother who is sent out on some business

and is expected to return to the monastery that same day

shall not presume to eat while he is out,

even if he is urgently requested to do so

by any person whomsoever,

unless he has permission from his Abbot.

And if he acts otherwise, let him be excommunicated.

Some thoughts

Well, I have now read today’s reading from the RB five or six times and am still puzzled as to why Benedict did not  want the monks to eat outside of the monastery! How could  that be a fault meriting excommunication?

I suppose there would be the danger of splurging on rich food,  if any were on offer, which would normally be eschewed  (rather than chewed!) in the monastery.

‘By any person whomsoever’ is interesting… What if the  monk had a message to take to a person of very high rank,  perhaps even the Emperor? Would he give offence by refusing a meal?  Or did everyone understand that Benedictine monks could not  accept food outside of the monastery?

And if hospitality is holy (which I believe it is) is it fair to deny someone else the joy and the blessing of giving hospitality  by refusing their food?

Having just read it through again, my eye’s been caught by ‘on business’ and ‘expected to return on the same day’. Perhaps then this  is a purely practical ruling. The monk might be distracted by the

opportunity to eat something different from monastery fare and might  be late in carrying out the business entrusted to him. Or he might delay himself  so long with eating and being sociable that he leaves it too late to travel back to the monastery before nightfall, thus not returning on the  same day and causing anxiety and distress to the other brothers.

Or perhaps it’s just a matter of fairness and everyone being treated  equally – that a monk outside the monastery should not be in a position  to enjoy possibly better food or a greater variety of food than the monks  who have stayed at home will have available? Or perhaps it’s to  remind him that he is still a member of the community even when  outside the monastery walls and he can’t make his own decisions  on any matter, even about eating, because his vow of obedience  still binds him to what the Abbot has asked of him. And also keeps him in communion with the rest of the brothers…  Or perhaps it is to prevent grumbling and murmuring. If a monk had a delicious repast outside the monastery and returned to the same old diet, the monk might complain.

I’m thinking of the old chorus, ‘Let us break bread together, we are one.’  Eating together is one of the binding features of family life and community  life, so much so in Benedict’s eyes perhaps, that if at all possible, brothers should only eat with other brothers and not elsewhere?


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