April 14, August 14, December 14
Chapter 60: On Priests Who May Wish to Live in the Monastery
If any ordained priest
should ask to be received into the monastery,
permission shall not be granted too readily.
But if he is quite persistent in his request,
let him know
that he will have to observe the whole discipline of the Rule
and that nothing will be relaxed in his favor,
that it may be as it is written:
“Friend, for what have you come (Matt. 26:50)?”
It shall be granted him, however, to stand next after the Abbot
and to give blessings and to celebrate Mass,
but only by order of the Abbot.
Without such order let him not make any exceptions for himself,
knowing that he is subject to the discipline of the Rule;
but rather let him give an example of humility to all.
If there happens to be question of an appointment
or of some business in the monastery,
let him expect the rank due him
according to the date of his entrance into the monastery,
and not the place granted him
out of reverence for the priesthood.
If any clerics, moved by the same desire,
should wish to join the monastery,
let them be placed in a middle rank.
But they too are to be admitted only if they promise
observance of the Rule and stability.
Perhaps a tad bit of historical background might be of use here. Were we to read any of the collections of the Sayings of the Desert Christians, we would be struck by the distrust of the ordained clergy. The reason for that is the Edict of Milan, issued jointly the Roman Emperor of the West, Licinius, and the Roman Emperor of the East, Constantine. This Edict stated basically that all religions practised in Rome were equal and the persecution would cease. Christians of the period reacted variously to this. Many rejoiced that the century and a half of murderous persecution was over at last. Many reacted in horror, feeling that Christianity had now become a thing of this world and was now identified with evil.
Large numbers of this latter group fled the cities for the wild places, triggering what we now call Desert Christianity. These people were suspicious of those Christians who remained in the cities, the priests, bishops and all other clerics. By Benedict’s time, there was an easing up of this suspicion. Groups of monks had been gathering for some time in more hospitable places. But enough suspicion remained for Benedict to caution that “permission shall not be granted too readily.”
Of course, I have over-simplified a few centuries of Church History, but basically, that’s the gist of it. With that in mind, what is the Rule saying to us today?
In previous chapters, we have noted the egalitarianism of the Rule. The monks/nuns are to obey the Abbess/Abbot while they are to consider themselves servants of the monastics. Seniority is determined by date of entrance into the monastery. There is no other ranking. Whether one comes from a noble or peasant family, the Rule makes all equal. Priests are subject to this same egalitarianism.
Certainly, in our churches there are many who hold that priests are more important than the rest of us, even some priests believe that. But I sure would like to see a church try to do without a sexton! We could manage without a priest, but without a sexton, the place would grind to a halt.
A monastic community is a microcosm of the Body of Christ. So are our church communities. All of us are equal in God’s eyes. All of us have gifts that the Body needs. No gift is more or less important than any other. No member of the Body is no less valuable than another. We each contribute what we have to the Body and take from the Body only that which need.