April 17, August 17, December 17
Chapter 62: On the Priests of the Monastery
If an Abbot desire
to have a priest or a deacon ordained for his monastery,
let him choose one
who is worthy to exercise the priestly office.
But let the one who is ordained
beware of self-exaltation or pride;
and let him not presume to do anything
except what is commanded him by the Abbot,
knowing that he is so much the more subject
to the discipline of the Rule.
Nor should he by reason of his priesthood forget
the obedience and the discipline required by the Rule,
but make ever more and more progress towards God.
Let him always keep the place which he received
on entering the monastery,
except in his duties at the altar
or in case the choice of the community and the will of the Abbess
should promote him for the worthiness of his life.
Yet he must understand
that he is to observe the rules laid down by deans and Priors.
Should he presume to act otherwise,
let him be judged not as a priest but as a rebel.
And if he does not reform after repeated admonitions,
let even the Bishop be brought in as a witness.
If then he still fails to amend,
and his offenses are notorious,
let him be put out of the monastery,
but only if his contumacy is such
that he refuses to submit or to obey the Rule.
Ever since the Last Supper Christians have in one way or another obeyed Jesus’ words to “take, eat” and “take, drink.” Within the first century of the Common Era, men and women were called to a vocation to serve at the table of the Lord. This was not without risk in the Roman Empire in the first three centuries of the Church. Priests and deacons were readily identified by their roles and when a persecution, occurred, many died as martyrs. The along came the Edict of Milan and that was the end of persecutions. Christianity was as mainstream a religion as worshiping the Roman pantheon of gods.
Many Christians interpreted this as an attempt to make them a part of this world when their identity had been that though they were in the world, they were not of it. Many Christians fled the cities and towns to live in caves, in the deserts, or in other wilderness places where they could continue to be in the world but not of it.
Many Christians welcomed the Edict, breathed a sigh of relief, and went on with their lives in the cities and towns. So did priests and the priesthood came under suspicion by those who had fled the cities and towns. We can see some of this suspicion in today’s reading.
It is interesting to note that the presence of a priest within the community is considered optional in today’s reading. Let us remember that in the Rule, the main task of the monastics is prayer in the nine daily offices. I’d have to consult a commentary on the RB to learn how they had communion if there were no priest. But that is not the point of today’s reading which has to to do with the attitude of the priest.
First, the priest is not to think he has been elevated above anyone else. The priest keeps the same rank within the community he always had. He does get to do one thing the other monks don’t, but the same can be said of any of the other monks assigned to special jobs. The monks serve the community. That is the emphasis.
Second, the priest-monk is just as subject to the Rule as ever. Ordination is not a short-cut to holiness.
Third, if a priest is a problem, if the priest is disobedient, then he is subject to the strictures of the Rule as is any other monk who causes trouble.
it is clear that Benedict doesn’t hold a priest in any particular esteem. Having a priest in the community might be a convenience the monastic superior might chose to have. But that is all a monastic priest is to Benedict.