April 20, August 20, December 20
Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess
In the constituting of an Abbess
let this plan always be followed,
that the office be conferred on the one who is chosen
either by the whole community unanimously in the fear of God
or else by a part of the community, however small,
if its counsel is more wholesome.
Merit of life and wisdom of doctrine
should determine the choice of the one to be constituted,
even if she be the last of the order of the community.
But if (which God forbid)
the whole community should agree to choose a person
who will acquiesce in their vices,
and if those vices somehow become known to the Bishop
to whose diocese the place belongs,
or to the Abbots, Abbesses or the faithful of the vicinity,
let them prevent the success of this conspiracy of the wicked,
and set a worthy steward over the house of God.
They may be sure
that they will receive a good reward for this action
if they do it with a pure intention and out of zeal for God;
as, on the contrary, they will sin if they fail to do it.
The selection of the monastic superior is an important decision. Benedict’s concern is that the right person be chosen even if that person might be the newest member of the community. The right person might be elected unanimously or by a smaller group. No hard and fast rule for the choice except it must be a person willing to lead the community in holiness. Benedict knew human nature very well. He had had the experience in his own life of being elected Abbot of a monastic community which wanted to pursue their own vices and not holiness.
Should the community ignore St. Benedict’s instructions they run the risk of having the local bishop or the monastic superiors of nearby communities appoint an abbot or abbess who will demand that the community shape up and embrace zeal for God.