Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks, January 8, 2017

January 8, May 9, September 8
Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks

It is well known that there are four kinds of monks.
The first kind are the Cenobites:
those who live in monasteries
and serve under a rule and an Abbot.

The second kind are the Anchorites or Hermits:
those who,
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.

The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites.
These, not having been tested,
as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6),
by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
are as soft as lead.
In their works they still keep faith with the world,
so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
without a shepherd,
in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord’s.
Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
that they call holy;
what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.
These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,
staying as guests in different monasteries
for three or four days at a time.
Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills
and succumb to the allurements of gluttony,
and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites.
Of the miserable conduct of all such
it is better to be silent than to speak.

Passing these over, therefore,
let us proceed, with God’s help,
to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites.

Some thoughts

What I find myself thinking about and it is too personal, perhaps for details, is that there are times in my my life when I am more like a sarabaite or a gyrovague. Self-gratification is seductive, is it not? So easy to fall into it unknowingly.

As for wandering about… One does not have to wander about geographically to be a gyrovague. One can wander about between disciplines, never staying in one long enough for it grow deep roots. One can “keep one’s options open” to such an extent that one never commits to anything.
What sarabaites and gyrovagues have in common is a preference for their own desires over the desire for God. The challenge before all Christians is to learn to replace one’s own will with God’s. It is hard to do this. Extremely, if you are anything like I.
We have all sorts of ways of avoiding the struggle, too. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. There are many ways we disguise our insistence on our own way. People have told me they dislike the Rule of St. Benedict because it has too many rules or archaic language. The way I see it, this indicates a refusal to expose one’s self to the content.
If one thinks that the RB is too full of rules, why not read them anyway and consider what the “rules” say?
If one feels the language archaic, there are modern versions with
modern language. One can even obtain a copy in gender inclusive language if one prefers to read sentences with “she/he” or “Abbot/Abbess” in them.
I’ve heard people tell me that since God is limitless, they don’t want to put limits on the way He can relate to them. I don’t think it is possible to limit God, do you? I do think, paradox as it may be, that when we have limits, we have more freedom. Too many options and we flounder around in a flip flop reaction. Narrow the focus and we are free to concentrate our energy, effort, time, resources.
Which of course leads to that pesky concept of commitment. The presupposition which lies behind the Rule is that we will commit ourselves to God. The Rule merely provides the framework that allows us to build and grow.

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