January 18, May 19, September 18
Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works
1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the
whole soul, the whole strength.
2. Then, one’s neighbor as oneself.
3. Then not to murder.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honor all (1 Peter 2:17).
9. And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to become attached to pleasures.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in trouble.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To become a stranger to the world’s ways.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
Can’t tell you why this image pops into my head but as I read the above, I found myself imagining some smart aleck of a monk, possibly among a group of young monks all snickering, whispering and giggling, and this monk says “So, Benedict, my dear man, just what do you mean by good works anyway?” Benedict aims a steely gaze in the direction of the snickering monks and rattles off the list that becomes Ch 4 of the RB. I imagine the fatuous expressions being replaced by surprise and then consternation as the list gets longer and longer.
Maybe they were surprised at the ordinariness of the list. It’s all right out of the Bible and more than likely already familiar to them. But for some reason, Benedict felt he had to spell it out. Maybe he wanted to dispel any notion that good works meant anything other than very concrete actions and attitudes of the heart. Maybe his monks were beginning to think too highly of themselves as prayerful people, emphasizing so-called spiritual things over the so-called mundane. Perhaps Benedict wanted to remind them that there is nothing on this earth which is n not spiritual. The only question is which spirit is represented.
So no dualism of mind or spirit over the body for St. Benedict. One could consider anything which follows #2 as commentary on 1 and 2. If we actually do 1 and 2 then the rest very naturally follows, according to the saint.