March 7, July 7, November 6
Chapter 30: How Boys Are to Be Corrected
Every age and degree of understanding
should have its proper measure of discipline.
With regard to boys and adolescents, therefore,
or those who cannot understand the seriousness
of the penalty of excommunication,
whenever such as these are delinquent
let them be subjected to severe fasts
or brought to terms by harsh beatings,
that they may be cured.
May I be forgiven for repeating myself? I don’t like this chapter and it is my least favorite portion of the RB. Of course, I read it through the lens of my own present day and not through the lens of the sixth century. When Benedict wrote this, our modern concept of “abuse” did not exist and it is so very important to remember that in his day torture is what would have been considered abusive. The difference is intention.
St. Benedict intends for the boys entrusted to monastery to grow up into Godly men and perhaps even into monastics.
Different ages, different abilities to understand have different ways to be disciplined. There is no “one size fits all” thinking in the Rule. Discipline, as is everything else, must be appropriate to the age group and intellectual capacity of the one to be disciplined.
In this chapter, Father Benedict is concerned with “boys and adolescents or those who cannot understand the seriousness of the penalty of excommunication.” This category includes children, teenagers, and adults who fail to learn to correct their behavior after excommunication. In the UK this would be the equivalent of being “sent to Coventry.” In the USA, the Amish have a practice of shunning. A person goes about the daily routine, but no one talks to that person. That is what Benedict means by excommunication.
It is only when that fails and the person proves to be a repeat offender that Benedict recommends stronger measures such as severe fasts and harsh beatings. One can only presume that he saw the necessity as a result of his own personal experience.
As I am not a member of a monastic community, I have no idea how they implement this chapter, if they do. But for those of us who live out here in the world, what is this chapter telling us?
Although Benedict doesn’t specify this, we can glean from the chapter on the role of the monastic superior that this person is to be in prayer all the time about and for the people that have been entrusted to the monastic superior’s care. So before any of us dare to think we must discipline another, we must pray about it.
This also gives us a breather so that the punishment can suit the crime. In the heat of anger or disappointment with another, it is All Too Easy to fly off the handle and overreact. Remember, discipline is supposed to be appropriate for the age and intellectual understanding of the one to be punished.
Never having been a parent, I would not presume to tell parents how to raise their kids, but I have often been in social settings where the behavior of another is inappropriate. I have also been in situations where some officious person takes it upon his or herself to correct the behavior of the inappropriate one and that usually never goes well.
Perhaps were I a parent, a teacher, a priest, a pastor, I’d have something to say about how to discipline but as I am not, I end here because I am not going to try to reflect on something I know nothing about. Better for those of you with experience in thsi matter to teach me, I think. What say you?