Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess, April 21, 2017

April 21, August 21, December 21

Chapter 64: On Constituting an Abbess

Once she has been constituted,

let the Abbess always bear in mind

what a burden she has undertaken

and to whom she will have to give an account of her stewardship,

and let her know that her duty is rather to profit her sisters

than to preside over them.

She must therefore be learned in the divine law,

that she may have a treasure of knowledge

from which to bring forth new things and old.

She must be chaste, sober and merciful.

Let her exalt mercy above judgment,

that she herself may obtain mercy.

She should hate vices;

she should love the sisterhood.

In administering correction

she should act prudently and not go to excess,

lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust

she break the vessel.

Let her keep her own frailty ever before her eyes

and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.

By this we do not mean that she should allow vices to grow;

on the contrary, as we have already said,

she should eradicate them prudently and with charity,

in the way which may seem best in each case.

Let her study rather to be loved than to be feared.

Let her not be excitable and worried,

nor exacting and headstrong,

nor jealous and over-suspicious;

for then she is never at rest.

In her commands let her be prudent and considerate;

and whether the work which she enjoins

concerns God or the world,

let her be discreet and moderate,

bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said,

“If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,

they will all die in one day.”

Taking this, then, and other examples of discretion,

the mother of virtues,

let her so temper all things

that the strong may have something to strive after,

and the weak may not fall back in dismay.

And especially let her keep this Rule in all its details,

so that after a good ministry

she may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard

who gave the fellow-servants wheat in due season:

“Indeed, I tell you, he will set that one over all his goods” (Matt.

24:27).

Some thoughts
 
St Benedict’s Rule asks a lot of abbots and abbesses. Their role must have resembled walking a tightrope between keeping strong discipline and showing mercy, so that each member of the brotherhood or sisterhood would be able to come to ‘prefer nothing before Christ’.
 
The quote from Jacob speaks powerfully to me: “If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all die in one day.”
 
I could feel quite envious of the sisters who could rely upon their abbess to impose a balanced schedule, which included hard work, but also made allowances for the weakness of ill health or age, so that no one was forced to work beyond their physical ability. The difference, I suppose, is that the abbess was so aware of the humanity of the sisters; they weren’t just tools with which to perform tasks. ‘She should love the sisterhood’, says the RB; some of *our* leaders and managers appear to have little sense of love towards those they lead or manage.
 
How different some of our working environments might be if our supervisors and managers had to study the RB during their management training! 🙂
 
What truly beautiful words these are:
 
“In administering correction
she should act prudently and not go to excess,
lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust
she break the vessel.
Let her keep her own frailty ever before her eyes
and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.”
 
This instruction could just as well be applied to parents, teachers, church ministers, work bosses and others in authority, as to abbots and abbesses. The RB does have relevance for life in the secular world.

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