CHAPTER XXX. How the younger boys are to be corrected
7 Mar. 7 July. 6 Nov.
Every age and understanding should have its proper measure of discipline. As often, therefore, as boys or others under age, or unable to understand the greatness of the penalty of excommunication, commit faults, let them be punished by severe fasting or sharp stripes, in order that they may be cured.

We come today to the last of the eight chapters of Saint Benedict’s penitentiale. When we began these chapters, I said that, in order to understand them rightly, we had to read them all in the light of the last phrase of today’s Chapter XXX: ut sanentur, in order that they may be healed. Saint Benedict would have the abbot collaborate in all things with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician.

They that are whole, need not the physician: but they that are sick. I came not to call the just, but sinners to penance. (Luke 5:31–32)

One understands why Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, “the Bernard of the North” was wont to pray:

Grant me, Lord, through your grace that is beyond our understanding, grant that I may bear their infirmities with patience, that I may have loving compassion for them, that I may come to their aid effectively. Taught by your Spirit, may I learn to comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and raise the fallen. May I be myself one with them in their weaknesses, one with them when they burn at causes of offense, one in all things with them, and all things to all of them, so that I may gain them all. (The Pastoral Prayer)

It would seem that the twelfth–century English abbey of Rievaulx illustrated well the mind of Saint Benedict, for Saint Aelred used to say:

It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion with others in their necessities. All, whether weak or strong, should find in Rievaulx a haunt of peace, and there, like the fish in the broad seas, possess the welcome, happy, spacious peace of charity.

Monasteries no longer have little oblates: boy-monks offered to God by their parents and thus enrolled in the school of the Lord’s service. Chapter XXX cannot, however, for this reason, be discounted. It contains two important principles.

The first principle is that, “every age and understanding should have its proper measure of discipline”. Men come to the monastery with various degrees of emotional maturity and experience. There are brothers who, for different reasons, suffer a kind of arrested emotional development. Some enter the monastery with unresolved conflicts. Still others bear the scars of rejection, abuse, and a dysfunctional home life. More often than not, there is, inside the grown–up monk, a boy in need of affirmation, firm discipline, encouragement, and correction. Not all are capable of grasping the value and significance of the whole observance immediately. There is a danger in forcing oneself to conform outwardly to an idealised image, without attending to the messy bits of one’s inner reality. It takes time—a lifetime—to make a monk. In Benedictine life there is a readiness to adjust objective standards of discipline to the age and understanding of individuals. It cannot be a question of one size fitting all.

The second principle is that disciplinary and corrective measures are taken for the sake of a monk’s inner healing: in order that he may be cured. Ut sanentur. Monastic discipline is curative and, in the noblest sense of the word, therapeutic. It is not merely punitive. The abbot is obliged to meet each of his sons as they are, and not as he, or as they themselves, would want to be.  No one among us is entirely free of immaturity, selfishness, wilfulness, and distorted perceptions. The abbot is to apply the discipline of the Holy Rule wisely, firmly, and compassionately ut sanentur. The observance of the Holy Rule is at the service of life, and of life in abundance. “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).