4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.
Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?” After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: “He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:” he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory.” So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And again he saith: “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
Today’s portion of the Prologue is composed of no less than seven passages from Sacred Scripture, preceded by a general principle of reference to the Gospel: per ducatum Evangelii pergamus itinera eius, “let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel.” After this, follow three passages from Saint Paul and four from the Psalms: Ephesians 6:14–15; Psalm 14:4; Psalm 14: 2–4; Psalm 136:9; Psalm 113:1; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 10:17.
Even though Saint Benedict is here relying on an earlier source, he makes the earlier source entirely his own. In this, Saint Benedict shows himself the man of tradition, faithfully handing on what he himself received and integrated into his own life. Here are the four components of sound tradition: (1) to receive what has been handed on; (2) to preserve it in its integrity; (3) to make it one’s own; (4) to transmit what has been handed on, preserved, and received. Reception, preservation; appropriation; transmission. When any one of these four components are neglected or diminished, there is a breakdown in tradition and, consequently, a loss of vitality. One who studies the long course of monastic history cannot fail to notice that, in nearly every instance, the decadence of monastic life can be traced back to a breakdown in one or more of these four components of tradition. Conversely, the resurgence of monastic life is, in nearly every instance, the corollary of a recovery of tradition.
It is notable that Saint Benedict refers to the Gospels, to the Apostle, and to the Psalms. In the writings of the last century’s brightest Benedictine beacon, Blessed Columba Marmion, we find, unchanged, the same fidelity to the same biblical sources: the Gospels, the Apostle, and the Psalms. Blessed Marmion’s trilogy, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk; Christ, the Life of the Soul; and Christ in His Mysteries, is remarkable for its abundance references to the Gospels (notably to Saint John), to Saint Paul, and to the Psalms. It is this characteristic that gives to the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion their particular penetrating unction, and also their distinctively Benedictine quality.
The Benedictine tradition, in proportion to its adherence to the Holy Rule, has always privileged direct contact with the Gospels, and this, principally, though the sacred liturgy. For Saint Benedict, the liturgic Gospel is a kind of παρουσία, an advent and a presence of “the Lord Christ, our true king” (Prologue). Saint Benedict surrounds the liturgic Gospel with the solemnity and attention that would characterise the official reception of sovereign ruler. The monks, standing at attention and responding Amen, signify their submission and adhesion to the living Word in their midst. “Let the Abbot read the lesson from the Gospel, while all stand in awe and reverence. The Gospel being ended, let all answer Amen” (Chapter XI). These liturgical details are the sacramental expression of what Saint Benedict says in today’s portion of the Prologue: “Let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom.” The importance given to hearing the Gospel in its liturgical context overflows into all of life and thus becomes the monk’s way to God.
The son of Saint Benedict, in every age and in every culture, will be the man of the Gospels, of the Apostle, and of the Psalms. His contact with these ever–flowing sources will be, primarily in the Divine Office and Holy Mass. What the monk receives in choir, he takes with him to his cell or to the scriptorium. There he meditates, that is, repeats what he has heard. There he turns to prayer what he has repeated. There it pleases God to inflame with a divine spark of love what he has turned to prayer. Lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio. Thus does the monk return to choir seven times a day and once in the night, compelled to give thanks for all that has been given him. In the end, all turns to praise. Just as the whole body of the Sacred Scriptures culminate in the great heavenly liturgy of the Apocalypse, so too does the life of every monk have a eucharistic and doxological finality.
Saint Benedict presents the monastic life as a journey to the kingdom into which God calls us through Christ. It is a journey out of what Saint Augustine calls “the region of dissimilitude,” regio disimilitudinis (Confessions VII, 10:16) to the mountain that God has chosen for Himself, and even into the very dwelling of God, his own tabernacle.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people God means to have for himself; it is yours to proclaim the exploits of the God who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.(1 Peter 2:9)
This is the monastic journey out of darkness into light. It is the journey from that far–off place in which one is deprived of seeing the face of God into that place where God shows His face to the man who seeks Him. As he walks, and even as he runs — Saint Benedict uses both verbs here — the monk repeats:
My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? My tears have been my bread day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: Where is thy God? These things I remembered, and poured out my soul in me: for I shall go over into the place of the wonderful tabernacle, even to the house of God. (Psalm 41:3–5)
The indispensable and fundamental disposition required of a man who would undertake the monastic journey is the radical renunciation of all that he holds dear, even of those things that, in his zeal and enthusiasm, he judges necessary. A man setting out on the monastic journey need know only one thing: that he knows nothing and has everything to learn.