21 Apr. 21 Aug. 21 Dec.
Let him that hath been appointed Abbot always bear in mind what a burden he hath received, and to Whom he will have to give an account of his stewardship; and let him know that it beseemeth him more to profit his brethren than to preside over them. He must, therefore, be learned in the Law of God, that he may know whence to bring forth new things and old: he must be chaste, sober, merciful, ever preferring mercy to justice, that he himself may obtain mercy. Let him hate sin, and love the brethren. And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence, and not go too far, lest while he seeketh too eagerly to scrape off the rust, the vessel be broken. Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes, and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. And by this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up; but that prudently and with charity he should cut them off, in the way he shall see best for each, as we have already said; and let him study rather to be loved than feared. Let him not be violent nor over anxious, not exacting nor obstinate, not jealous nor prone to suspicion, or else he will never be at rest. In all his commands, whether concerning spiritual or temporal matters, let him be prudent and considerate. In the works which he imposeth, let him be discreet and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, when he said “If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all perish in one day.” Taking, then, the testimonies, borne by these and the like words, to discretion, the mother of virtues, let him so temper all things, that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak nothing at which to take alarm. And, especially, let him observe this present Rule in all things; so that, having faithfully fulfilled his stewardship, he may hear from the Lord what that good servant heard, who gave wheat to his fellow-servants in due season: “Amen, I say unto you, over all his goods shall he place him.”
“Let him that hath been appointed Abbot always bear in mind what a burden he hath received”. The word “burden” is significant here because it recalls the saying of Our Lord:
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
The abbot, in all his labours, is yoked to Christ, walking step by step with Christ, and doing nothing apart from Him. The yoke is a symbol of union; the abbot goes forward conjoined to Christ. Only in this way, can the abbot be of profit to his sons, by showing them that the yoke of Christ is sweet and the burden of Christ light.
“He must, therefore, be learned in the Law of God, that he may know whence to bring forth new things and old”. The abbot can never stop studying the Word of God. He is bound, by his office, to immerse himself in all the texts and rites of the sacred liturgy. He must be learned, not in the opinions of theologians and in passing intellectual trends, but in the age–old wisdom of the saints. It is required of the abbot that he be learned in the law of God; this refers not to academic qualifications, but to the learning that comes to one who applies himself to all that Psalm 118 expresses: “I will meditate on thy commandments: and I will consider thy ways. I will think of thy justifications: I will not forget thy words” (Psalm 118:15–16).
“He must be chaste, sober, merciful, ever preferring mercy to justice, that he himself may obtain mercy”. The abbot must be chaste because the unchaste man cannot see rightly; his vision of things is impaired. One of the effects of unchastity is a kind of spiritual blindness. Jesus says, “Can one blind man lead another? Will not both fall into the ditch together?” (Luke 6:39). The abbot must be merciful, lest when he comes to be judged, Our Lord say to him, “Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?” (Matthew 18:32–33).