Of calling the Brethren to Council (III:2)

CHAPTER III. Of calling the Brethren to Council
17 Jan. 18 May. 17 Sept.

Let all therefore, follow the Rule in all things as their guide, and let no man rashly depart from it. Let no one in the monastery follow the will of his own heart: nor let any one presume insolently to contend with his Abbot, either within or without the monastery. But if he should so presume, let him be subjected to the discipline appointed by the Rule. The Abbot himself, however, must do everything with the fear of God and in observance of the Rule: knowing that he will have without doubt to render to God, the most just Judge, an account of all his judgments. If it happen that less important matters have to be transacted for the good of the monastery, let him take counsel with the Seniors only, as it is written: “Do all things with counsel, and thou shalt not afterwards repent it.”

In omnibus igitur omnes magistram sequantur regulam, neque ab ea temere declinetur a quoquam. The Holy Rule is our magistra; that is the instrument by which we are schooled in the service of the Lord. As sons of Saint Benedict, we are bound to (1) hold the Holy Rule in veneration, (2) to study it all our life long, making it spontaneously our first point of reference, and submitting to its wisdom in all the circumstances of our life; and (3)  to prefer it to every other school of holiness. The genius of the Holy Rule is that it gives us a pure distillation of the teachings of Saint John Cassian and the other monastic fathers who went before Saint Benedict in both East and West.

Blessed Marmion explains that the type of holiness God looks for in a child of Saint Benedict is — no surprise here — Benedictine holiness.

The perfection assigned to us is of a definite type. In the same way as the baptismal vows are the initial point of our supernatural holiness, so monastic profession is the first impulsion towards our Benedictine perfection. It is not, in fact, either a Dominican perfection, nor a Carthusian perfection which is to arise from our profession : it is a Benedictine perfection ; for our vows have in view the practice of the Rule of St. Benedict and of the Constitutions which govern us. The Rule, interpreted by our Constitutions — and not the Rule of another Order, or the Constitutions of another Congregation — is what we have vowed to observe. The Rule contains moreover all that is necessary for our perfection and holiness : it is in giving themselves to God by the bonds of this Rule that so many monks are made holy and come to the highest perfection, to the summit of sanctity. (Christ the Ideal of the Monk, p. 116)

As praiseworthy as other schools of holiness are, when God calls a soul into the Benedictine family, that soul most pleases God and glorifies Him best by entering into the grace that was given in superabundance to Saint Benedict in order to flow down from him over all his sons and daughters. This is a kind of capital grace; that is to say that it is the copious grace given to those who stand at the head of the great traditions in the Church, in view of their spiritual progeny. David sings of it thus:

Like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, Which ran down to the skirt of his garment: as the dew of Hermon, which descendeth upon mount Sion. For there the Lord hath commanded blessing, and life for evermore. (Psalm 132:2–3).

Concretely, this means that while a Benedictine can, for example, after his solemn profession, and with the abbot’s blessing, read — and with great profit — the Carmelite authors, they cannot become for him the primary reference and the form of his holiness without, in some way, falling short of the particular form of holiness by which God wills to be glorified in him. Similarly, although a Benedictine can hold Saint Francis de Sales in high regard (as did Blessed Abbot Marmion) and derive much instruction and consolation from his writings, it would be a mistake for a Benedictine to attribute to Saint Francis de Sales the spiritual fatherhood that, in God’s plan for him, rightly belongs to Saint Benedict and to no other. Mother Mectilde de Bar had a privileged relationship with Saint Francis of Assisi — she was, for a time, as a member of the Franciscan Order of the Annonciade — but when she discovered the Rule of Saint Benedict, she knew, beyond any doubt, that God had given Saint Benedict the full rights of paternity over her soul and over her destiny. There are monks who have a particular devotion to Saint Bruno, others to Saint Philip Neri. None other than Blessed John Henry Newman links the English Benedictine Saint Bede to the joyful saint of Rome:

Saint Bede naturally occurs to the mind, who is, in his person and his writings, as truly the pattern of a Benedictine as is St. Thomas of a Dominican. . . . It is remarkable that this flower of the Benedictine school died on the same day as Saint Philip Neri,—May 26; Bede on Ascension Day, and Philip on the early morning after the feast of Corpus Christi. It was fitting that two saints should go to heaven together, whose mode of going thither was the same; both of them singing, praying, working, and guiding others, in joy and exultation, till their very last hour. (The Mission of Saint Benedict, 1858)

In all such things, the true Benedictine spirit is one of freedom, and breadth, and delight in the glorious diversity of the Church Catholic. Concerning the Holy Rule, Bossuet wrote:

This rule is a summary of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of the whole doctrine of the Gospel, of all the institutions of the holy Fathers, of all the counsels of perfection. Therein appear, with eminence, prudence and simplicity, humility and courage, severity and gentleness, liberty and dependence. Therein correction has all its firmness; condescension, all its charm; commandment, all its vigour; subjection, its repose; silence, its gravity; the word, its grace; strength, its exercise; and weakness, its support: all of this notwithstanding, my Fathers, he [Saint Benedict] calls it a beginning, so as to nurture you always in fear. (Panegyric of Saint Benedict)

There is a particular forma sanctitatis that comes from following the Holy Rule in all things as one’s guide. It is this constant and spontaneous reference to the Holy Rule — a mysterious abridgment of the Gospel — that makes one a child of Saint Benedict.

If you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 4:15–16)

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