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For the Abbot in his doctrine ought always to observe the bidding of the Apostle, wherein he says: “Reprove, entreat, rebuke”; mingling, as occasions may require, gentleness with severity; shewing now the rigour of a master, now the loving affection of a father, so as sternly to rebuke the undisciplined and restless, and to exhort the obedient, mild, and patient to advance in virtue. And such as are negligent and haughty we charge him to reprove and correct. Let him not shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they appear, let him strive with all his might to root them out, remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo. Those of good disposition and understanding let him, for the first or second time, correct only with words; but such as are froward and hard of heart, and proud, or disobedient, let him chastise with bodily stripes at the very first offence, knowing that it is written: “The fool is not corrected with words.” And again “Strike thy son with the rod, and thou shalt deliver his soul from death.”
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The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called, and to know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required; and he must consider how difficult and arduous a task he hath undertaken, of ruling souls and adapting himself to many dispositions. Let him so accommodate and suit himself to the character and intelligence of each, winning some by kindness, others by reproof, others by persuasion, that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to him, but may even rejoice in their virtuous increase.
My appreciation of Chapter II of the Holy Rule increases with every reading of it and with every passing year. Saint Benedict draws upon Saint Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy, which is a kind of vademecum or handbook for preachers of the Gospel. In some way, Second Timothy is the Apostle’s final testament. He writes:
I adjure thee in the sight of God, and of Jesus Christ, who is to be the judge of living and dead, in the name of his coming, and of his kingdom, preach the word, dwelling upon it continually, welcome or unwelcome; bring home wrong-doing, comfort the waverer, rebuke the sinner, with all the patience of a teacher. The time will surely come, when men will grow tired of sound doctrine, always itching to hear something fresh; and so they will provide themselves with a continuous succession of new teachers, as the whim takes them, turning a deaf ear to the truth, bestowing their attention on fables instead. It is for thee to be on the watch, to accept every hardship, to employ thyself in preaching the gospel, and perform every duty of thy office, keeping a sober mind. (2 Timothy 4:1–5)
An abbot, no less than the first missionaries of the Gospel, is bound to preach the word to his sons. He is to dwell upon it continually. The whole form and rhythm of Benedictine life fosters this dwelling upon the word continually: first of all, in choir, and then in the practice of lectio divina. The four moments of lectio divina — lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio — are first practiced in choir. What is the Opus Dei but the descent of the Word of God into our midst? We receive the Word by hearing it chanted and by chanting it so that others may hear it; this is lectio. We repeat the Word indefatigably in the form of antiphons and responsories; this is meditatio. We turn the Word to prayer in collects and in hymns; this is oratio. The monk who prefers nothing to the Opus Dei will, over time, discover that he is indwelt by the Word; this is contemplatio. Like Our Lady, he will treasure up the Word in his heart. He will turn it over and, by cradling it in his heart, he will begin to experience its effects.
But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it. (Deuteronomy 30:14)
At the end of the Second Epistle to Timothy, Saint Paul announces his death:
For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming. Make haste to come to me quickly. (2 Timothy 4:1–8)
In Chapter IV Saint Benedict sets forth four instruments by which a monk may, like Saint Paul, live each day and each hour in readiness for death:
44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
Saint Benedict does no more than quote a phrase from the Second Epistle to Timothy, but the phrase he quotes is so well chosen that it indicates an intuitive grasp of its context. One senses not only that Saint Benedict was familiar with the Second Epistle to Timothy, but also that he had made the text his own. An abbot needs to submit to the Word of God and allow it to grow in him and fill him if he is to “rule souls and adapt himself to many dispositions.” There are no failproof training courses to prepare a man for fatherhood over a monastery. While certain skills may learned from others and cultivated by experience, only one thing effectively equips a man for “the government of souls,” and this one thing is his own personal submission to the Word of God and exposure to the Eucharistic Face of Christ, and this day after day.
Saint Benedict will conclude this chapter with the humility and sober realism that characterise him :
And thus, being ever fearful of the coming inquiry which the Shepherd will make into the state of the flock committed to him, while he is careful on other men’s account, he will be solicitous also on his own. And so, while correcting others by his admonitions, he will be himself cured of his own vices.
Saint Benedict acknowledges that the abbot himself will not be free of vices, that is of ingrained habits of sin. He can nonetheless be cured of them by being the first in the monastery to “preach the word, dwelling upon it continually, welcome or unwelcome” (2 Timothy 4:2). By pointing out wrong-doing, the abbot will correct himself. By comforting the waverer, he himself will be comforted. By rebuking the sinner, he will see his own sins all the more clearly. And by doing these things with all the patience of a teacher, he will discover the merciful patience of God towards him, and so remain, in all circumstances, humble and full of thanksgiving, and so will he begin to sing with understanding:
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and let all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all he hath done for thee. Who forgiveth all thy iniquities: who healeth all thy diseases. Who redeemeth thy life from destruction: who crowneth thee with mercy and compassion. Who satisfieth thy desire with good things: thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 102:1–5)