PROLOGUE OF OUR MOST HOLY FATHER SAINT BENEDICT TO HIS RULE
7 Jan. 8 May. 7 Sept.
We have, therefore, to establish a school of the Lord’s service, in the setting forth of which we hope to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous. But if anything be somewhat strictly laid down, according to the dictates of sound reason, for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not therefore fly in dismay from the way of salvation, whose beginning cannot but be strait and difficult. But as we go forward in our life and in faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God’s commandments; so that never departing from His guidance, but persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.
Ut et regno eius mereamur esse consortes. Amen. “That we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.” The Latin consors refers to one with whom one shares property, or with whom one partakes of something together. The word is closely related to other words that are familiar to us from the sequence, Lauda Sion, that we shall be singing in a few weeks’ time: cohæredes et sodales. Cohæredes means sharers in a common inheritance. Sodales means mates, fellows, or boon-companions.
Tu qui cuncta scis et vales,
qui nos pascis hic mortales:
tuos ibi commensales,
coheredes et sodales
fac sanctorum civium.
O Thou, the wisest, mightiest, best,
Our present food, our future rest,
Come, make us each Thy chosen guest,
Coheirs of Thine and comrades blest,
With saints whose dwelling is with Thee.
(Translation of James Ambrose Dominic Aylward, O.P., 4 April 1813—5 October 1872)
Cohæredes occurs in Romans 8:17, which text has a remarkable resonance with the last sentence of the Prologue.
Si autem filii, et hæredes: hæredes, quidem Dei, cohæredes autem Christi: si tamen compatimur ut et conglorificemur.
And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.
The last phrase of the Prologue also recalls Saint Paul’s instruction to Timothy. It is like the discourse of the Father Master to a novice. For the sake of clarity, I give it in Monsignor Knox’s translation.
Take strength, my own son, from the grace which dwells in Christ Jesus. Thou hast learned, from many who can witness to it, the doctrine which I hand down; give it into the keeping of men thou canst trust, men who will know how to teach it to others besides themselves. Then, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus, take thy share of hardship. Thou art God’s soldier, and the soldier on service, if he would please the captain who enlisted him, will refuse to be entangled in the business of daily life; the athlete will win no crown, if he does not observe the rules of the contest; the first share in the harvest goes to the labourer who has toiled for it. Grasp the sense of what I am saying; the Lord will give thee quick insight wherever it is needed. Fix thy mind on Jesus Christ, sprung from the race of David, who has risen from the dead; that is the gospel I preach, and in its service I suffer hardship like a criminal, yes, even imprisonment; but there is no imprisoning the word of God. For its sake I am ready to undergo anything; for love of the elect, that they, like us, may win salvation in Christ Jesus, and eternal glory with it. It is well said, We are to share his life, because we have shared his death; if we endure, we shall reign with him, if we disown him, he in his turn will disown us. If we play him false, he remains true to his word; he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:1-13)
The very last word of the Prologue is also the last word of the book of the Apocalypse:
He that giveth testimony of these things, saith, Surely I come quickly: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Apocalypse 22:20-21)
Amen is a liturgical word and an echo of the heavenly liturgy: Amen. Saint Benedict who began the Prologue by saying, Obsculta, o fili, “Listen, O my son,” concludes the Prologue by inviting his monk to listen closely to the heavenly liturgy and to take from it one essential word: Amen. Mother Mectilde left us in The True Spirit a remarkable teaching on the word Amen. Her teaching reveals a profoundly Benedictine soul, marked by the sacred liturgy, and filled with desire for eternal life (Chapter IV) and for the heavenly homeland (Chapter LXIII). Listen to Mother Mectilde’s teaching:
In order to feel and realize his operations they need only be recollected, if possible, and assent in all simplicity to what the divine virtue and personality of Jesus Christ is accomplishing in their soul. If they cannot possess themselves in peace, reverence and attention, let them from their very heart repeat over and over again in union with the Church, Amen. This word is full of mystery, it is the soul’s acknowledgement of, and consent to what God does in his Church and to what the Church does for God.
It is fitting to repeat it often with this intention, such being the manifest reason why the Bride of Christ introduces it so frequently into her liturgy. The word Amen takes its origin in the church triumphant. Saint John draws our attention to it when speaking of the four animals and the twenty four elders who prostrate before the throne of the Lamb, answered Amen to all the acts of praise, adoration and blessing rendered to the living God and to Him who alone had power to open the book closed with seven seals, namely Jesus Christ, the Lamb immolated from the beginning of the world.
It is not mentioned that the twenty four princes of the Apocalypse uttered any other word than this precious word, which likewise contains an acquiescence and full assent to the operations of Jesus Christ in [the soul] and to their hidden effect upon the communicant. What then does the soul become through Holy Communion? Another Jesus Christ! What? Another Jesus Christ! But I feel nothing, see nothing, experience nothing. Undoubtedly, because this transformation is wrought in the very substance of your soul, and though your body is likewise affected, yet you can neither see nor savour the change, unless God reveals it to you, as I know he has done to some souls.
Not withstanding your being unable neither to see nor feel this divine work, yet it is unmistakably real; you must believe it, and it is the happiness of a soul, while deprived of all light upon this matter, to persevere in faith, that she may thus be rendered more perfectly submissive to these incomprehensible mysteries. What then does Jesus Christ do in the soul wherein he abides? Where does he retire? I repeat what I have already said. He withdraws into its Sancta Sanctorum, its inmost depth which serve as a sanctuary for this great High Priest and as a temple wherein to celebrate the divine and awesome immolation of himself to his Father. This sacrifice he wishes to renew in the soul as in the sacred temple which he sanctified on the day of its baptism. Oh, inconceivable marvel! Jesus Christ descends into our hearts to immolate himself and in profound silence to celebrate his Solemn Mass.(Catherine-Mectilde de Bar, Le véritable esprit)
The conclusion of the Prologue flows towards the conclusion of Chapter LXXIII and the last sentence of the Holy Rule. The heavenly homeland is the object of all our longings. By saying Amen, resolutely and from the heart, we anticipate here and now the eternal Opus Dei (Work of God) that it will be given us to celebrate in heaven.
Whoever, therefore, thou art that hasteneth to thy heavenly country, fulfil by the help of Christ this least of Rules which we have written for beginners; and then at length thou shalt arrive, under God’s protection, at the lofty summits of doctrine and virtue of which we have spoken above. (Chapter LXXIII)