In my previous post, I briefly outlined the project I will be working on for my Doctor of Ministry at Sioux Falls Seminary. This project is rooted in a deep and practical study of an ancient rule known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” In this post, I will provide a little more information on the author behind this ancient monastic rule.
Monasticism become a popular movement around the time that Constantine declared Christianity to be the favored (and then legal) religion of Rome in the 4th century. The Church went from being a persecuted minority, depending on one another and the Holy Spirit for community life, to a powerful majority as a state religion. As a result of this change, the faith slowly become corrupt. Church leaders began making extravagant amounts of money and yielding extraordinary power over those in their charge. It became the opposite of how Jesus taught his followers to exercise leadership:
25 Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Many Christians were deeply pessimistic about the corrupt nature of the church. In order to live out the radical elements of the Christian faith, many retreated to the desert to be alone with God, study God’s Word, and commit to intercessory prayer on behalf of the Church.
It was in this climate (during the 6th century) that Benedict was born into an affluent family in Rome. From the little we know, Benedict lived a charmed life and had all the comforts of luxury. As he got older and was studying in the great city of Rome, he became disillusioned with his wealth and the state of the church. It was during this time of seeking that he felt drawn to monasticism.
Benedict retreated into the desert and pursued the life of a hermit. A hermit was a monk who lived on his own in an effort to seek God through prayer, Scripture study, and manual labor. Benedict’s fame began to grow and a large multitude of people were regularly visiting him to receive his counsel and insight into the spiritual life. Eventually, other men decided to apprentice themselves to Benedict and become his fellow monks. Benedict’s first foray into forming a monastery ended up as a failure; his disciplines were too strict and demanding for those who sought to follow him.
Eventually, Benedict formed another monastery at Monte Cassino around 529 (about 80 miles southeast of Rome). It was from within this monastery that Benedict developed what has come to be known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” It was written with the purpose of applying the Gospel to the everyday lives of those in his monastic community. Nevertheless, since it was a faithful exposition of the Scriptures for community life, it became the standard monastic rule of the Western church. The fact that there are Benedictine communities all over the world, 1,500 years after the writing of the Rule, demonstrates the power of this ancient rule for our lives today.
In my next post, I will briefly outline the Rule of St. Benedict and explain how you can study it for yourself to experience the benefits of this ancient document.