It is better to keep silent than to speak of all these and their disgraceful way of life.
– RB 1, 12
There is a profoundly humanizing identity that comes with being a genuine commune which emerges from and is devoted to developing and physically living out a loving relationship with God and one another.
The way into this community comes with the asking of two questions: who and why. These words demand a deeper consciousness than the words that delineate what it means to be a member of mass society, namely what and how. Benedict had experienced the fatal results of when people base their lives on sensory experience. The affluent togetherness of his day paralyzed the individual, resulting in numbing social apathy. He experienced this in the people and institutions of his day, he experienced it in the church. Conversely, it was Benedict’s pervasive sense of selfhood and genuine social responsibility that started him on his quest for something beyond the vast emptiness of the public mind.
It is significant that Benedict begins the formal part of his Rule with a comparison. Throughout his early life he had come face-to-face with people who had a compromised sense of themselves, yet who claimed to be religious in character. While he wanted to alert members of genuine religious communes of that which he is not speaking, he also choose to not dwell on what he is not about. Nevertheless, healthy people remember. Benedict is rightfully shaped as much by what he is not. He will write of these briefly.
It is wrong for us today to try and make Benedict’s concrete experiences regarding Christian religious communal life into abstractions by which we, living outside of a communal structure, distill his teachings into attitudes that we can thereby smugly apply piecemeal to our place in mass society, and so psychotically justify being some sort of covert, hidden, romanticized, secret agents of clandestine monasticism outside of his formal structure. No. To do so only feeds yet again into the dehumanizing what and how of the collective myth that Benedict critiques and moves beyond.
In spite of fifteen hundred years of human social evolution, there is no doubt that Benedict’s Rule is no less relevant today than when he first wrote it, and perhaps even more so. While today’s positivist claims of science and technology purportedly aim to expand the capacity of human life for happiness, its fraudulence is revealed in its lack of genuine interest in values, and much less in real, genuine persons.
Benedict’s chief aim is to hand us back our genuine humanity.
But first, he wants to be clear with just a couple of simple reminders of what we are not…