…those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot.
– RB 1, 2
Benedict was interested in establishing and promoting communal Christian life. He was not the first to do so. Pachomius is considered the father of cenobitic monasticism, although he likely organized smaller communal groups that already existed into larger monastic federations. Nevertheless, it is Benedict of Nursia who wrote the monastic regulations that have endured.
Another model of early devout Christian life is found in the eremitic tradition: eremos (Gk.) – uninhabited. The word hermit is derived from the later Latin, eremite, and refers to someone who lives in a desert. Benedict is not opposed to devoted Christian life lived more on one’s own than under the constant supervision and care of others, but he proceeds with caution in regard to it. Indeed, a religious life that is more solitary in nature is fraught with peril that arises from importunity. What is clear is that Benedict argues that before committing to a more direct dependence upon God it is definitely prudent to glean the wisdom found in intentional, regulated religious life lived in common with others who have the mutual authoritative role of communal critique.
This is done in two ways. The first is through living a regulated life. And the second is to live under an abbot.
Regulations serve two primary purposes: the first is to make one aware of the specifics of what is involved in a discipline, that the Christian life is not just about anything. And the second is to serve as a rote form of inculcation. Benedict will be specific about the reasons for these later in his Rule.
The second purpose is to give a proven other the authority to critique how you are proceeding in this life. This too will be examined later in the Rule.
It is these whom Benedict…proceed[s] to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites.
From the Latin: koinos – common, and bios – life, coenobites, serve under a rule and an abbot.
The psychological maturity found in what Benedict proposes is profound. That just as a psychologically healthy child is secure in working on their own in the same room for example as an attentive parent, so it is most humanizing to live in common with others under one roof who are themselves secure in their identity with God and who will serve as caring models for those who come after them. This healthy dynamic, when it comes to the person in general, was brilliantly spelled out by the object-relations psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, in the mid-twentieth century…
The single greatest indicator
of the degree of one’s emotional maturity
is found in one’s capacity
to be alone in the presence
of a loving other.
– ‘The Capacity to Be Alone‘, Donald Winnicott (paraphrase)