[Picking up on the series commentating on The Rule of St. Benedict from May 15.]
The first seven chapters of the Rule give an overview of Benedict’s discipleship intentions. The liturgical chapters that follow (RB 8 – 20) seem to produce a break in Benedict’s momentum. And while Benedict’s motivation in doing so remains opaque he returns to structured intention with this chapter on deans.
While deans were of greater importance in regulating attempts at the common life prior to Benedict, by the time of the saint their influence as supervisors was waning, which is perhaps reflected in the brevity of this chapter. While their supervisory role was being reevaluated their character within this brand of in-house nurture is still needed. Most importantly, they are to be of good repute and holy life (21.1) and of virtuous living and wise teaching (21.4), the former reflecting personal qualities and the later those that impact the common life for the better. In this Benedict closely aligns the supervisor’s role with that of the abbot in chapter 64. In other words, in order to give direction in the abbot’s absence, the direction-givers are charged with being of the same heart and mind as him. It is not enough to simply carry out the abbot’s directives, but they must have likewise internalized and love the biblical message as he does. This role is the physical equivalent of Benedict’s recognition for the need of spiritual elders found in chapter 46, each role being founded upon the same personae dynamics; in each there is found the same level of spiritual competence.
If the community is large, let there be chosen from them brothers of good reputation and holy life, and let them be made deans. In all matters they should take care of their deaneries according to the commandments of God and the orders of their abbot. Only those should be chosen deans with whom the abbot can confidently share his burdens. They should not be chosen by rank but for the merit of their lives and the wisdom of their teaching.
– RB 21.1-3