After describing the monastery as a "school for the Lord's service" in the Prologue of the Rule, Benedict sets out what we might call the "learning outcomes" of this education. What life should the monk be striving for? What does spiritual growth and maturity look like? What's on the syllabus of this spiritual education? Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict gives the list (from Leonard Doyle's translation):
Chapter 4It's an interesting list. Most of it I find convicting and powerful. But there are other places where the list is grim and medieval. I find the worries about laughter in 54 and 55 to be a bit much. And I don't resonate with 11 ("To chastise the body.") and 45 ("To be in dread of hell."). Still, the Rule is a medieval monastic guide, so things like this are to be expected. And I do think modern non-monastic equivalents can be devised for these passages. I think the concerns over laughter can be fruitfully applied to our modern quest to be titillated and entertained, which inculcates a silly and shallow superficiality in us.
1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength.
2. Then, one's neighbor as oneself.
3. Then not to murder.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honor all (1 Peter 2:17).
9. And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to become attached to pleasures.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in trouble.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To become a stranger to the world's ways.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
22. Not to give way to anger.
23. Not to nurse a grudge.
24. Not to entertain deceit in one's heart.
25. Not to give a false peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, for fear of perjuring oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to return evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone, and to bear patiently wrongs done to oneself.
31. To love one's enemies.
32. Not to curse those who curse us, but rather to bless them.
33. To bear persecution for justice's sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not addicted to wine.
36. Not a great eater.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not lazy.
39. Not a grumbler.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one's hope in God.
42. To attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good one sees in oneself.
43. But to recognize always that the evil is one's own doing, and to impute it to oneself.
44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
47. To keep death daily before one's eyes.
48. To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. When evil thoughts come into one's heart, to dash them against Christ immediately.
51. And to manifest them to one's spiritual guardian.
52. To guard one's tongue against evil and depraved speech.
53. Not to love much talking.
54. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily in one's prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one's past sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
59. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh; to hate one's own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot even though he (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the Lord's precept, "Do what they say, but not what they do."
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.
I also think there is a logic to chastising the body. Psychologists have discovered that willpower is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. So things like fasting are sort of like willpower exercise. If you regularly practice saying no to yourself your willpower muscle grows in strength, giving you greater freedom of choice. Thus the paradox many religious traditions point toward: if you learn to deny yourself you'll become free.
Finally, I don't spend a lot of time dreading hell. But I do think a lot about God's judgment. For example, I think a lot about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. For me to "dread hell" is to practice the works of mercy.