Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 21, Prideful Deans

In Chapter 21 of The Rule of St. Benedict Benedict discusses the appointment of Deans. In large monasteries the abbot cannot manage the spiritual direction of the brothers all by himself. So Benedict instructs for the appointment of Deans. These are brothers who are known to be of "good repute and holy living." They are to be selected because of their "virtuous living and wise teaching." These Deans then work with groups of ten monks, overseeing their work and providing spiritual direction.

Many large churches try to do something similar. A handful of ministry staff, pastors and elders can't provide spiritual care and direction for everyone in very large congregations. So Dean-like positions are created where wise, virtuous and skilled teachers within the congregation are asked to minister to and lead smaller groups within the church (bible studies, accountability groups, small groups meeting in homes, etc.)

The potential trouble with many of these teaching and accountability structures is that they can become heavy-handed and abusive. Some people don't do well when given power over others, even a tiny bit of power. And maybe it's not even power over but simply having the role of coordinator. Just because you are hosting and running a meeting to facilitate coordination doesn't mean you're the boss of everyone. And yet some people start acting that way.

Benedict, shrewdly judging human nature here, recognizes this temptation and quickly goes on to say:
5If perhaps one of these deans is found to be puffed up with any pride, and so deserving of censure, he is to be reproved once, twice, and even a third time. Should he refuse to amend, he must be removed from office 6and replaced by another who is worthy.
The other thing to note here, and this is a distinctive aspect as we'll come to see about Benedict, is how he tries to bring grace into the correction and discipline. The prideful dean is given three chances to amend his ways.

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One thought on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 21, Prideful Deans”

  1. I just got back from "a Walk to Emmaus" which had a lot of "deans" who we're true servants and committed to building up all of us pilgrims. It's a wonderful thing to be led and counseled by such men. True meekness and humility joined with genuine concern for one another is a blessing and a joy!

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