Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 65, As Many as Four Times

In Chapter 65 of The Rule of St. Benedict directions are given for how to select and deal with priors. In The Rule the title "prior" doesn't seem to be used in a specific sense. It appears to refer to any office or role lower than the abbot but superior to the brothers in the monastery.

The concern in Chapter 65 is with priors who become "puffed up by the evil spirit of pride and thinking of themselves as second abbots, usurp tyrannical power and foster contention and discord in their communities" (65.2). Priors of this ilk create "envy, quarrels, slander, rivalry, factions and disorders of every kind" (65.7).

I'm sure we've all seen this sort of thing play out in our churches and workplaces. But my interest here is on one of the things Benedict recommends in dealing with such behavior. Specifically, when this sort of behavior is observed Benedict says that the person "is to be warned verbally as many as four times."

As many as four times. That seems to be a lot. Can you imagine sitting down someone at work or church and correcting them verbally "as many as four times"?

I think this repeated correction before taking action shows two different things. First, it builds grace into the system. Second, and this is the point I want to make, this process is relationally demanding. Four hard conversations before anything is done.

And most of us, I think, aren't willing to put in that kind of time or effort.

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2 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 65, As Many as Four Times”

  1. Such efforts at perfection are like "chasing the wind" (futile) and leads one to either develop a secret defense mechanism that makes daily life a mere ritual (with no heart) or sincerity will drive them eventually to organic depression.

  2. Four times. Oh, my. From one who has not become comfortable with confrontation in sixty three years, that makes me queasy just thinking about it. I realize that there is the idea that each confrontation is supposed to make one stronger for the next; but to be honest, I always feel just as queasy as with the last one.

    But, maybe, just maybe, it is the queasy feeling that keeps us humble. That is my hope, anyway. Though someone who can easily face a problem face to face may say to me, "Hey, that's a weakness". Could be; probably is. But it certainly has given God and I a lot of opportunity for conversation.

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