Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 55, On Clothing

Chapter 55 of The Rule of St. Benedict has to do with the clothing provided the monks.

Of interest is that the monks aren't to complain about the colors or material of the clothing. Attention is given, rather, to the appropriateness of the clothing for the climate ("the clothing distributed to the brothers should vary according to local conditions and climate") and the fit ("the abbot ought to be concerned about the measurements of these garments that they not be too short but fitted to the wearers").

Beyond these considerations Benedict also instructs about the accumulation of clothing:
9Whenever new clothing is received, the old should be returned at once and stored in a wardrobe for the poor. 10To provide for laundering and night wear, every monk will need two cowls and two tunics, 11but anything more must be taken away as superfluous.
Basically, it's a wear one/wash one rule.

All told, then, a monastic approach to clothing seems to be a focus on functionality over aesthetics and to not accumulate clothing past the circulation of regular laundering.

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6 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 55, On Clothing”

  1. For most of my life I had a similar outlook on clothing - functionality over aesthetics - until I came to consider the possibility that aesthetics could become a small expression of empathy, challenge or solidarity; or to communicate a non-verbal message - "I know we haven't got long, but you can trust me"; "I respect you as a group, but I don't buy into your values"... I could even argue that a lack of thought given to clothing could result in unintended messages being broadcast on occasion - "I don't respect you enough to make an effort"; "I don't value being here with you". There is a deeper level to this at times, too. If my wardrobe is at odds with the way I come across, an inauthentic discord may be introduced. Some self-knowledge is required. I'm still pretty rubbish at getting this right, but choosing my wardrobe (when not driven by my lack of ironing) has become a small exercise in mindfulness.

  2. Whenever I think of clothing in a religious sense, I remember my grandfather, a Southern rural, small town preacher who got his start during the 1930s; white shirt and dark suite, always (For many years he owned one suite at at time). He never wear a colored shirt, even when they became the style in the 60's, and he never, never took his coat off when preaching, regardless of the heat. I recall the 1950s, as a little boy, sitting in small churches, on pews that were practically planks when my feet could not touch the floor, watching him preach, sweat rolling down his face, while every one else had the luxury of hand held funeral home fan; but the coat never came off.

    As progressive as I have become over the years, whenever I see people attending services in shorts and jeans I think that maybe we have lost something along the way. But, in our preaching of telling people to relax a bit, it was bound to happen. Still, there is something romantic about those old days of white shirts, dark suits and sweat. So, I make them part of my mini-mental vacations. I sip my coffee on a summer Sunday morning and enjoy them for a while; then on Monday, it is back to recognizing Christ in the present.

  3. This kind of clothing regimen would really take the drudgery out of keeping the stuff washed, folded, hung, decided on. In a word, ease and simplify the situation. Styles and colors? Not! As said the beloved apostle, perplexed about going on to be with the Lord or staying in the hear and now....."I'm in a straight betwixt the two." :) At the very least, a lot of us should clean out our closets and make a trip to Goodwill, and this just for starters! Isn't there a verse somewhere about God clothing the animals and flowers and so not to worry because his own are even more precious?

  4. But there is also to be no ostentatious asceticism: the cloths should fit, there should be enough to wash one and wear one, and they should be appropriate to the climate. No showing off how mendicant you are.

  5. Thing is, the wholesalers know that you're going to sell it somewhere, they don't care as long as they get the price they wanted, the buyer knows that you bought it from somewhere, they don't care where as long as they're happy with the price, product & service, it's supply and demand at the end of the day, no need for a conscience!

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