Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 71, A Blessing To Be Shown By All

Chapter 71 of The Rule of St. Benedict is about mutual obedience. The chapter starts:
1Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the abbot but also to one another as brothers, 2since we know that it is by this way of obedience that we go to God.
I think this emphasis on and praise of obedience in The Rule is the toughest thing for us to get our heads around. When it comes to issues of obedience and submission we are very worried about the potential for abuse.

So I think it's important here to remember that obedience is a "blessing" when it is "shown by all."

It's also good to keep in mind some of the things Benedict has been saying over the last few chapters. For example, in this chapter Benedict is keen to point out how the younger monks should be quick to obey the requests of the older monks. By contrast, in the chapter we covered last week the younger monks were told to not misuse their power over the older monks. Compare:
Chapter 70.6
If a brother, without the abbot's command, assumes power over those older...flares up and treats them unreasonably, he is to be subjected to the discipline of the rule.

Chapter 71.4
...younger monks should obey their seniors with all love and concern.
The point here is that the younger monks had some power--via their youth--over the older monks and they are asked to use it in a non-abusive way. In fact, the younger monks are to be responsive to the older monks with "all love and concern." The potential for abuse in Chapter 70 is dealt with by mutual obedience in Chapter 71.

Obedience is a two-edged sword. Obedience is both a problem and the solution. Obedience is a problem when it's asymmetrical, when one person "assumes power" over another. Obedience is the solution when it's symmetrical, when each person submits to the other.

Obedience is only a blessing when it is shown by all.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

6 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 71, A Blessing To Be Shown By All”

  1. A fascinating counterpoint from Nicolas Berdyaev's "Slavery and Freedom":

    "Those who are no longer under the law of the 'common', it is they who are the really moral people; while those who are subject to the law of the 'common' and determined by the social routine of daily life, they are the immoral people. Such people as Kierkegaard, are the victims of the old antipersonalistic ethics and antipersonalist religion, the religion of the social routine. But the tragedy which such people have lived through has an immense importance in the transvaluation of values which is now in progress."

    Berdyaev wrote those words in 1944. I thought you'd like to know about this work which counterposes itself to a "common ethics." It's important to note that Berdyaev does not advocate an individualism, but a personalism, as the proper ethical seat.

    BTW: I'm just trying to get my head around this. A dear friend and former prof of mine sent the book to me. It's extraordinarily revolutionary, after all, to call "the law of the 'common'" evil...

  2. Could you possibly elaborate a bit on the idea of obedience from the framework that Benedict is using it? The way you've presented the idea in this post (or perhaps my framing of your presentation) is that obedience is perhaps less about giving and following orders, and more about showing appropriate respect and humility to the brothers. I think of "obey" from a parent/child or God/disciples relationship, where power IS involved and there is a hierarchy and established authority. The entreaty to younger monks seems to suggest that one cannot assume authority - it must be bestowed first, and even then, the power must be used with respect. Today's post seems to suggest that "obedience" is really a means of mutual submission and sacrifice among fellow peers. Obedience in this context doesn't seem to be referring as much to following the barked orders of established authorities. I don't know if we use "obedience" in that context in today's language. That is where I'm getting confused. The idea is great - I'm just curious if we have substituted "obedience" with a different word in our modern vocabulary? Otherwise, I may need to broaden my definition of obedience and think about this longer.

  3. There is a declaration by John the Baptist regarding Jesus that we pass over very quickly, yet it should be the attitude of us all toward all as we live in the presence of Christ in all. He said, "He must increase, I must decrease". When we, like John the Baptist, can softly sink into "nothing" when in the presence of God's child, then obedience becomes a tenderness.

  4. To understand Benedict's thinking probably this is a good resource: At least for me, writings like the Rule were too theoretical without that background.
    I think barking orders is an anachronistic image from modern military discipline. But it must be remembered that Benedict advocates strict hierarchy and even corporal punishment. So there were commands, most famously "impossible" ones that were discussed in an earlier chapter. On deeper level obedience is about the mortification of self-will, which is necessary for everyone.
    Nowadays people like to think everyone is equal, but there are still hierarchies everywhere. Perhaps this could be linked to 'male gaze', where women are ranked into a hierarchy based on how attractive they are.

  5. Hi Sami,
    To be clear, I'm reading Berdyaev for the first time, but I expect to find out that his personalistic basis for ethics is grounded in the Christian call to serve others as Christ.. But, "...that kind of thinking goes back to Plato?" Depends on what you have in, I suppose. Was it Jowett who said philosophy is footnotes to Plato? You get the point...

  6. so, in reference to your last sentence, do you mean there is no blessing until ALL are obedient?

Leave a Reply