Donald Richmond: I have a pronounced suspicion of formulas. Whether they are “biblical” (as in Dispensationalism), theological (as in Systematics) or practical (as in “one plus one” must always make two), I resist and almost always reject every human formula. With Coptic monastic, Matthew the Poor, I insist that “[f]aith transcends logic. When we follow Christ, we’re no longer limited by our thinking and calculations.” It is a human problem, most evident among American Christians, that we “attempt to force the simple and free teachings of the Bible into schemes to be analyzed and committed to memorization” (Words for our Time: The Spiritual Words of Matthew the Poor, Conciliar Press, 2013).
My resistance extends even into the Rules (“Regula”) of monastic practice. To be sure, it is important that we govern (regulate) lives. Certainly there is a biblical mandate to do so. Nevertheless, I think we must be cautious about how we govern, and who we allow to govern, our lives.
There are many different monastic Rules. The Rules of Basil, Augustine (of Hippo) and Benedict immediately come to mind. And, of course, there are others. For almost two decades, as an example, I belonged to an Anglican monastic order that, while drawing from the past, wrote their own Rule. As might be expected, I was highly suspicious of this.
With me, you also should be cautious about writing your own Rule. Often with such a project we tend towards being overly harsh or generous with ourselves. Moreover, it is important that a Rule reflect and re-source history. As Christians we will want to properly govern our lives. But to whom should we look?
Scripture, of course, immediately comes to mind. However, although it must not in any way be overlooked, Holy Scripture is far too broad in its content, context and concerns for us to develop a consistent and daily discipline from it — although, of course, some have done so. A Rule is needed to take these biblical principles and draw daily practical application from them. The question is “which Rule?”
In part the answer to this question will be determined by God. Thomas Merton went so far as to suggest that God choses the religious order to which we will belong. We do not choose it, it chooses us. Nevertheless, let me commend the Rule of Saint Benedict (whose Feast Day just passed) as a guide. I would especially urge you to find a local Benedictine community with which to associate. This will help to apply the teaching of Saint Benedict to your own life-context. There are at least four reasons why I suggest the Rule of Saint Benedict: (1) It is biblically based, (2) It is community-oriented, (3) It is adapted from harder Rules to the Western mindset and (4) Benedictine communities and commentaries are readily available here in the United States.
Everyone needs a Rule by which to govern his or her life. What form this takes will depend upon a number of variables. I commend the Rule of Saint Benedict as interpreted through (along with being in a community) Commentary for Benedictine Oblates: On the Rule of Saint Benedict by G. A. Simon (Wipf & Stock).
The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo California.
Image top right: Saint Benedict of Nursia. Detail from the fresco ‘The Crucifixion’ by Fra Angelico, 1441-42, Convento di San Marco, Florence, Italy.