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BENEDICT, RULE OF

The monastic rule of life drawn up by St. Benedict of Nursia. Originally written for the monks of Monte Cassino in the first half of the sixth century, it later became the standard not only for Benedictines but for all Western monasticism. Building on the earlier rules of St. Basil (329-79) and St. Caesarius of Arles (470-542), Benedict mitigated the practice of austerities and concentrated on obedience, self-conquest, the liturgy, and community life. The opening sentences of the rule set the tone for its whole spirit: "Listen, my son, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your young heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience."

The government provided by the rule is patriarchal, giving final authority to the abbot, who is elected by vote. The monk vows to reside in one place (stability), to be obedient, and to practice monastic virtue. In the monastery the center of life is the opus Dei, or "work of God," consisting of prayer, private but especially liturgical in the celebration of Mass and recitation of the Divine Office. Possessions are to be held in common, and in this way the monastery is given the freedom to practice the works of mercy for which the Benedictine tradition has become famous. Manual labor, along with prescribed regularity during the day, was the focus of self-discipline not enjoyed before. It also shifted the institutes of men from a predominantly nonclerical to a growing clerical membership. There are eighteen Benedictine confederations in the world, besides the Camaldolese, Silvestrines, and the Pan-American federation. Corresponding federations of Benedictine Sisters have been formed. Along with autonomous monasteries, they number over three hundred foundations in the Catholic Church.

All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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