Lent: Day 34 of 40 - Benedict

Whose rule will organize people and stuff to best effect?

Benedict belongs sooner in this week – but I’ve tried to place monastics on the weekends (Anthony and Patrick). Benedict is the ultimate, the reformer of monastic life with a Rule that forms our vision of religious orders in medieval life.

Benedict was born about 480CE, became a hermit but drew so many fans he had to take over a local monastery. By 529CE, he founded Monte Cassino monastery, and wrote a Rule to reorganize monasticism from its roots with Anthony. He was no recluse, and died in 547CE negotiating truces with the Visigoths.

Benedictine monastic organization gave abbots rule of self-contained communities of work and prayer: ‘Idleness is the enemy of the soul.’ This monastic reform carried monasticism through feudalism with enormous economic success, moderation, and stability.

Benedictine monasticism contrasts with the more mystic Celtic Irish movement, and with the continuing tendencies to extreme asceticism and hermit-like withdrawal in earlier forms of monasticism. Benedictines ran on a clock, with prayer and work scheduled throughout 24 hours, and lectionaries scheduling bible reading daily, weekly, and in annual and triennial cycles. The balance of constructive labour with worship and reflection generated significant economic capital.

If the nation-states are yielding to global patterns that seem feudal and fragmented, what will the religious response be? Choices to put assets into charitable trusts resisting the claims of governments are made by Bill Gates and other billionaires, as a flip side to their corporate interests inflating their private interests beyond the control of the same governments. They keep control, by naming beneficiaries. Social entrepeneurship is hardly a new Benedictine Rule but our trust law is rooted in these old orders.

Our ‘third sector’, complementary to the private sector and public sector, is being transformed. The distribution of control, benefit, and burden is still contentious – moral outrage follows when trusts pay too much ‘overhead’ to fundraisers or managers and people like national church staff confuse their contextual communities with managers and bureaucrats in private or public sectors. We need a Benedict – but are offered ‘Lion’s Den’ charlatans.

Whose rule will you follow:

Private profit?

Public service?

Charitable benefit?