Excerpts fromThe Rule of St. Benedict, c.530 CE


....We have therefore to establish a school of the Lord’s service, in the institution of which we hope we are going to establish nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. But if, prompted by the desire to attain to equity, anything be set forth somewhat strictly for the correction of vice or the preservation of charity, do not therefore in fear and terror flee back from the way of salvation of which the beginning cannot but be a [6] narrow entrance. For it is by progressing in the life of conversion and faith that, with heart enlarged and in ineffable sweetness of love, one runs in the way of God’s commandments, so that never deserting His discipleship but persevering until death in His doctrine within the monastery, we may partake by patience in the suffering of Christ and become worthy inheritors of His kingdom. Amen.

5. Concerning Obedience

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This is becoming to those who value nothing as more dear to them than Christ, on account of the holy servitude they have professed, whether through fear of hell or on account of the glory of life eternal. As soon as any order has been given by a superior, as being the same as if the order were divinely given, they can brook no delay in carrying it out. Concerning these the Lord says: “As the ear heard, he obeyed Me.” And again He says to teachers: “He who hears you, hears Me...”

6. Concerning Silence

Let us do what the prophet says: “I said, I will watch my ways, that I transgress not with my tongue. I set a watch upon my mouth, I became dumb and humbled and silent from good.” Here the prophet shows, if one ought sometimes to abstain from speaking good for the sake of keeping silence, how much more ought one to be deterred from evil words on account of the penalty of sin. Wherefore, even though it is always for good and holy converse that tends to edification, let but rare leave to talk be granted to fully trained disciples, on account of the importance of silence; because it is written: “In much speaking thou wilt not escape sin.” And elsewhere: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” For to speak and to teach becomes the master, to be silent and to listen beseems the disciple. And so if anything has to be asked of the superior let it be asked with all humility and with reverent subjection.

But all manner of buffoonery and idle, mirth-provoking words we adjudge should be perpetually restrained in every place; and for such discourse we permit not the disciple to open his mouth.

7.Concerning Humility

Brethren, the sacred Scriptures cry out to us and say: “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and every one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In saying this it reveals that all exalting is a form of pride, against which the prophet shows that he is on his guard by saying: “Lord, my heart is not exalted nor mine eyes uplifted; and I have not concerned myself with great things nor with wonderful things above my reach.” 

The second step in humility is, if anyone, loving not his own self-will, delight not to fulfil his natural desires, but in his deeds reproduce that word of the Lord Who says: “I did not come to do My will, but His Who sent Me.” Again the Scripture says: “Self-will has punishment, but necessity acquires a crown.”

The third step in humility is that one for love of God subject himself in all obedience to his superior, imitating the Lord, of Whom the Apostle says: “Made obedient even unto death.”

The fourth step in humility is if in that same [26] obedience, though things hard and contrary and even injuries, no matter of what kind, have been inflicted, he keep patience with a quiet conscience and enduring grows not weary nor gives in, for Scripture says: “He who perseveres to the end, the same shall be saved.” And again: “Let thy heart be comforted and wait for the Lord.” And showing that the faithful man ought for the Lord’s sake to wait patiently, seem all things never so contrary, it says in the name of the suffering: “For Thy sake we are afflicted all the day; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”


The sixth step in humility is if a monk be content with the meanest and worst of everything and with respect to everything enjoined him adjudge himself a profitless workman and unworthy, saying to himself with the prophet: “I was brought to nothing and was ignorant: I became as a beast of burden before Thee and I am always with Thee.”

The seventh step in humility is if he not only with his mouth denounce himself as inferior to all and more worthless, but also believe it in his inner consciousness, humbling himself and saying with the prophet: “But I am a worm and not [28] a man, a shame of men and an outcast of the people: I was exalted and humbled and confounded.” And again: “It is good for me that Thou didst humble me, that I may learn Thy commandments.”


The ninth step in humility is if a monk restrain his tongue from speaking so as to keep silence and not speak till questioned, the Scripture showing that: “In much speaking sin may not be avoided”; and that “the talkative man will not be guided aright in the world.”

The tenth step in humility is if he be not easily and quickly moved to laughter, because it is written: “The fool lifts up his voice in laughter.”

The eleventh step in humility is if when a monk speaks he speak few and reasonable words, calmly and without laughter, humbly and with gravity; and be not noisy in speech, as it is written: “A wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”

The twelfth step in humility is if a monk not only be humble in heart, but also always in his very body evince humility to those who see him, [29] that is, that in the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or elsewhere, sitting, walking, or standing, his head be always bent, his eyes cast down, accounting himself at all times as one convicted of his sins; and likewise accounting himself to be already presented before God’s awe-inspiring judgment, always in his heart saying to himself what that publican in the Gospel said with eyes fixed upon the ground: “Lord, I, the sinner, am not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven.” And again with the prophet: “Bowed and humbled am I on every side.”

8. Concerning the Divine Offices at Night

In winter time, that is from the first of November until Easter as found by computation, let rising be at the eighth hour of the night, as seems reasonable, that there may be a moderately increased length of rest after midnight and that all may rise fully rested; and let what time remains after night office be devoted to thoughtful study by brethren who at all need it for the psalter or lections. But from Easter till the above-named first of November, let the time of night office be so arranged that after a very short interval during which the brethren can go out for the necessities of nature, the morning office, which is to be said at day-break, may at once follow.

22. How the Monks Shall Sleep.

Let them sleep singly in separate beds. Let them receive bedding suitable to their manner of life, at the discretion of the abbot. If it can be done, let all sleep in one room: but if their number does not allow of this, let them repose by tens or by twenties with their seniors who have charge of them. Let a candle burn continually in the dormitory until morning. Let them sleep clothed and girded with girdles or cords, but let them not have knives at their sides while they sleep, lest by chance while dreaming they wound a sleeper; and let them be monks always ready; and upon the signal being given let them rise without delay and hasten one after the other, yet with all gravity and decorum, to be ready in good time for the Work of God. Let not the younger brethren have their beds by themselves, but among those of the seniors: and let them [45] be allowed gently to encourage one another as they rise for the Work of God, because some may feel drowsy and listless.

33. Whether the Monks Should Have Anything of Their Own

Very specially is this vice of private ownership to be cut off from the monastery by the roots; and let not anyone presume to give or accept [54] anything without the abbot’s orders, nor to have anything as his own, not anything whatsoever, neither book, nor writing-tablet, nor pen; no, nothing at all, since indeed it is not allowed them to keep either body or will in their own power, but to look to receive everything necessary from their monastic father; and let not any be allowed to have what the abbot has not either given or permitted. And let all things be common to all, as it is written: “Neither did any one of them say or presume that anything was his own.” But if anyone shall have been caught indulging in this most baneful vice, let him be admonished once and again: if then he shall not have amended, let him be subjected to correction.

39. Concerning the Amount of foods

We believe that for the daily refection in all the months of the year, alike when it is at the sixth hour of the day as when it is at the ninth, two cooked dishes will avail, in consideration of the weakness of different individuals, that he who perchance cannot eat of one may be sufficiently catered for by the other; so for all the brethren let two cooked dishes suffice; and if there be fruit in addition or young vegetables let there be added a third dish also. Of bread let one pound by weight suffice, whether there be but one meal, or both dinner and supper, though if they are going to sup let a third part from that same pound be kept back by the cellarer and served when they sup. But if by chance any hard work shall have been done, it shall be within the discretion and power of the abbot to make some addition, if it be expedient, so long as all surfeiting be avoided and he take care that indigestion never overcome the monks; for nothing is so adverse to any Christian as surfeiting, as says our Lord: “See to it that your hearts be not weighed down with surfeiting.” And let not the same quantity be served to boys of tender age, but less than to their elders, moderation being observed in all cases. And let all abstain entirely from the eating of the flesh of quadrupeds, altogether excepting from this rule the weak and the sick.

40. Concerning the Amount of Drink.

Everyone has his own proper gift from God, one after this manner and another after that; and so it is with some misgiving we appoint the measure of other men’s living: however, duly considering the infirmity of the weak we believe that half a pint of wine per head per day suffices; but let those to whom God gives the power of the endurance of abstinence know that they shall have their due reward. But if the necessities of the place, or the work, or the heat of the summer should call for more, let it stand within the discretion of the superior to grant more, he taking [62] all care that neither surfeiting nor drunkenness creep in. Although we read that wine is by no means for monks, yet because in our time monks cannot be persuaded to see this, at all events let us agree as to this, that we will not drink to satiety, but somewhat sparingly; because: “Wine makes even the wise to fall away.” But where the necessities of the place make it clear that not even the above mentioned measure can be found necessary, but less by far, or even none at all, let those who live there bless God and not murmur; for this especially is what we are admonishing, that they be free from murmuring.

48. Concerning the Daily Manual Labour.

Idleness is inimical to the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be occupied, at fixed seasons, with manual work and again at fixed seasons with spiritual reading: and so we think the hours for each should be arranged on this plan: that is to say that from Easter to the first of October they go out in the morning from Prime and work at whatever has to be done until nearly the fourth hour: and from the fourth hour have time for reading until about the sixth hour. And when they rise from table after the sixth hour let them rest upon their beds in complete silence; or if by chance anyone should wish to read, let him so read as that he may not disturb anyone else. Let None be said in good time, about the middle of the eighth hour, and then again let them work at whatever has to be done, until Vespers. And let them not be distressed if poverty or the needs of the place should require that they busy themselves about gathering in the crops with their own hands; for then are they truly monks, when they live by the work of their own hands, as did our fathers and the apostles. Let everything be done in moderation however on account of the faint-hearted.

And from the first of October until the beginning of Lent let them have reading time until the end of the second hour; and at the second hour let Terce be said and then all go to work until None at whatever is assigned them. But as soon as the first signal for None is made, let each and all break off from their work and be ready by the time the second signal has sounded. And after dinner let them have time for their studies and for learning the psalms. But in Lent let them have time for their studies from morning until the end of the third hour; and let them go to work at whatever is assigned them until the end of the tenth hour. In Lent moreover let them each have a book from the library and read it straight through: and these books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent. And above all let one or two seniors be deputed to go round the monastery and keep observation during reading hours lest by chance any brother be found morose and idle, or chatting instead of intent upon his reading; and therefore be not only useless to himself but also a distraction to others. And if, which be far from us, such an one be found, let him be corrected once and yet again; and if then he be not amended let him be subjected to correction according to rule in such wise that others be put in fear. And let not brother associate with brother at times not appointed for that purpose.

Further on the Lord’s day let all have time for reading, except those who have been deputed for various duties; but if there shall be anyone so uninterested or so inert that through lack of will-power or of ability he can neither study nor read let there be some work assigned him that he may not be idle. To weak and delicate brethren let there be assigned such suitable occupation and duties that they be neither overcome of idleness nor so oppressed by exhaustion through work that they be driven to flight. Their weakness is to be taken into consideration by the abbot.

58.  Concerning the Discipline of Those Received as Bretheren

In the case of anyone newly come to essay conversion of life, let not an easy entrance be accorded him; but as says the Apostle: “Prove the spirits, whether they are from God.” Therefore if anyone who comes shall have persevered in knocking for admission and after four or five days shall have been found patiently to bear all the injuries inflicted upon him and the difficulty of gaining entrance and shall be found to persist with his petition, let entrance be granted him and let him be in the guests’ house for a few days. After that, let him be in the novices’ cell where he may meditate and eat and sleep. And let there be deputed to take charge of him, a senior, such an one as is well fitted to win souls, to be solicitous for his welfare and to watch with scrupulous care, whether in very truth he seek God and be solicitous as to the Work of God, obedience and humiliations. Let there be set before him all the hard and the rough things through which lies the way to God; and if he shall have given promise of stability and perseverance let this rule be read right through to him after the lapse of two months and let this be said to him: “Behold the law under which thou dost wish to serve as a faithful soldier; if thou art able to keep it, enter; but if thou art not able, depart free.” If thus far he shall have stood firm, then let him be conducted to the aforenamed novices’ cell and be again tested in all patience; and after the lapse of six months let the rule be re-read to him that he may know upon what he is entering: and if thus far he stand firm, after four months let this same rule again be re-read to him: and if, having deliberated of the matter with himself he shall have promised that he will keep it all and observe everything ordered him, then let him be received into the community, knowing himself to be now established by the law of the rule so that it is not lawful for him from that day onwards to go forth from the monastery, nor to shake free his neck from beneath the yoke of the rule which it was permitted him after such prolonged deliberation either to refuse or to accept.

Let him then who is to be received, in the oratory, in the presence of all the brethren, make promise of stability, of conversion of life and of obedience, in the presence of God and of His saints, that if he should ever act otherwise he may know he will be condemned by Him Whom he mocks. And concerning that promise of his let him make petition, calling to witness the saints whose relics are there and the abbot there present: the which petition let him write with his own hand, or at the least, if he is unlettered, let another write it at his request and let him, the novice, make his mark and with his own hand place it upon the altar: and when he shall have placed it there let the novice himself immediately begin this versicle: “O stablish me according to Thy word, that I may live: and let me not be disappointed of my hope”; which versicle let the whole community repeat thrice, adding “Gloria Patri.” Then let him, the novice brother, prostrate at the feet of all that they may pray for him; and from thenceforth let him be accounted one of the community. If he has any property, let him either assign it beforehand to the poor, or else by formal donation confer it upon the monastery, reserving nothing at all for himself, as becomes one who must know that thenceforth he will hold no power even over himself. Forthwith therefore, in the oratory, let him also be stripped of the garments, his own property, with which he is clad and be clothed with such as are the property of the monastery: and let those garments of which he was stripped be put away to be kept in the wardrobe, that if at any time, by suasion of the devil, he should consent to go forth from the monastery, which God forbid, he may then be cast forth unfrocked. Let him not receive back that petition of his which the abbot took from upon the altar, but let it be kept in the monastery.

Source: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2202