Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Invitation to Study!

The academic schedule ruled my life as student and teacher for so long that September still makes me itch to start a new project.  This year, it will be an exploration of St. Gregory the Great’s Life and Miracles of the Blessed Father Benedict and the Rule of St. Benedict placed in conversation with one another.  My goal is to get to know both St. Benedict and the Rule in a different light. 

I invite you to come along via the blog and newsletter!  But I also invite you to explore for yourself.  The primary resources I plan to use are two modern translations of the Life and two of the Rule, both with annotations and commentaries:  St. Gregory the Great: Life of St. Benedict, translated by  Hilary Costello and Eoi de Bhaldraithe, with commentary by Adalbert de Vogüé (Petersham MA: St. Bede Publications, 1993), The Life of St. Benedict by Gregory the Great, translation and commentary by Terence G. Cardong (Collegeville MN: The Liturgical Press 2009), RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English, with notes (Collegeville MN: The Liturgical Press, 1981), and Terence G. Kardong,  Benedict’s Rule: A Translation with Commentary (Collegeville MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996). (These annotated translations of the Rule are expensive.  Try used book search sites!)

St. Gregory the Great (Pope 590-603 CE) concludes his Life and Miracles of the Blessed Father Benedict with this advice:  "If anyone wishes to have a closer knowledge of [Benedict's] life and habits he will find all the points if his teaching [his] rule for this holy man could not possibly teach other than as he lived." (XXXVI, de Vogüé 174) The Life serves a very different purpose than the Rule. Written as one section, Book II, of Gregory's larger hagiographical work The Dialogues (so called because Gregory wrote in the popular form of dialogues between himself and a listener addressed as Peter), The Life and Miracles of Blessed Benedict looks to demonstrate St. Benedict's holiness by way of an impressive array of miracles no one could have performed unless favored by God.  Until modern tastes challenged the genre, most hagiographers since have followed the same principle: miracles demonstrate holiness.  Besides, they were very entertaining to readers as yet blissfully unaware of action comics and other kinds of modern heroic tales. 

The Rule is a more sober work altogether.  Written in the sixth century by the holy man himself—though authorship has sometimes been disputed-- as a "modest rule" for those who aspired to follow the monastic life as he himself had tasted and learned from it, it provides principles and directives for living to his followers then and now.

But St. Gregory points to the intersection of Rule and Life in the person of St. Benedict himself. The pope, himself a former monk snatched away from the quiet of his monastery for the work of Church administration, maintained that as St. Benedict wrote, so also he lived; as he lived, he wrote.  It's as likely a hypothesis as the dearth of historical data permits.

Putting the two works in dialogue with each other has provided me with a fruitful source of reflection on the principles of Benedictine life.  I am happy to share this exploration-in-progress with all of you as an invitation to follow the imperative voice that tumbled St. Augustine into a lifelong reflection on the Bible:  “take and read, take and read,” the voice said.  So: take and read both the Rule of St. Benedict and the Life and Miracles of the Holy Father Benedict in tandem as dual lenses through which to write the story of God's work in your own life.

Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB, Oblate Director

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