The Rule of St Benedict - the heart, hand and brain of a monastery

Admont Abbey Church © Stefan Leitner

The Rule of St Benedict

The heart, hand and brain of a monastery

When the Benedictine Abbey of Admont was founded in 1074, monks and nuns had already been living according to the Rule of St Benedict all over the then known world for over 500 years.

Benedict was born around 480 in what is now Italy as the son of a rich landowner. He was sent to Rome to study, but soon abandoned his studies to live as a hermit in the mountains of Enfide. He soon attracted the attention of the people in the neighbourhood, so that the monastic community of Vicovaro elected him as their abbot. However, the tension in this community was so great that Benedict left the monastery again after an attempt was made to kill him.

St Benedict withdrew to Subiaco and, according to tradition, founded 12 small monasteries there. The monastery of Santa Scolastica, which is dedicated to his twin sister, still exists there to this day. Conflicts with the local priests and the bishop made another move necessary. In 529, Benedict moved to Monte Cassino, 80 kilometres away, and founded another monastery there, which is now regarded as the mother monastery of the Benedictines.
The house rules that he wrote for Monte Cassino quickly spread, and today around 40,000 monks and nuns around the world live according to these rules. The purpose of the Regula Benedicti is to live the message of Jesus.
In the original sense, the Rule of St Benedict is an instruction manual for living according to the Gospel. It is summarised in the tradition with the three Latin words "ora et labora et lege" - "pray and work and read". This Benedictine triad characterises monastic life. First and foremost is prayer, which, according to Benedict, nothing is preferable to prayer. Several times a day, the monks in Admont gather in the so-called choir chapel to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together. This chapel is something like the centrepiece of our house. Prayer sets the rhythm for the day and for Benedictine life. In prayer, we connect our hearts with the heart of God. We listen with our hearts, as St Benedict demands of us. Without regular prayer, a monastery would not be a monastery. After prayer, the monks should go about the work to which they are assigned.

This area has changed considerably since the time of St Benedict. In the past it was mainly agriculture, but today the monks have many other tasks. The monks are supposed to live from the labour of their hands, and so this anniversary edition attempts to portray the various tasks of the Admont monks in the past and today. In addition to prayer and work, spiritual reading is an essential part of the life of a Benedictine monk. The monk should spend a certain amount of time each day reading the Holy Scriptures and other spiritual texts. This daily occupation should serve as nourishment for the brain and thus help the monk to develop an even deeper relationship with Christ.
In addition to this great triad, St Benedict regulates many small and often seemingly inconspicuous matters, which, however, make deeper sense within the larger structure of a monastery. It is important to St Benedict that his monks can lead a successful life. No one should be overburdened, no one disadvantaged. A monastery should be a place of peace and mutual goodwill. Benedict ends his rule with the words "Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus" - "So that God may be glorified in everything". This sentence thus stands behind all the instructions he gives. Everything should be done for the glory of God.