The Benedictine Order was the first order of Western
Christian Monks to establish itself. The rules for their order were
written down by St Benedict at the Mother House of Monte Cassino in central
Italy ( a great edifice of Christian heritage recklessly destroyed by the
RAF in World War Two - and as it transpires in the process passing the
strategic advantage in the battle that followed to the Germans) the movement
spread rapidly across Europe. Despite the complacency that set in and the many
reform movements (such as the Cistercians, the Cluniacs and later the Friars)
that tried to return to the spirit of Benedict, the movement remained popular
and by the dawn of the 14th century it was still be far the largest order in
the Western Christian Church. The Rule of Benedict governed every aspect
of a monk's life. Here below we see a couple of excerpts describing the
types of monks that might be allowed and the type of daily work that should be
carried out by the brothers:
It is well known that there are four kinds of monks.
The first kind are the Cenobites:
those who live in monasteries
and serve under a rule and an Abbot.
The second kind are the Anchorites or Hermits:
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.
The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the
These, not having been tested,
as gold in the furnace (Wis.
by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
are as soft as lead.
In their works they still keep faith with the world,
so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
without a shepherd,
in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord's.
Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
that they call holy;
what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.
The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.
These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,
staying as guests in different monasteries
for three or four days at a time.
Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills
and succumb to the allurements of gluttony,
and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites.
Of the miserable conduct of all such
it is better to be silent than to speak.
Passing these over, therefore,
let us proceed, with God's help,
to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites.
The Daily work of the Monk
Idleness is the enemy of the soul.
Therefore the brothers should be occupied
at certain times in manual labor,
and again at fixed hours in sacred reading.
To that end
we think that the times for each may be prescribed as follows.
From Easter until the Calends of October,
when they come out from Prime in the morning
let them labor at whatever is necessary
until about the fourth hour,
and from the fourth hour until about the sixth
let them apply themselves to reading.
After the sixth hour,
having left the table,
let them rest on their beds in perfect silence;
or if anyone may perhaps want to read,
let her read to herself
in such a way as not to disturb anyone else.
Let None be said rather early,
at the middle of the eighth hour,
and let them again do what work has to be done until Vespers.
And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty
should require that they themselves
do the work of gathering the harvest,
let them not be discontented;
for then are they truly monastics
when they live by the labor of their hands,
as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
Let all things be done with moderation, however,
for the sake of the faint-hearted.
From the Calends of October until the beginning of Lent,
let them apply themselves to reading
up to the end of the second hour.
At the second hour let Terce be said,
and then let all labor at the work assigned them until None.
At the first signal for the Hour of None
let everyone break off from his work,
and hold himself ready for the sounding of the second signal.
After the meal
let them apply themselves to their reading or to the Psalms.
On the days of Lent,
from morning until the end of the third hour
let them apply themselves to their reading,
and from then until the end of the tenth hour
let them do the work assigned them.
And in these days of Lent
they shall each receive a book from the library,
which they shall read straight through from the beginning.
These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.
But certainly one or two of the seniors should be deputed
to go about the monastery
at the hours when the brothers are occupied in reading
and see that there be no lazy brother
who spends his time in idleness or gossip
and does not apply himself to the reading,
so that he is not only unprofitable to himself
but also distracts others.
If such a one be found (which God forbid),
let him be corrected once and a second time;
if he does not amend,
let him undergo the punishment of the Rule
in such a way that the rest may take warning.
Moreover, one brother shall not associate with another
at inappropriate times.