+ST BENEDICT’S USE OF SACRED SCRITPURE Chapter Talk Fr. Michael 12 Aug. 2018
Since Fr Elias has been giving us an ongoing commentary on the Rule of Benedict, I thought to touch on an aspect of the Rule not often addressed but important for our daily lives as monks. This is St Benedict’s use of Sacred Scripture as the basis and foundation for all that he is seeking to convey in his Rule. Benedict is clear from the beginning in his prologue, how he is seeking to arouse the monk from sleep, giving him a lively sense of God’s presence and action in his life. He saw clearly as the commentary RB 1980 puts it “the value for one seeking to live by the Gospel, of a practical compendium, an abridged version, containing those precepts that applied most directly to the organization of monastic life.”(1) The scriptural quotations Benedict uses are not embellishments but are normative for all that he wishes to convey.
The reason for my touching on this aspect of the Rule is a book I have been going through called Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by a Chistopher Hall. He does a wonderful job at showing the freedom with which early authorities in Church had in going about scriptural interpretation. They developed four levels of meaning a scriptural text may have: the literal or historical sense, the allegorical or Christological sense, the tropological or moral sense and finally the anagogical or eschatological sense. These levels are based on how writers like St Paul and the gospel of John had already approached the text. These various interpretations were then developed by Origen, one of the earliest and most learned of all the early fathers. They were further developed with varied emphasis given by the different schools of thought, especially the Alexandrian or Antiochene schools. These were all familiar to John Cassian who was to be such a formative influence in the life and thinking of Benedict.
St Benedict was not at all confined in his use of scripture as we so often are in our day by the great emphasis in most of our own lives, on the historical critical method or approach to scripture. For Benedict, the Word of God was living and active, sharper than any two edged sword. He experienced first hand the way Scripture speaks directly to the reader or hearer of the Word. As was true of so many of our early Cistercian fathers after him, Benedict thought biblically, the inspired Word shaping the very pattern of their thought. I have found this most striking in the thought of St Bernard, to where it is not easy at times to distinguish between his own thinking and that of the scriptural writers themselves.
Benedict is said to have as many as 124 O.T. citations or references and 168 from the
New. This is partly due, no doubt, because of the fact that in those days they did
not have all the reading material available as we do. And when they read
Scripture back then, they often did so out loud so that the text left a more lasting
mark on their minds and memory.
We too are exposed to the living Word of God all day long whether through the
Divine Office, our participation in the Eucharist or in our private reading. We too,
may find it refreshing when a scriptural text suggests itself while we are dealing
with a difficult aspect of daily life, or when a text comes off the page in our
private lectio. Though there have been some real advantages that have
come through the use of the historical critical method of interpreting the
Scriptures, we have lost to some degree the deep sense of their sacredness.
Origin, as was true of many of the Fathers had a wonderful awareness of how all
of Scripture is inspired by God, every word of the sacred texts. Origin, Christopher
Hall tells us, insisted that” Christ, the Word of God, speaks throughout the biblical
narrative recorded in the Bible. His words are not only those ‘which He spoke
when He became man and tabernacled in the flesh; for before that time, Christ,
the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets..’ The words of Moses and of
other prophets ‘were filled with the Spirit of Christ.’” All this is to say that the way
we approach the Scriptures makes a huge difference in what we discover there. If
we are caught in an overly rationalistic or scientific method we will miss the full
depth of their meaning and the many messages they may have for us in our
everyday exposure to them.
What Benedict and the early Fathers loved to do was to ruminate or ponder on
the sacred texts, open themselves to the personal and transforming message they
contain. We can constantly discover new meaning and relevance for our lives if
we let the divine Word come off the page and speak to our hearts. This means, of
course, bringing to them an openness for this kind of personal