What kind of man the Abbot ought to be.
An Abbot who is worthy to have charge of a Monastery ought always to remember what he is called, and in his actions show forth the character of Ancient. For in the Monastery he is considered to represent the person of Christ, seeing that he is called by His name, as the Apostle saith: “Ye have received the spirit of the adoption of children, in which we cry, Abba, Father.”21 Therefore the Abbot ought not (God forbid) to teach, ordain, or command but what is conformable to the commands of our Lord: but let his commands and doctrine be mingled in the minds of his disciples with the leaven of diving justice.
Let the Abbot always be mindful that, in the dreadful judgment of God, he must give an account both of his doctrine and of the obedience of his disciples, and let the Abbot know that any lack of profit which the Master of the family shall find in his sheep, will be laid to the shepherd’s fault. But if he have bestowed all diligence on his unquiet and disobedient flock, and employed the utmost care to cure their corrupt manners, he shall then be acquitted in the judgment of the Lord, and may say with the Prophet: “I have not hidden thy justice in my heart, I have told thy truth and thy salvation,22 but they contemned and despised me.”23 And then finally, death shall be inflicted as a just punishment upon the disobedient sheep.
When, therefore, anyone receives the name of Abbot, he ought to govern his disciples with a twofold doctrine; that is, he ought first to show them all virtue and sanctity, more by deeds than by words: hence, to such as are intelligent, he may declare the commandments of God by words; but to the hard-hearted, and to those of the ruder sort, he must make the divine precepts manifest by his actions. In the next place, let him show by his own deeds, that they ought not to do anything which he has taught them to be unfitting, lest, having preached well to others, “he himself become a castaway,”24 and God say unto him thus sinning: “Why dost thou declare My justices, and take My testament in thy mouth? Thou hast hated discipline, and cast My speeches behind thee,25And,—“Thou, who didst see the mote in thy brother’s eye, hast thou not seen the beam that is in thine own?”26
Let him make no distinction of persons in the Monastery. Let not one be loved more than another, except he be found to surpass the rest in good works and in obedience. Let not one of noble parentage, on coming to Religion, be put before him who is of servile extraction, except there be some other reasonable cause for it. If, upon just consideration, the Abbot shall think there is such a just cause, let him put him in any rank he shall please, but otherwise, let every one keep his own place; because “whether bondman or freeman, we are all one in Christ”27, and bear an equal burthen of servitude under one Lord: “for with God there is no accepting of persons.”28 On one condition only are we preferred by Him, and that is, if in good works and in humility we are found better than others. Therefore let the Abbot bear equal love to all; and let all be subject to the same discipline, according to their deserts.
For the Abbot ought always, in his doctrine, to observe that apostolic form wherein it is said; “Reprove, entreat, rebuke.”29 That is to say, he ought, as occasions require, to temper fair speeches with threats: let him show the severity of a master and the loving affection of a father: those who are undisciplined and restless he must reprove sternly, but with such as are obedient, mild and patient, he should deal by entreaty, exhorting them to go forward in virtue. But the stubborn and negligent we charge him to severely reprove and chastise. Let him not shut his eyes to the sins of offenders, but, as soon as they show themselves, use all possible endeavours utterly to root them out, remembering the fate of Heli, the Priest of Silo.30 With the more virtuous and intelligent, let him for the first or second time use words of admonition; but the stubborn, the hard-hearted, the proud and the disobedient, even in the very beginning of their sin, let him chastise with stripes and bodily punishment, knowing that it is written: “The fool is not corrected with words.”31 And again: “Strike thy son with the rod, and thou shalt deliver his soul from death.”32
The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, andwhat he is called, and know that unto whom more is entrusted, from him more is exacted, and let him consider how difficult and hard a task he hath undertaken, to govern souls, and to accommodate himself to the humours of many, some of whom must be led by fair speeches, others by sharp reprehensions, and others by persuasion. Therefore let him so adapt himself to the character and intelligence of each one, that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to him, but may even rejoice in the increase and profit of his virtuous flock.
Above all things, let him take heed not to slight or make little account of the souls committed to his keeping, and have more care for fleeting, worldly things than for them; but let him always consider that he hath undertaken the government of souls for which he shall also have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of temporal means, let him remember that it is written: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all things shall be given ye.”33 And again: “Nothing is wanting to such as fear Him.”34
Let him know that the man who undertakes the government of souls must prepare himself to give an account of them. And how great soever the number of brethren may, let him know certain that at the day of judgment he will have to give to the Lord an account for all their souls as well as for his own. Thus, by fearing the examination which the shepherd must undergo for the flock committed to his charge, he is made solicitous on other men’s account as well as careful on his own; and while reclaiming them by his admonitions, he is himself freed from all defects.
- ONLINE TEXT OF THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT