May 2021 Print

Law and Order in the Rule of St. Benedict

By a Benedictine Monk

On three different occasions in his Rule, St. Benedict, quoting Scripture, encourages his monks to a high-level of justice in their monastic life. He commands the monk: “Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.” Many of his commentators have called this little phrase “The Golden Rule” within the Rule. This “golden rule” is like a summary of the doctrine of charity taught by our Lord Jesus Christ: “All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.” Our Lord, calling this little phrase: “the law and the prophets” shows us the importance that He places upon this very simple thought.

To treat others in the way that one would like to be treated by them is itself a beautiful code of life. In modern society there are many thousands of laws trying to regulate the moral behavior of the citizens of the country. So many laws are needed because of the great depravity of modern man who refuses to treat his neighbor in a way that he himself would like to be treated by his neighbor. The more man disobeys the laws that God has written in nature, the more laws man has to write to try to regulate his behavior. The greatest tragedy imaginable for a nation is to officially impose laws which are contrary to the nature that God has created. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many modern nations are imposing upon their citizens. Let us consider a few examples of iniquitous laws imposed upon the nation’s citizens that do not follow the “golden rule” quoted in the Rule of St. Benedict.

If you were growing in your mother’s womb, would you like to be ripped apart, limb by limb, by your own mother and some murderous doctor? If you were a young girl, would you like to share a public restroom with a known male sex offender who identifies himself as a female? If you were a growing child, still in the state of immaturity, would you like to have the legal right to decide to change your gender without fully understanding the definitive consequences of this operation? If you owned a small business, would you like to see so-called peaceful protesters protected by the laws of the nation steal your hard-earned goods and burn your building to the ground in the name of social injustice? If we accept these unjust laws and actually put them into practice, we are disobeying the law of God which says that we should not do to another what we would not like to have done to ourselves.

If on the contrary, man carried this very simple law within his heart, he would reduce the many laws of modern society to one simple code of life. This law can be carried with man at all times and wherever he goes. If he truly treated his neighbor with the respect and charity with which he would like to be treated, human society would be a very beautiful expression of fraternal charity, based on the love of God. Imagine the man that truly believed this law, he would be able to live a life without hatred, anger and bitterness towards his neighbor. Love calls upon love. If we treat our neighbor with great charity, he will be encouraged to treat us in the same way.

The Desert Fathers left us many examples of this law of compassion and love for one’s neighbor. A monk from one of the desert communities had fallen into a grave fault and his fellow monks expelled him from the monastery. He sought refuge with St. Anthony of the Desert. After a few days, St. Anthony sent him back to his monastery and the other monks once again expelled him. St. Anthony went to the monastery to teach them compassion through a parable. “There was a ship that had to abandon all of its cargo because of a terrible storm. It was so damaged that it was sinking very quickly, but with great effort it made it to the shore. And you seeing this man in such a state throw him back to the sea so that he would perish.” St. Anthony taught those monks to treat others with the same compassion with which they would like to be treated. Our Lord taught His disciples to pray with this same thought: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us. . .” thus reminding us to treat our neighbor in the same way that we would like to be treated by him.

How would we like to be treated by our neighbor? All men would like to be thought well of instead of criticized and misjudged, to be forgiven of all shortcomings, to be encouraged in the midst of tribulation, to be visited when sick or imprisoned, in short to be sincerely loved by our neighbor. With Our Lord, St. Benedict teaches us true law and order: “Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.”