St Benedict the Reformer

Posted by Mark Tubbs
In Author Spotlight
Tagged St Benedict, Paul David Tripp
January 08, 2011 @ 9:48 PM

St BenedictRecently I have been studying the Rule of St Benedict and have been astounded at the Reformed resonances in his writing. The title of this post, of course, is an anachronism since he lived many hundreds of years before the first major church schism, but it's good form to capitalize nouns in the title of a blog entry. "St Benedict the reformer" may be more a propos as he was indeed trying to purify the Christian life along much the same lines as the Puritans.

In the introduction to their 1975 Image Books translation of the Rule, Anthony C. Meisel and M. L. del Mastro make a few decidedly Reformed-sounding statements, which I offer here:

Seeking only the glory of God and union with Him, the monk saw everything he attempted as a step nearer his goal. (9)

[St Antony's] victory, won first and effectively by Christ and thus assured, was the work of his lifetime. (15)

[The Rule] established a rhythm for living within which each man could become progressively more fully himself because more fully his God's. (16)

Then there is a passage from lay Benedictine Esther de Waal, which uncannily reminded me of one of my favorite living Reformed writers, biblical counselor Paul David Tripp. In my mind's eye I saw his thick-rimmed glasses and generous moustache as I read the following paragraph:

St Benedict does not find it good enough that I am not really paying attention to the people who have interrupted me and upset all my nice plans for myself, that in my heart I'm actually furious and my calm smile is no more than a façade behind which I am inwardly fuming. (de Waal, Seeking God)

If you haven't had any experience with Dr. Tripp and his inimitable speaking/writing style, I recommend his books Broken-Down House and A Quest for More to start. The best stand-alone Tripp sermon is "Our Call and His Kingdom," a message preached in 2007 at Covenant Fellowship Church in Pittsburgh, for which I can no longer locate an online source.

While I wouldn't endorse every single jot and tittle of Benedict's Rule and the approach taken therein - for instance, I'm with Augustine in the following matter: "while Augustine saw obedience as one virtue among many, with love as the most important, Benedict saw obedience as the single reality, the master virtue. It was the perfect expression of man's human nature, with all other virtues operating as aspects of it." (Meisel & del Mastro, 30) Many of the ways the Benedictines were expected to submit to their superiors reek of the over-controlling Shepherding Movement. Word has it Vatican II changed a few things but I haven't yet delved into those alleged changes.

So while the Benedictine order remains a firm Roman Catholic institution, much of the original charismata of St Benedict's Rule can be easily embraced from a Reformed standpoint. As the Reformed among us do, St Benedict undertook the various facets of sixth-century life and ministry soli deo gloria.