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Book Review: the Rule of St. Benedict by Sister Aquinata Bockman

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Excellent Commentary; Learned and Edifying, November 25, 2007

“The Rule of St. Benedict” is an optimistic work. Sister Aquinata Bockman, the author of the book of commentary on it titled, “Expanding our Hearts in Christ: Perspectives on The Rule of Saint Benedict”, says it is so for the monastic, and for the reader of The Rule who is a layperson. Aquinata Bockmann calls the work, in declarative terms, an “imperative.” The Benedictine Nun, who has taught in Rome since 1973 at the Pontifical Institute for Spirituality and Moral Theology Regina Mundi, says it is “…a promise offered personally to each monastic…” that “…expresses the optimistic tone.” (My editorial emphasis.)

The Rule begins: “Listen…” Simple, yet profound.

There is much here for all of us to gain benefit. The writer is learned.

Referring to another classic work, as she often does to expand and explain in a scholarly manner The Rule in her wonderful and thoughtfully fulfilling book, “Expanding Our Hearts in Christ: Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict,” The German Sister quotes:

“My son, listen, son, to your father’s instruction, and incline your ear to my words. Readily devote your attention to me, and with a faithful heart heed to all that is said. For I want to teach you about the spiritual battle and to instruct you in the ways that you should fight for your king.” How excellently this adds measure to the opening words of The Rule, which is:

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” These words come down to us through fifteen hundred years. Traditional truth and learning, certainly.

She notes Benedict had certainly read that first quote in the Latin in the Admonitia S. Basilii ad filium spiritualem. Right from her book’s beginning the theme that St. Benedict worked with previous texts, especially “The Rule of the Master” indicates both a strength in his work and his ability to make it a Rule outliving, and widely outlasting in popularity and use all previous sources. This Rule is without doubt one of Benedict’s own originality and wisdom, though it relies on the Fathers of the Church, Scripture, and previous texts. Where does the work of commentary point the reader?

It is pointed out to us that it is Christ who points us from within. So we learn about expanding the heart in Christ in this work, and it is a work that delivers. You won’t be disappointed in her commentary, so I believe. “The inmost soul expands and extends into God,” she writes of The Rule. Covering selected parts of The Rule, she continues, “Like the Master, Benedict seems to believe that walking, just moving ahead, is not enough. Rather one should hasten, run (cf. RB 73). This seems to be a sign of intense love and zeal, as well as of longing for God and the magnetism of God who comes to meet us.”

In a decade, nay even an era, where we have forgotten God, and some say God has forgotten us, and faith is hard to come by, we learn of ways of faith and the heart, we learn that The Rule asks for zeal. The commentary points a way, the way of The Rule. What is this “zeal” the postmodern man and woman may ask? Sister Aquinata writes, “…we see that zeal is a radical passion in people. It is exclusive, permeates everything, and knows no half-measures. It is a dynamic reality, the direct opposite of weak, tired, timid, or hesitant movement.”

We are given doors that open us to the necessities of faith in this work, an important need in this time and certainly both the century previous to this one. Broad statement as I’ve made, large in its expansive way, there is a truth to this book’s exhortations, as there remains the strength that The Rule brings to its reader’s faith. Call this commentary a companion book of faith.

In the book’s section, “That This Rule Does Not Contain the Full Observance of Justice,” we learn, “Benedict addresses any human being, `anyone,’ indicating that he is not referring to special perfection for a certain group.” This is a commentary that calls the work a way to the Creator. Benedict “…realizes his solidarity with all of humanity that ought to let the Fathers, especially through Sacred Scripture, help us on the way to the Creator.” A work that relies heavily on scripture, Benedict is a genius–a religious genius. So I say, and so it is implied in this work about his Rule.

How one enters in the monastery, makes a request, is similar to the way one makes a request in Christ of God. The Rule says,

“Therefore, if the newcomer perseveres in knocking and if it becomes evident in four or five days that he patiently bears the injustices done to him and the difficulties of entering and persists in his request, then entrance is to be granted, and he may first stay in the guest quarters for a few days.” It is pointed out in the commentary, “Yet we may also recall that the Lord himself knocks in this way on our door and remains there even if we do not open to let him in readily…” A metaphor for coming to Christ, certainly. ”

How much it is emphasized that humility is an important attribute of The Rule. “…[H]umility is the fundamental attitude of hospitality.” In my own zeal for hospitality, I’ve gone on at length about the commentary and The Rule. I purposefully wrote a long review, yet despite various efforts have not done the book justice, nor given it the review it merits to say how good it really is as a commentary. There is so much to this book. Read it yourself; you won’t be sorry.

What is the worth of The Rule, and what is the worth of all the exhortation and explanation and commentary of the work by Sister Aquinata Bockmann in her book, “Expanding Our Hearts in Christ: Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict”? I want to end this review with a quotation about stability of heart used in the book from Gregory of Nyssa:

“This is the most marvelous thing of all, how the same thing is both a standing still and a moving…I mean by this that the firmer and more immovable one remains in the Good, the more he progresses in the course of virtues…It is like using the standing still as if it were a wing while the heart flies upward through its stability in the Good.” This Rule of Benedict is a book of ethical teaching, moral teaching, and a work about God and getting to know and live with him, a means of expanding our hearts in Christ. It says stay with God.

–Peter Menkin, Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, 2007

About the Author

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA (north of San Francisco).

My blog:

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