F. R. Hittinger on St. Benedict and what suffices for a “day”

F. R. Hittinger on St. Benedict  and what suffices for a "day"

“As regards the material of life, nothing is more important than light and dark: namely, an answer to the question what suffices for a day?  Infants and very young children are ignorant of what constitutes a day.  I am told that even college students have problems in this regard – that a collegiate “day” is a 24/7 flow of flickering images resembling a casino in Nevada.

Like the practical wisdom displayed in Genesis, Benedict begins with a Day.  A day equally measured: 8 hours of prayer, 8 hours of labor, 8 hours of rest.  Adjusted for the seasons. 

Thinking now about integration, the Rule prescribes a unity of things which the ancient world had usually kept apart:  On the one hand, the free or liberal arts and sciences, cultivated and practiced by the nobility.  This was called a universitas personarum, things tending toward one in and for the dignity of human persons.  On the other hand stood the work of artisans and manual laborers.  This was called a universitas rerum, a unity for the sake of the things being organized:  the bricks, the streets, the monies.  Benedict taught the proper order of these things.  Tools for the sake of monks, monks for the sake of God – hierarchy of action without distinction by class.

In the ancient world, personal dignity was measured by its remotion or distance from tools and labor.  Indeed, the rural warrior class in these centuries of the middle ages did not work the land.  They killed with their hands but they did not work with them.  Benedict’s motto was Ora et Labora, prayer and work.  The monks therefore are contemplatives and laborers:  Jedi’s who do the work of artisans and serfs: a very powerful and useful combination. Not surprisingly, it would yield great fortunes for some monasteries.  Look especially at chapter 57 of Benedict’s Rule on how to price monastic products sent to market (in a spirit of charity and poverty, the monks ought to sell them under the market rate).

In this vein, too, it is important to read chapter 48 which is on labor and reading.  The three most sensible things in Benedict’s school are the sound of the chant, the touch of hand to implement, and sight of the written page. 

Reading is essential.  Consider the acts associated with reading:

·      Speaking

·      Meditating, cogitating

·      Imagining

·      Remembering, understanding, desiring

·      For the monk, each word is like a hook, catching hold of other words; the monk was like a living concordance.

By summoning so many different mental actions and physical postures, reading can be profoundly integrative.  It forms a clearing in the forest of the sensations of the soul, and creates a place for study and prayer. “

From “What St Benedict taught the Dark Ages — His and Ours”


1 Comment
  1. At last, the most perfect description of the act of reading I have ever encountered! Only after a lifetime of reading, do I fully understand what has been going on between myself and the words in front of me- and I am joyful.

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