“The brothers, says St. Benedict in Chapter 48 of his Rule, must dedicate a certain amount of time to manual labour and other time to spiritual reading.”
Thus, St. Benedict promulgates at that same time two laws which sustain one another : the law of manual work and the law of intellectual work. The history of the order is the living commentary of this chapter of the Rule. In Benedictine monasteries we work hard and without cease. This work is directed, however, towards the perfection of souls, the good of the Church and the glory of God. It is by virtue of these higher intentions and above all by virtue of the blessing of the Most-High that these many different labours have maintained from their beginning across the centuries this grandiose and unique character which is in some way the heart of the monastic world.
In apportioning time to manual and intellectual labour designated by the generic notion of reading, St. Benedict tips the balance towards the demands of external works. One can imagine the many reasons which necessitated such an approach both at the time when St. Benedict was writing and through the centuries since.
Our modern age of scientific pretensions runs the danger of not affording manual work the honour it merits, with the excuse that there is not enough time and there are more important things to do. Let us beware : the abandonment and even more the disdain for manual work is a serious breach of the Rule and monastic observance. It is the suppression of an aspect of our life, the consequences of which will be felt in various ways : it is a shattering of the equilibrium, it is an alteration of the physiognomy of the Benedictine Monastery.
Dom Romain Banquet
Extracts from the Commentary on the Rule
“The monastery should, if possible, be so constructed that within it all necessities, such as water, mill, garden and bakery are contained, and the various occupations are practised. Then there will be no need for the monks to roam outside, because this is not at all good for their souls.”
Rule, Chapter 66
“Work, tools and crafts are the truest and the most noble instruments of penitence.”
Dom Romain Banquet.
“It will not be for each to choose the type of work which he might enjoy the most, but rather it will be for the Superior to assign to each religious that task to which he must apply himself… Each religious will receive as coming from God the order of his superior and will freely give himself to study or to manual work, consecrating himself to it with all his heart.”
The Constitutions of Father Muard
“If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practise their craft with all humility, but only with the Abbot’s permission. If one of them becomes puff ed up by his skilfulness in his craft, and feels that he is conferring something on the monastery, he is to be removed from practising his craft and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting his humility, he is so ordered by the Abbot”.
Rule, Chapter 57