The Rule of Saint Benedict

Popular legend

A popular legend claims that the Rule of St Benedict contains the following passage:

If any pilgrim monk come from distant parts, if with wish as a guest to dwell in the monastery, and will be content with the customs which he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds: he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires.
If, indeed, he find fault with anything, or expose it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbot shall discuss it prudently, lest perchance God had sent [him] for this very thing.
But if he have been found gossipy and contumaceous in the time of his sojourn as guest, not only ought he not to be joined to the body of the monastery, but also it shall be said to him, honestly, that he must depart. If he does not go, let two stout monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him.[4]

The bulk of the passage, with the exception of the portions in italics, is excerpted (with chance errors) from a translation of chapter 61 of Benedict's Rule found in the book Select historical documents of the Middle Ages (1892), translated and edited by Ernest Flagg Henderson, and reprinted in 1907 in The Library of Original Sources, Vol. IV, edited by Oliver J. Thatcher.

The version above, first published in Hubbard's Little Journeys (1908), omits a part of the passage which enjoins the monastery, given good behaviour, to accept the guest as a permanent resident. The words "gossipy and contumaceous" replace the original "lavish or vicious"; and the words following "he must depart" were originally "lest, by sympathy with him, others also become contaminated."

No language corresponding to the last sentence about "two stout monks" appears in the Rule, though it is a popular myth that it does, with several reputable publications (and more than one church, and at least one Benedictine organization) repeating and propagating the error. At least one of the sources cited attributes the passage to a mythical Chapter 74; the Rule of St Benedict contains only 73 chapters.[5][6][7]

An early source for the quotation is the University of California, Berkeley faculty club, which has, for years, posted a version of the above passage on its bulletin board in Gothic script. (There, the notice was not attributed to St Benedict).[8]

According to another urban legend, the Benedictine motto is supposedly Ora est labora, which would mean "[To say] 'Pray!' equals [saying] 'Work!'" The actual motto, however, is, Ora et labora meaning "pray and work!", which refers to two major components of a monastic life: first prayer and then work to support the community and its charities.[9]


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