Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Benedict tells us, “There are clearly four kinds of monks.” He then goes on to label and define these kinds. [1]

Although Benedict is primarily concerned with those who profess to be monks, it doesn’t take any stretching of the imagination to see how these definitions are applicable to life outside the monastic enclosure. Distilling these four classifications it’s easy to see that there are:

(1) those who are willing to admit that, in order to combat their own weaknesses, they need the accountability that comes in community, (2) those who have matured in the monastic community and are able to stand alone in mortal combat against the enemy of their souls, (3) those who write their own rules as they go, (4) those who are always drifting from place to place looking for an easy meal.

I like to think that I’m a strong person. But the truth of the matter is that I’m just another weak, struggling human being trying to make my way through this life and hoping to do it in a way that insures eternal safety. I do have moments that are indicative of some degree of spiritual maturity (2). I have to admit though that I still have plenty of restlessness in me (4), that it’s easy for me to make stabs at rationalizing my decisions and actions (3), that I need community wherein I am held in accountability (1).

Benedict, in addressing these kinds, is addressing me. I think too, since he is addressing inherent qualities in human nature, that he is addressing all of humanity to some degree. All of humanity is searching for its identity and purpose. All of us are on a quest for meaning in life. Sadly, it’s easy to look for meaning in places and through ways that devastate our true identity and cloud the true meaning of life.

“Our life, as individual persons and as members of a perplexed and struggling race, provokes us with the evidence that it must have meaning. Part of the meaning still escapes us. Yet our purpose in life is to discover this meaning, and live according to it.”[2]

Benedict was not, by any modern understanding or qualification, a psychologist. But he knew human nature. He knew what stands in the way of realizing a truly meaningful life. He lived according to this understanding and taught others how to live it as well. 1500 years later, men and women are still discovering and mining the claims of Benedict's "little school."


[1] RB Ch. 1
[2] Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, xi