Blogging Benedict: Punishment

St Benedict by Fra Angelico

Here are the notes I wrote down while reading the chapters of the Rule, 23-30, about punishment:

23: Corporal punishment sounds harsh. I’d say it is, but in RB’s context, many other rules are much freer with the rod.

  • Note that excommunication is here rooted in biblical principles, Matthew 18.

24-26: Cutting people off from community probably very harsh in the communal world a monastery, of the sixth century. But sin damages community. Excommunication gives time for the community and the sinner to heal before restoration and reconciliation. We want these matters to be instant, but what if they cannot be, due to our own timebound nature? Then, indeed, we will need periods of separation for spiritual healing.

27: The abbots goal with the excommunicated is to heal them. Penance and consolation are both remedies. Ivo of Chartres:

Indeed all ecclesiastical discipline chiefly has this intent: either to tear down every structure that raises itself up against the knowledge of Christ, or to build up the enduring house of God in truth of faith and honesty of character, or if that house of God be defiled, to cleanse it with the remedies of penance. The mistress of this house is charity, which sees to the welfare of our neighbours, commanding that it be done for others what one wishes to be done for himself. -Prologue to the Decretum and Panormia, trans. Somerville and Brasington, Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity, pp. 133-34

The abbot ‘must bear in mind that he has undertaken the care of weak souls, not a tyranny over those who are strong.’ (p. 52 English trans.)

GRACE – Example of Christ the Good Shepherd.

28: If all else fails, expel the unrepentant from the monastery.

30: Beating the young vs. Anselm. [Anselm argued against beating the youths in monastic care but sought their shaping through love instead.]

What takeaway might there be? First, a good abbot/spiritual leader seeks the spiritual health of the individuals and the community. Second, sometimes this might mean a period of separation with the goal of reconciliation. Third, assigning penances is not simply a matter of purgatorial satisfaction but rather a means of helping our souls grow stronger.

How do our communities deal with unrepentant, repeat offenders who tear at their fabric? How do we balance grace and justice, mercy and the need to protect the community from destructive behaviour?

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