Blogging Benedict: Rank in the monastery

In chapter 60, Benedict says that the priests who choose to join the monastery are equal to all, except that they can celebrate the Eucharist when asked to do so by the abbot. Otherwise, they act the same as if admitted as laymen. Two chapters later, we read that when the abbot selects someone for priestly ordination, all that changes is that he performs sacramental duties alongside the rest of the monastic routine.

Being a priest, then, is no benefit in the monastery. The same discipline applies.

Overall (ch. 63), rank is based either on time in the monastery or at the abbot’s discretion. Rank determines where one sleeps, where one stands to pray in the oratory, when one is fed, etc.

Although I’m not 100% an egalitarian, I suspect that rank should be avoided. I’m in favour of having prayerfully-elected church authorities — pastors, bishops — like abbots. But rank at large? No.

I thus wonder: How could we do Presbyterian/Quaker/Anarchist monasticism? That is, monasticism without an abbot, where every decision is made through prayer and either a vote (Presbyterian) or unanimity (Quaker/Anarchist).

The only unanimous decision in Benedict is the election of the abbot (ch. 64). Here we see, at the point of highest rank in the monastery, the wilful submission of all. Today, we often rail against authority. But what if someone is chosen freely and then wilfully submitted to thereafter? Moreover, one can always leave the monastery. (I know a Benedictine who did.)

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