Friday, July 06, 2007

Book Review: The Rule of St. Benedict, by Kardong

The godliness of living a Gospel life when it comes to The Rule of St. Benedict, the nature of the author’s intentions and set of mind, the understandings of The Rule itself, are a few of the rewards one gets from Terrence G. Kardong’s, “Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary.” One thesis of Father Kardong’s is, “…the Rule teaches a dynamic spirituality.” A book for those interested in living a Gospel life, some areas touched upon by this book include, “progress and growth” in the religious and spiritual life, what’s referred to as ongoing conversion in the life of faith, and humility.

The book suggests looking towards continued reading of “…the teaching of the Bible and Fathers.” This last a recommendation of the Rule, and the book “Benedict’s Rule” an endorsement and recommendation of St. Benedict’s little book for beginners.

A reader interested in St. Benedict’s Rule will find this 600 plus page work, published by The Liturgical Press a scholarly work. It can be used as a text for reading, as in study, or as a reference work (so I think). The book speaks of St. Benedict’s sense of moderation, and his humility, an earmark of the book about the Rule itself, and a hallmark of the author who is a monk and priest.

Father Kardong writes at the very beginning of the book in a dedication that the work is, “To my brothers of Assumption Abbey who taught me how to be a monk and who freed me for the work of writing this commentary on the Rule of Benedict.” This is a book for monks in the monastery, and also for lay people and Oblates of St. Benedict. This is a book for church goers. This is a book for people who practice the work of God, the daily office.

One needs to have patience and perseverance to read it. One needs to take this book as it comes, not hurry it along, and in many places reread both the Rule as translated by Father Kardong, and his commentary. A retired Episcopal priest, who used to give retreats for the laity introducing The Rule of St. Benedict, suggested that I read the book without a sense of time or looking towards the end of it. He thought the work a book to be savored.

Father Kardong has many good thoughts and suggestions; certainly his commentary is beneficial for the interested reader. That is not a statement too obvious to be made, for this is a worthy book by a wise and educated monk.

I will find a good quote from Terrence G. Kardong’s writings, but first this description of the book from the preface by Father Kardong says he has produced “…a double-deck commentary with detailed philological material in notes and discursive material in the overviews.” This is his interpretation of the Rule. He notes that much is experiential. For me, this added merit to the book. His commentary is part of his life experience and work. An attribute that adds to the authenticity and authority of, “The Rule: A Translation and Commentary.”

The famous words of the Rule begin, “Listen, O my son, to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart.” After all, the Rule is a religious book, and religion is for the heart. These words for the heart have been around 1,500 years. What is meant by these few words of the Rule is made commentary in another quotation: “Let us open our eyes…is a possible allusion to the Transfiguration, where the drowsy disciples are startled by the shining forth of Christ, and instructed by the voice from heaven (Luke 9:32).”

At a preached retreat in Big Sur, California USA, at Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Brother Bede explained that the Rule is a holy book, an illuminated work that keeps on giving, like the Bible. I remembered his instruction when approaching “Benedict’s Rule” and considered that the writer Father Kardong also approached it as such. This itself is an important point, for the work presented is exemplary.

In his commentary on the last part of the Rule, he writes, “…that observance of the Rule [Biblical theme of the Rule] itself is not enough; the Rule, like the Law, is to be ‘fulfilled.’” Though many believe the Rule is a way to perfection, and asks for that perfection, a serious consideration is that the Rule is also a book of love. Kardong believes it is mainly a book about love.

A major theme of the last chapter, love is described in the commentary: “…for the love that is preached in the penultimate chapter is essentially communal and public…selfless love for the other is a better way to end the Rule than the theme of ‘perfection.’”

It is the love in community; love for and of one another, the love that God offers and gives, that is central to living the Rule of St. Benedict. This alone is worth the price of admission. For as the monastery is a school for living, so the Rule offers a school for living the Gospel in ongoing conversion in one’s life. “The Rule of St. Benedict” is a book inspired by the Gospel and written by a great holy man, Benedict of Nursia (St. Benedict).

--Peter Menkin, Easter 2007

This review appears on the website

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