I am going to compare St. Benedict and
Henry David Thoreau. Get ready.
The abbot of God and the poet of Nature
write of simplicity and how it brings us to serenity. Thoreau
writes, "My greatest skill in life has been to want but little …
Our life is frittered away by detail." Benedict writes little rules
about those details.
Simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a
hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and
keep your accounts on your thumb nail."
Benedict: The following
dress is sufficient: a tunic, a cowl, a scapular for work,
stockings and shoes to cover the feet. The monks should not
complain about the color or coarseness, but be content. For bedding
let this suffice: a mattress, a blanket, a coverlet and a
"We think it sufficient for the daily
dinner that every table have two cooked dishes. Let a good pound of
weight of bread suffice for the day. Above all things, however,
over-indulgence must be avoided and a monk must never be overtaken
by digestion; for there is nothing so opposed by the Christian as
over-indulgence." One cup of wine a day is sufficient.
Thoreau: "By simplicity of
life and fewness of incidents, I am solidified and crystallized …
My life is concentrated and so becomes organized, which before was
inorganic and lumpish …. Many of the so-called comforts of life are
not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of
mankind." [Italics mine.]
Benedict: "If it can be
done, the monastery should be established that all the necessary
things … may be within the enclosure, so that there is no necessity
for the monks to go outside of it."
Simplicity of place and manner leads to
serenity-the kind of serenity that allows us the quiet inside to
accept the grace of God.
The lowest of the monks were the
Gyrovagues, "tramping from province to province, staying as guests
in different monasteries …. Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills," writes Benedict.
The Gyrovagues were looking for softer
beds, better food and easier rules, not content with what would
suffice. They must have led complicated, disappointing
Our worth and our neighbor's worth are
not in the complexity of designer labels, cars and super cars,
gourmet this and that, perfumes and wines, degrees and pedigrees.
Our worth is in the monasteries of our hearts and the simple things
that lie there. We will fill our days with simplicity and the days
will overflow with time and room for God.
Writer's note: The Leonard Doyle,
Liturgical Press, 2001, edition was used for quotes from The