Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Benedictine Values: Abbot As Father


" the Apostle indicates: 'You have received the spirit of adoption of sons by which we exclaim, abba, father.'"
Rule of St. Benedict 2.3

The "apostle" mentioned in the quotation above is St. Paul, and in this verse from Chapter 2 of his Rule, St. Benedict quotes from the Letter to the Romans - Rom 8:15 to be precise. RB 2 is about the qualities of the abbot, the monks' religious superior.

In this chapter, as well as Chapter 64 on the election of an abbot, Benedict mentions several important characteristics he believes a monastic community needs its abbot to possess for the success of its mission of witnessing to the Kingdom of God by being a model of what communion in Christ ought to be like while still "on the way." This week, I want to write about one of the more important features of monastic life - the familial character of the monastic community - by highlighting the monastic concept of relating to the abbot as "father." 

The monks elect the abbot of our community to be religious superior and leader, but St. Benedict insists that the abbot also be held by the monks to be father, especially since "he is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, and since he is addressed by a title of Christ" (2.2). Having been baptized into Christ and endowed with his Spirit, we can call out to God in the very Spirit of Christ, Abba, Father, and so, too, as a community seeking to emulate the Kingdom of God while here on earth, our relationship with our abbot must enjoy this same "kingdom quality."

Monks are to their abbot as Christ is to his Father, the Creator-God. We are the abbot's "sons" to his being "our father," because he is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastic community. Christ and the Father are one, as Jesus said in the gospel of John (see Jn 10:30). This means that monks must strive to believe, as an act of faith, that the abbot exercises the authority of Christ because he is chosen by Christ to serve as father for his community, which means that when a monk obeys his abbot, in faith he is obeying Christ. 

But this "kingdom quality" also means that the abbot must strive to be loved rather than feared (64.15), leading by pointing out all that is good and holy more by example than words (2.12), and like a loving father favors no son over another (RB 2.16-22), letting mercy triumph over judgment  (James 2:13; RB 64.10). 

This way of relating to the abbot is vital if we are to understand our monastic community as something more than merely an institution, or "corporation." We are a family, first and foremost, a brotherhood of Christian men striving to "have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5), sharing alike in bearing arms in the service of the one Lord (2.20).

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.