Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Benedictine Values: Making Satisfaction

by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB

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"Should anyone make a mistake...he must make satisfaction there before all." 
Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 45.1

St. Benedict and his monks lived in the early 6th century, a time when civil society provided little by way of security or order. There was hardly any dependable law enforcement, minimal opportunity for recourse to civil or criminal justice, and little to protect a person or one's family from the violent foreign incursions into central Italy ever since the Roman emperor abdicated his throne in the year 476, an act that brought the Roman Empire in the West to an end. It was a turbulent time and monastic communities in central Italy, including St. Benedict's abbey at Monte Cassino, were struggling to preserve order and harmony.

Many who read the Rule of St. Benedict today make note of the seemingly harsh code for punishing offenses, even the littlest error such as a mistake made in church, mistakes which I personally have made countless times as a cantor for monastic services! But, when reading ancient documents such as the Rule, one has to be mindful of the historical context in which it was penned, a context which provided some of the motivational energy for these regulations.

St. Benedict wanted his monks to be content and to thrive, and enjoy life in a harmonious Christian community striving for both holiness and happiness. So, regulations for behavior must be made and proper punishments determined, because Benedict didn't want future abbots to be arbitrary about it; but he also wanted penances and punishments to be meted out for the spiritual well-being of the monks, above all. The Rule prescribes making satisfaction  as part of a spiritual program ordered to growth in humility. RB 7, On Humility, the longest chapter in the Rule, is a summary of the monk's primary way for "seeking God" and that perfect love which casts out fear (RB 7.67; 1 John 4:18). Making satisfaction is intended to cultivate humility in the monk by using these occasions to humble him, and to correct by humility the wrong committed through negligence (RB 45 1-2).

So whenever a monk offends through negligence, or lack of due care or consideration, he is expected to "make satisfaction." In practical terms today, that will mean acknowledging one's error or mistake, or negligence, by publicly satisfying for it through a simple act: either by "kneeling out" in the church, in front of the ambo as the monks file out of the choirstalls, or in the refectory if it involved something outside of church services. This may also entail going to the superior to admit one's fault and seek a "penance" as an act of satisfaction. Certainly, too, if our negligence involved being inconsiderate to another - a confrere, co-worker, or guest - making satisfaction should include a simple apology to the one offended; charity and humility demand it, and so does the Rule.

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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.