Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Benedictine Values: Order

by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB


"The junior monks then must respect their seniors, and the seniors love their juniors."  Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 63.10

One especially important, indeed critical, monastic value is often overlooked because if everyone is doing what they're supposed to do, it's naturally overlooked - that value is "order." 

Part of the "order" that the Holy Rule establishes for Benedictine monasteries involves the concept of "community rank." Now rank, for monks, is established by one's date of entry into the community, not one's age. It is most definitely not about how much control one has over others, or even how much responsibility one might have to answer for. For a monk, rank is about respect

St. Benedict insists that we show respect for our elders in the community, but also for those junior in rank to ourselves - in other words, we must respect everyone! Superiors are given respect for the authority they have, especially the abbot, of course, since he is "believed to hold the place of Christ in the community." The prior, too, has a lot to say about certain work assignments, or whether we can take a trip to visit friends, or what sort of vacation would be allowable - the prior is "number two" under the abbot and has much authority over the day-to-day lives of the monks living in the monastery.

But Benedict also had in mind that the monks would respect one another regardless of authority, influence and titles. RB 4.8-9 says we must honor everyone … never doing to another what you do not want done to yourself (quoting 1 Peter 2:17, Matt. 7.12 and Luke 6.31). When he breaks out the Bible quotes, you know Benedict is very serious!

This sort of egalitarian approach to community life is distinctly countercultural since, after all, Benedict comes out of a Roman culture and model of order, where it wasn't so much about "respect" as it was about submission - which is what obedience can become unless love is involved.

For Benedict, order is a function of charity (love). Being considerate of the elders in the community; not taking the juniors for granted (RB 63); "competing with one another in mutual obedience" (RB 72); as well as being conscientious about work assignments and being aware of how one's behavior at table, in church, and around the house impacts others.

All this provides a foundation for respectful relationships in a community that Benedict insists is essentially one of equals - the abbot and his prior (and, for us, the subprior as well) are to be obeyed with "unhesitating obedience," but as for the rest of us, we are to regard one another as brothers - relating to one another with respect and mutual obedience, and above all, with good zeal supporting one another with the greatest patience (RB 72), and never turning away when a brother needs your love (RB 4.26).

Do you have a reflection on Christian faith or spirituality you would like to share? Click here to learn how to become a contributor to Echoes from the Bell Tower.

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.