St. Benedict and the Spirit of the Council

Although St. Benedict flourished two hundred years after the Council of Nicea, his Rule is nonetheless imbued with its spirit. Arianism was still a force to be reckoned with at his time. The spirit of the Council of Nicea can be seen all over the Rule, in its Christocentrism, and its veneration for the “orthodox catholic fathers” (i.e. the anti-Arian writers). Sometimes the spirit of the council leads St. Benedict into unexpected interpretations of Sacred Scripture. Thus, in chapter 2, on the character of the abbot, St. Benedict gives a startling interpretation of Romans 8:15:

A abbot who is worthy to preside over a monastery ought always to remember what he is called and to justify his title by his deeds. For he is deemed in the monastery the vicar of Christ, since it is by His [Christ’s] title he is addressed, for the Apostle says: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption of sons in which it is we cry out Abba, Father.”

The cry “Abba, Father” is here taken to be directed at Christ, and the old monastic title of ‘abbot’ is interpreted Christologically. It is a very daring reading of Paul, and I don’t think it would have occurred to anyone before Nicea.

5 thoughts on “St. Benedict and the Spirit of the Council

  1. We had a lunchtime conversation about the hapax epiousion from the Our Father, that extraordinary way of saying ordinary (cotidianum).. It occured to me that ordinary, normal daily can be taken passively or actively. It is active when we speak of the normal normans rather than the norma normata. My Czech colleague told me that in Czech the dictionary gives “secondary” as a translation of epiousion. Christ is secondary, being the second person of the Trinity, but secondary can and should be understood in an active sense. Being the Son means being like the Father.

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  2. So the Abbot is called Father because Christ is called Father. Christ is called Father, because Christ is God.

    This is also what is said in last Sunday´s Gospel, the Parable of the Sower: Christ is the Sower and we are the seed sown.

    When you read that you do a double-take because you might think that we are the different types of soil receiving the seed, but no, the Gospel tells us that we are the seed sown.

    Christ says the same thing specifically in St. John: As the Father has sent me so I send you. It is not a case of active versus passive, it is a case of two and then three activities. The Father is active. The Son is active. And finally, we are active. We become like Christ just as Christ is like the Father. And yet there is only One Father above all. and from whom all fatherhood takes its name. This is the truly spiritual reading of Nicea. And it is the true reading.

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    • And let us not forget, in addition to the august Patristic pedigree of referring to the Second Person of the Trinity as ‘Father’, the Scriptures themselves give explicit warrant for this usage, namely in the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah ix:
      “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, *The everlasting Father,* The Prince of Peace.” — Is. ix. 6. in the Authorised Version.

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  3. Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.

    G.M. Hopkins.

    But see that semi-colon before the words “He fathers-forth.” This tells us that fathering-forth is something more than what might think prima facie about fathering. In the Creation the Father fathers-forth, because paternity is communicated to the Son and to us through Him.

    As St. Paul tells us, all fatherhood comes from God the Father.

    And this, as they say down here in Mexico es muy padre.

    (One should also consider the case of St. Joseph, whom we call father, and rightly, not just spinning the matter.)

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