Monday, August 10, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 9, 2009

April 10, August 10, December 10

Chapter 57: On the Artisans of the Monastery

If there are artisans in the monastery,
let them practice their crafts with all humility,
provided the Abbot has given permission.
But if any one of them becomes conceited
over his skill in his craft,
because he seems to be conferring a benefit on the monastery,
let him be taken from his craft
and no longer exercise it unless,
after he has humbled himself,
the Abbot again gives him permission.

If any of the work of the craftsmen is to be sold,
those responsible for the sale
must not dare to practice any fraud.
Let them always remember Ananias and Saphira,
who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11),
lest they and all who perpetrate fraud
in monastery affairs
suffer spiritual death.
And in the prices let not the sin of avarice creep in,
but let the goods always be sold a little cheaper
than they can be sold by people in the world,
"that in all things God may be glorified" (1 Peter 4:11).

Some thoughts:

This passage often makes me wonder what were the circumstances behind it. He says "let them practice their crafts with all humility" and goes on to talk about the ones who might think too highly of themselves as a result of their work. Certainly I have known artisans and artists like that. Would that they were in a Benedictine community where their egos would be given short shift and the would be taught that work does not proceed from themselves but from God.

But more often I have known those whose humility suffers in the other direction. They have shared with me that their struggles are to allow themselves the time to create, to believe that they deserve to take the time to practice their art.
Benedict doesn't speak of these people. Possibly because an astute Abbot would identify the skills within the community and would then assign them to work which uses those skills.

To badly paraphrases C S Lewis, true humility is not pretending to be less claiming to be better than one is, but accepting of exactly who one is.

Maybe the term 'artisan" needs clarification. In our day, we tend to use "artisan" for those who create works of art that are not among what we call "fine arts." So we use "artisan" to mean weavers, potters, those whom make very artistic black work etc. In Benedict's day, an artisan was anyone who was a skilled worker whether in the fine arts or not. So carpenter, painter, blacksmith, weaver, potter, mason, etc. were all lumped together. All of these skills would be important in a self-sufficient monastery.

This is getting a bit long so I will skip over some of it to this bit: "but let the goods always be sold a little cheaper
than they can be sold by people in the world." This might seem a bit strange to modern eyes. Especially if we are used to a capitalist form of economy where supply and demand determine the price. Not to mention selling cheaply undercuts the competition with often disastrous results, such as driving the competition out of business and the subsequent hardship they endure.

Although Benedict no where specifies a vow of poverty, such as we know it today, it is obvious from our studies of the RB that the principle of having enough but not too much obtained. That would be the motivation in pricing the goods a tad more cheaply.

The phrase "people in the world" seems to me to deserve some attention. Benedict is the spiritual descendant of the Desert Christians who fled the cities and towns when Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Jesus had said His followers were to be in the world but not of it. The Desert Christians wanted to be obedient to Jesus. Eventually their way of life moved beyond Egypt, Syria, Palestine etc and monasteries were established rather nearer to cities etc. But for Benedict's predecessors in cenobitic monasticism, the monasteries may have been in the world, but they were not of it. Benedict inherited this concept and wrote it into his Rule.

I've oversimplified, of course, but this post is already too long.

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