Pillars of Community: Four Rules of Pre-Benedictine Monastic Life. By Terrence G. Kardong. (Collegeville, Minnesota Liturgical Press, 2010, pp. xvii, 259. $21.95.)
At an age when a renewed interest in monasticism is gaining ground in a number of settings, Terrence Kardong's book provides an excellent addition to literature about early monasticism. His book sets out to provide an overview of four rules that ordered various monastic communities before the Benedictine Rule was created. These communities were chosen by Kardong according to being the four first (including Basil's Rule, Pachomius' Rule and also including from the West Augustine's Praeceptum and ending with the Lérins Rule of the Four Fathers ca. 410427). In the course of his book, we are both introduced to the rules themselves and to the lives and societies of the men who wrote them. In this way, we get a closer glimpse of early Christianity across the empire and the various ways that monasticism developed new spiritualities within Christianity.
These Rules provide a very distinct set of voices that help to diversify and make richer our understanding of the various influences and purposes the ascetical life had in the early church. His book both focuses us on the rules and provides us with a commentary framework by which to understand the significance of their prescriptions and the spirituality and life each fosters. The journey that we undertake starts with Basil's and Pachomius' attempts to legislate the monastic life, based only on their own ideas and not based on prior experience in monasticism; the journey concludes with the Rale of the F-our Fathers, where we begin to see the influences from the other rules, and we can see the beginning of what Kardong terms in his preface the "second generation" of monastic rules, where it synthesizes and chooses from the monastic material available.
Discussion of each of the four rules in the book begins with placing the author in their biographical and cultural context, and describing the type of communal life that the person is trying to live. …