Benedict's Rule: A Translation and Commentary. By Terrence G. Kardong, O.S.B. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996. xviii + 641 pp. $49.95 (cloth).
Cherish Christ above All: the Bible in the Rule of Benedict. By Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1996. 163 pp. $12.95 (paper).
One can't even glance at the text of the Rule of St. Benedict without noticing the great number of quotations from the Bible within it. In a calm, readable style, Demetrius Dumm, a monk of St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, explores Benedict's use of the Bible with reference to standard monastic topics such as obedience, poverty and communal living. These reflections are peppered with little anecdotes from his experience of living the monastic life. Most touching of all is Dumm's stress on the importance of love and compassion in the Rule of Benedict. For those with responsibility in the monastery, such as the abbot or the cellarer (who has charge of the goods of the monastery), compassion is particularly important. Authority exercised without love is tyrannical. Dumm says that if we attend to the importance of love, then "how a work is done is as important as that it is done" (Dumm, p. 103). In the Christian Life, informed by scripture and the Rule, Dumm says there is no room for sacrificing human beings to a task that needs to be done.
Throughout, Dumm shows us how Benedict enjoins the reader to be personally involved with the scripture. "`For the scriptures rouse us when they say" (Prolog 8 quoted in Dumm, p. 20). For example, the baptism of Jesus is not just about Jesus; it is about the need for us to hear God's call through baptismal grace. Dumm also points out that we pray the psalms so as to participate in the "spirit of David." This spirit is contrasted w`ith that of Saul, who failed to trust God in the midst of the turmoil and sinfulness of his life. David trusted in God's love for him enough to take charge of his life, while Saul abdicated such responsibility. Dumm says it is the spirit of David in the psalms that will gradually wean us "away from that immature tendency to blame others for [our] problems, to indulge in self-pity and allow negative sentiments to gain more and more control over [our] lives" (Dumm, pp. 126-127).
A commentary on the Rule of Benedict by Terrence G. Kardong, universally recognized among Benedictines as the leading American scholar on the Rule, is a major event. This book includes the Latin text of the Rule, a new English translation by the author, line-by-line commentary and overviews on individual chapters or clusters of chapters. In this commentary, Kardong covers all relevant levels. He analyzes the grammar of problematic passages in the Latin (of which there are many), explicates quotes from Scripture, discusses the historical background to show where the material is coming from, explores Patristic sources, and offers comments on where he sees the Rule's relevance for today, and where he doesn't. Constant references to other important modern commentators on the Rule inform the reader of important viewpoints besides his own.
Kardong shows detailed attention to the relationship between the Rule of Benedict and the Rule of the Master, an anonymous monastic rule now believed to pre-date Benedict's Rule by roughly half a century. Large portions of Benedict's text are lifted straight out of the earlier document, particularly in the early chapters. Although this extensive borrowing disappoints those who would like to see in Benedict a creative genius, close comparison of the texts has proven to be an extremely valuable tool in getting at Benedict's own point of view. A telling example comes at the end of the Prolog of the Rule where Benedict writes of how, as we progress in the monastic life "our hearts will swell with the unspeakable sweetness of love" (Prolog 49, quoted in Kardong, p. …