If we wish to reach eternal life, even as we avoid the tor-
ments of Hell, then—while there is still time, while we
are still in this body and have time to accomplish all these
things by the light of life—we must run and do now what
will profit us forever.1
So reads the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the late sixth century for the monastic community of Monte Cassino, about eighty miles south of Rome. This was a manual that outlined how monks were to live, work, and pray together, apart from “the world,” under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Monasteries were all about praying and fasting, avoiding temptation, praising God, becoming holy, aiming for undisturbed contemplation of God, and preparing for eternity. The goal of monasticism was well established by the time Benedict wrote his rule, and this goal is clearly reflected in the paragraph above: monastic life was an investment in eternity. You purify yourself here and now to “avoid the torments of Hell” and “reach eternal life.” You “do now” what will “profit” you “forever.” Avoiding and gaining, investing, profiting. It sounds almost like a business venture. And, in many ways, it was.
Eternity was serious business in the sixth century. Perhaps the most serious of all.