Chapter 24: Degrees of Excommunication

1 There ought to be due proportion between the seriousness of a fault and the measure of excommunication or discipline. 2 The abbot determines the gravity of faults. 3 If a brother is found guilty of less serious faults, he will not be allowed to share the common table. 4 Anyone excluded from the common table will conduct himself as follows: in the oratory he will not lead a psalm or a refrain nor will he recite a reading until he has made satisfaction, 5 and he will take his meals alone, after the brothers have eaten. 6 For instance, if the brothers eat at noon, he will eat in mid-afternoon; if the brothers eat in mid-afternoon, he will eat in the evening, 7 until by proper satisfaction he gains pardon.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

Yesterday Saint Benedict began to talk about excommunication and the need of sanctions in the monastery in order to keep a strong observance of monastic life. In this Chapter he talks a little more about excommunication but also about how the gravity of a fault is to be determined.

The first thing to note is that there should be a proportion between the seriousness of a fault and the measure of excommunication or discipline. This speaks directly to the abbot, who must be just and compassionate. Sometimes abbots over-react and that causes problems in a community. On the other side, monks can under-react to their own faults.

Secondly, we hear clearly: It is the abbot who determines the gravity of a fault. It is not for the monk to determine himself whether what he does is minor or major. A senior monk committing the same fault as a novice gives more seriousness to the offence.

Finally Saint Benedict lays down some guidelines about what to do for less serious faults. His penance: exclusion from the common table. This sanction does not work at all today when we live in times that are highly individualistic. Rather, a monk can be quite happy to be “excused” from the common table!

The challenge to monastic spirituality is always this: how to live monastic life with our energies and seeking God’s will–rather than seeking ways to avoid the difficult parts of monastic life.