1I f a brother has been reproved frequently for any fault, or if he has even been excommunicated, yet does not amend, let him receive a sharper punishment: that is, let him feel the strokes of the rod. 2 But if even then he does not reform, or perhaps becomes proud and would actually defend his conduct, which God forbid, the abbot should follow the procedure of a wise physician. 3 After he has applied compresses, the ointment of encouragement, the medicine of divine Scripture, and finally the cauterizing iron of excommunication and strokes of the rod, 4 and if he then perceives that his earnest efforts are unavailing, let him apply an even better remedy: he and all the brothers should pray for him 5 so that the Lord, who can do all things, may bring about the health of the sick brother. 6 Yet if even this procedure does not heal him, then finally, the abbot must use the knife and amputate. For the Apostle says: Banish the evil one from your midst (1 Cor 5:13); 7 and again, If the unbeliever departs, let him depart (1 Cor 7:15), 8lest one diseased sheep infect the whole flock.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
Chapter 27 speaks about the abbot’s commitment to serving the brothers and to bringing a wayward monk back into the fold. Today Saint Benedict speaks about what needs to happen if a brother will not change, will not amend his ways.
We should note right away that this chapter speaks about brothers who have been frequently reproved and yet not excommunicated. This is one of the most difficult tasks of a monastic superior: to keep reproving over and over and over and perhaps to see some small changes but not strength in the change of heart. The abbot must keep trying to draw the brother back into a full monastic life. Some monks can spend their entire monastic life on the fringes of the monastic community. Perhaps that is the only way that they will be saved. We cannot judge that. At the human level, however, the abbot must keep trying with infinite patience to bring the brother back to a full monastic life.
And sometimes a monk will defend his behavior. The Rule of Benedict is clear: it is for the abbot to decide if there is a fault and how serious the fault it. Today, however, most monks don’t pay much attention to their abbots. We live at a time when most authority is doubted, when there is no confidence in authority and when most people are more content with their own decisions than with the decisions of anyone in authority. There are serious and good reasons for this change in the culture. On the other hand, if we are going to know how to follow the Lord and how to be a monk, then we must overcome such difficult challenges and learn to respect authority even when the authority is wrong. That is a huge step for anyone today!!
Saint Benedict is so strong on authority, however, that if a monk continually refuses to accept the Rule of the community and the authority of the abbot, then everyone must be asked to pray for him. Such prayer can be very powerful.
Ultimately, however, if even prayer fails, then a monk should be asked to leave the community. Saint Benedict is much stronger in his expression: amputation must be used!
Let us pray that we may be monks who accept our way of life and the authority of our superiors. May we not be amputated! May we be full of life and grace in the Lord.