Chapter 57: The Artisans of the Monastery

1 If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practice their craft with all humility, but only with the abbot’s permission. 2 If one of them becomes puffed up by his skillfulness in his craft, and feels that he is conferring something on the monastery, 3 he is to be removed from practicing his craft and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting his humility, he is so ordered by the abbot. 4 Whenever products of these artisans are sold, those responsible for the sale must not dare to practice any fraud. 5 Let them always remember Ananias and Sapphira, who incurred bodily death (Acts 5:1-11), 6 lest they and all who perpetrate fraud in monastery affairs suffer spiritual death. 7 The evil of avarice must have no part in establishing prices, 8 which should, therefore, always be a little lower than people outside the monastery are able to set, 9 so that in all things God may be glorified (1 Pet 4:11).

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

Now we turn to another concern of the community: the work of those who have special skills. In the time of Saint Benedict, it was skilled artisans who could really help the community with the income. Today those artisans are still helpful in any community, but rarely are they able to earn enough income to support the community. From many points of view, it is a wonderful gift of each monk has some special craft work that can help the community. On the other hand, it is also easy to see that this type of work can lead to problems. Monks can begin to think of their utility to the community rather than pursuing a serious spiritual life. So Saint Benedict, who can foresee such a situation, would have that monk removed from doing any type of work that would make him think he is conferring a benefit on the community.

As always in the Rule, there is a place for repentance and if a monk can truly live as a monk, then he can be allowed to return to his craft as an artisan.

Another danger is the temptation to sell that which is produced at the monastery at a higher price in order to get a larger income. Saint Benedict is against this! Most of us know that people are generally happy to purchase goods made at the monastery, even for a higher price.

Both a higher price and a lower price cause problems. If the monastery produces the same type of craft work that is produced in the local area, and then sells it for less of a price than the competitors, this also causes problems. Pricing the things sold at the monastery must take into account both not elevating the price of the items and also not underselling all the neighbors!

The important principle is that God is to be glorified in all things! May that be true in our hearts and in our work and in our community.