Chapter 63: Community Rank

1 The monks keep their rank in the monastery according to the date of their entry, the virtue of their lives, and the decision of the abbot. 2 The abbot is not to disturb the flock entrusted to him nor make any unjust arrangements, as though he had the power to do whatever he wished. 3 He must constantly reflect that he will have to give God an account of all his decisions and actions. 4 Therefore, when the monks come for the kiss of peace and for Communion, when they lead psalms or stand in choir, they do so in the order decided by the abbot or already existing among them. 5 Absolutely nowhere shall age automatically determine rank. 6 Remember that Samuel and Daniel were still boys when they judged their elders (1 Sam 3; Dan 13:44-62). 7 Therefore, apart from those mentioned above whom the abbot has for some overriding consideration promoted, or for a specific reason demoted, all the rest should keep to the order of their entry. 8 For example, someone who came to the monastery at the second hour of the day must recognize that he is junior to someone who came at the first hour, regardless of age or distinction. 9 Boys, however, are to be disciplined in everything by everyone.

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

Again we come up against the necessity of having order in the monastery. The purpose of order in the monastery is just what Saint Benedict states: not to disturb the flock. Saint Benedict is absolutely clear that chronological (physical) age can never determine the order of the community. The order is determined by the time when the man entered the monastery and became a monk. It is also clear that “distinction” cannot determine order.

We need to reflect on order for a while. Lots of people today think that there is no need for order. Others think that order only creates hierarchy and does not help any group. Most of us monks don’t think very much about order because we usually live in an orderly situation.

After the Second Vatican Council, some communities attempted to live with out a clear order in their community. Almost always this leads to a few people dominating the group, rather than truly allowing each person to be heard.

When we follow the order given in the Rule of Saint Benedict, we find that when it is well done, every person is hear and every point of view has to be respected. Each monk is expected to have his personal opinions about the monastic life and about the decisions needed to be made–and he is expected to state them appropriately. The final decisions in the community are generally made by the Chapter of the Solemnly Professed, by the Council of Deans or by the Abbot.

Let us pray for our community that we can seek God’s will in every decision that must be made.

Chapter 63. Community Rank, Verses 10-19.

10 The younger monks, then, must respect their seniors, and the seniors must love their juniors. 11 When they address one another, no one should be allowed to do so simply by name; 12 rather, the seniors call the younger monks “brother” and the younger monks call their seniors nonnus, which is translated as “venerable father.” 13 But the abbot, because we believe that he holds the place of Christ, is to be called “lord” and “abbot,” not for any claim of his own, but out of honor and love for Christ. 14 He, for his part, must reflect on this, and in his behavior show himself worthy of such honor. 15 Wherever brothers meet, the junior asks his senior for a blessing. 16 When an older monk comes by, the younger rises and offers him a seat, and does not presume to sit down unless the older bids him. 17 In this way, they do what the words of Scripture say: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10). 18 In the oratory and at table, small boys and youths are kept in rank and under discipline. 19 Outside or anywhere else, they should be supervised and controlled until they are old enough to be responsible.

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

We continue to speak about the order of the community. Now we hear about the relationship between the seniors and the juniors in the monastery. We have to remember that this is not about young and old men, but about monks who have been monks longer and monks who have been monks for a shorter time.

It has never seemed to work in our western monastic world to call the senior monk “Nonnus.” That Latin word does come in the tradition of monastic women, who are called “nonna” or “nun.” Some of us remember when there were two classes in most monasteries: the lay brothers and the choir monks. Each of those groups had their own form of monastic life. This was surely not the vision of the Rule of Benedict, but it did somehow manage to bring about a strong form of monastic life in many communities.

At the heart of this relationship between the monks who have been monks for a long time and those who have not been a monk very long is that there must be mutual respect and care for one another. There is clearly a focus on the new monks respecting their elders, even when the elders are not perfect.

Saint Benedict is really strong that the abbot holds a very special place in the community. The abbot holds the place of Christ. This teaching of Saint Benedict does not promote a “Lord Abbot,” but a stance of faith by which the monk accepts and believes that God works in the community in a special way through the abbot.

In most monasteries today there is a lot of egalitarianism. It is important that we always keep aware of this movement towards egalitarianism so that it does not dominate the orderly community that Saint Benedict has tried to create.

Let us ask our God to give us wisdom and knowledge as we seek to live a strong monastic life today.