Brief Book Review: A Critical Study of the Rule of Benedict

Who’s it for?
Liturgy scholars, scholars of the Rule of Benedict, monastic liturgists considering new arrangements of their psalms, or tenacious monastics seeking to understand details of their tradition better.

Why is this book useful?
While incredibly dry and tedious in some places, it provides a fantastic exploration of how St. Benedict used his sources, especially The Rule of the Master and the works of Cassian.

What intrigued me the most?
The section on the 6th century monastic shift from the use of individual cells to dormitories was fascinating, as it traces how the desert tradition of somewhat individual ascetics shifted toward a more communitarian arrangement.

What will most inspire you?
Seeing many examples of how St. Benedict shifts his emphasis compared with that of his sources will give you a better sense of the great founder’s personality and intentions.

At this late date, if any English speakers still are wondering whether The Rule of Benedict or The Rule of the Master came first, de Vogüé gives plenty of analysis, section for section, showing why it makes sense to believe that St. Benedict drew from the Master. If the book’s emphasis on this feels somewhat like overkill in 2019, it is important to remember that de Vogüé’s original French text was written in 1972, when the argument was more fresh. Laying out the evidence in a clear fashion, de Vogüé then is able to point out how St. Benedict used his sources creatively in the crafting of his own Rule. Sr. Colleen Maura McGrane’s accessible translation makes this great work available to English speakers.

A Critical Study of the Rule of Benedict, Volume 3: Liturgy, Sleeping Arrangements, and the Penal Code (RB 8-20, 22-30, 42-46), by Adalbert de Vogüé, translated by Colleen Maura McGrane, OSB (New City Press, 2019). First published in France as La Règle de Saint Benoît: Commentaire Historique et Critique (Parties IV-VI). No. 185 dans la collection Sources Chrétiennes Paris: Les Éditions Du Cerf, 1972. 354 pages.

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