‘We are used to speaking of St Benedict as one of the patrons of Europe. This is partly in acknowledgement of how Benedictine houses helped to preserve something of the coherence of a religiously focused culture in the uncertain and often chaotic period after the fall of Rome, as the new Germanic kingdoms emerged in the west. But is there a sense in which we can speak of Benedict and his rule as offering an orientation for Europe’s future? In the half-secularised, morally confused and culturally diverse continent we now inhabit, does the Holy Rule still provide a beacon for common life?
I want to argue that it does: the Rule, after all, is not an archaeological document but something that is continually being reinterpreted in the life of the communities that are based upon it - like the Scriptures themselves. And it has long been recognised that what the Rule proposes for the common life of monks and nuns is a structure that can be adapted to the needs of Christian community more widely - as is shown in the extraordinary number of people who still seek to live as oblates or who regularly refresh their vision by sharing the life of Benedictine houses… If there is a civilisation to be saved, what are the dimensions of the Rule that point us towards the essentials that have to be preserved and nourished? Or, in slightly different terms, what are the political virtues that the Rule generates, and how are these capable of translation into the context of contemporary geopolitics, especially as regards our own continent? It may be that we can arrive at a fuller grasp of what it is now to see Benedict as patron of our troubled and changing continent.
…We cannot take it for granted that any political order, European or otherwise, will regard it as a priority to make possible a life of contemplative delight in God the Father. But what we can reasonably ask, in the light of the Rule, is that political order should recognise that it cannot survive without space for some exploration of what human identity is… The challenge that the politics of the Rule poses is how the public sphere might be able to give space to those practices and institutions that witness to the possibilities of the transcendent; how the ‘rumour’ is kept alive that there are levels of self-understanding and self-giving in service or adoration which keep the world of labour and production in perspective, and expose the world of passive entertainment as a narrowing and trivialising affair. The Rule declares that human communities may exist in which production, reflection and delight can interpenetrate. And it also declares that legitimate authority can be understood as an authority that only requires obedience in the light of practising it - obedience to the law that all hold in common and obedience in the wider sense of attention to the particularities of persons and situations.
We shan’t find in the Rule the ingredients of a constitution for any state or federation; but we shall find a set of perspectives on political virtue in the presence of God, which will give some edge to the questions that Christians should be putting to the prevailing systems of power in our world today and tomorrow. Patron saints are not there to be benign mascots; they are given so that nations and groups and individuals may have identifiable friends in the company of heaven who will give a particular direction and sharpness to the challenges of the gospel. We need to recover Benedict as that kind of patron for our presently confused continent; there is still much to do to spell out further the ways in which, both confronting and affirming, his Rule may open some windows in a rather airless political room and create a true workshop for the spirit’.
from an address ‘Benedict and the Future of Europe’, at St Anselmo, Rome, 21 November 2006
by Rowan Williams, Lord Williams of Oystermouth (Archbishop of Canterbury, 2002-2012)
O eternal God, who didst make thine Abbot Saint Benedict a wise master in the school of thy service, and a guide for many called into the common life to follow the rule of Christ: grant that we may put thy love above all things, and seek with joy the way of thy commandments; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon