Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Antiquarian?

Chapter 30: How Boys Are to Be Corrected
Every age and degree of understanding should have its proper measure of discipline. With regard to boys and adolescents, therefore,or those who cannot understand the seriousness of the penalty of excommunication,whenever such as these are delinquent let them be subjected to severe fasts or brought to terms by harsh beatings, that they may be cured.


There are many chapters in Benedict’s Rule that seem, at best, antiquated, and worst much too primitive. It certainly is out of fashion to subject young children to “harsh beatings”, this kind of conduct could get our Holy Father arrested in this day and age. So, this is, at first glance, one of those chapters that we have difficulty understanding.

Still, I think the key point is found in the first sentence quoted above. “Every age and degree of understanding should have its proper measure of discipline.” For there to be a community at all, there must be some measure of discipline, both internal and external. In other words, a successful community, for that matter a successful culture, depends on the self-disciple of its members. There must be at least a sensed of mutual responsibility and individual members cannot each go their own way. When this fails, there must be an external form of discipline, today we would call it justice, that helps the community maintain order. And it can’t be denied that it may, at times, require some form of punishment in order to restore the necessary order.

Fr. Terrance Kardong points out that, when discipline is necessary, for it to be effective it must be administered in a form that can be understood. Very young children may not understand separation from the community as a form of punishment, therefore some other measure may become necessary. Today, that may take the form of separation not from the family or community, but from a cell phone or particular video game, or some form of “detention.”

There’s nothing new in what Benedict has written in Chapter 30 of the Rule. He may not have phrased it quite the way we would like, or even in the way we would expect from a great saint. Given all this and even though Benedict wrote over 1,500 years ago, it doesn’t mean he didn’t know a thing or two about what it takes to build a community.

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