Monday, October 21, 2013

Is the Rule of St. Benedict Supported by the Bible?

A common question posed by Protestants about any Christian belief or practice is: "But where is that found in the Bible?"  This post is not about the merits (or lack thereof) of sola scriptura (scripture alone); instead, it will set forth a few ways in which the core of the Benedictine way is supported by the Bible.

One verse sums it up:  "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42).

How does that verse relate to the essence of the Rule of St. Benedict?  Acts 2:42 can be broken down into three parts: (1)  "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship" - this is found in various Benedictine devotional practices, such as lectio divina ("divine reading").  (2) "The breaking of bread" - the Rule of St. Benedict emphasizes the importance of the Eucharist.  (3)  "The prayers" - this brief mention needs further explanation, but there is a direct parallel between the pattern of daily prayer used by the first Christians, and the later daily office of prayers set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict.

This note in the Orthodox Study Bible helps explain the reference to "prayers" in Acts 2:42:  "Prayers is literally 'the prayers' in Greek, referring to specific liturgical prayers.  The Jews had practiced liturgical prayer for centuries, the preeminent prayers being the Psalms.  Because the Psalms point so clearly to Christ, Christians immediately incorporated them into (New Testament) worship."

With that background in mind, other Biblical references to the daily liturgical prayers, which were  incorporated into the Rule of St. Benedict, become obvious:

"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon."  (Acts 3:1).  The apostles were praying the mid-afternoon prayers, later referred to by Benedictines as the office of "None".

"In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.'"  (Acts 10: 1-4 - see also the reference at Acts 10:30). Here, Cornelius is praying the mid-afternoon prayers when he had the encounter with an angel.

"About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray."  (Acts 10:9).  Noontime prayer in the Rule of St. Benedict is referred to as "Sext".

"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:25).  Here, they were praying the night office of "Vigils" - some monastic orders, such as the Carthusians, still pray at midnight.  While most Benedictines have adjusted the time frame, they still pray the night office of prayers.

And how far back does the tradition of praying seven times a day go?  At least as far back as the Psalms:   "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances." (Psalm 119:164).

Sometimes, this daily prayer ritual, observed by the apostles and followed to this day by Benedictines and other orders, is referred to as the "sanctification of time" - the hours of the day are made holy by prayer.  For those of us who do not live in a cloister, and who have secular jobs, observing the seven daily prayer offices will not be feasible.  However, given the Biblical precedent revealing the importance of regular daily prayer at different times, it should be a goal of all Christians - not just monastics - to figure out a daily prayer regimen that works for them, and follow it.  

(Thanks to Matthew Dallman, author of the excellent book "The Benedictine Parish" - reviewed at - for highlighting the relevance of Acts 2:42 to the Benedictine way).


  1. Of course I agree 100% with what you have written. On my own blog I have written extensively about Acts 2:42. Your post causes me a lot of pain because the real question is: Are the teachings of the Catholic Church supported by the Bible? Are you saying that after Saint Benedict, the Church went down the drain until the time of Luther? I challenge you to show me ONE instance in which a teaching of the Catholic Church varies from the Rule of St Benedict or the Scripture. Catholic Doctrine has developed from Acts 2:42 through St Benedict to our times and saints like, for example, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. It is 100% Scriptural -- the question is who interprets the Scripture -- Chicago or Rome?

  2. As I tell a witness when they start asking me questions during a deposition, I remind them that as a lawyer, I get to ask the questions and don't have to answer them :) Many people much smarter than I have talked about these issues for 50 years, so for today, I will just rest on what Pope Francis said to a group of Lutherans today in Rome:

    "Dear Lutheran brothers and sisters,

    I warmly welcome you, the members of the Lutheran World Federation and the representatives of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity. This meeting follows upon my very cordial and pleasant meeting with you, dear Bishop Younan, and with the Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Reverend Junge, during the inaugural celebration of my ministry as the Bishop of Rome.

    It is with a sense of profound gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ that I think of the many advances made in relations between Lutherans and Catholics in these past decades, not only through theological dialogue, but also through fraternal cooperation in a variety of pastoral settings, and above all, in the commitment to progress in spiritual ecumenism. In a certain sense, this last area constitutes the soul of our journey towards full communion, and permits us even now a foretaste of its results, however imperfect. In the measure in which we draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ in humility of spirit, we are certain to draw closer to one another. And, in the measure in which we ask the Lord for the gift of unity, we are sure that he will take us by the hand and be our guide.

    This year, as a result of a now fifty year old theological dialogue and with a view to the commemoration of the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, the text of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity was published, with the significant title: From Conflict to Communion. Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. I believe that it is truly important for everyone to confront in dialogue the historical reality of the Reformation, its consequences and the responses it elicited. Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight of God. Together we can rejoice in the longing for unity which the Lord has awakened in our hearts, and which makes us look with hope to the future.

    In light of this decades-long journey and of the many examples of fraternal communion between Lutherans and Catholics which we have witnessed, and encouraged by faith in the grace given to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, I am certain that we will continue our journey of dialogue and of communion, addressing fundamental questions as well as differences in the fields of anthropology and ethics. Certainly, there are no lack of difficulties, and none will lack in the future. They will continue to require patience, dialogue and mutual understanding. But we must not be afraid! We know well – as Benedict XVI often reminded us – that unity is not primarily the fruit of our labours, but the working of the Holy Spirit, to whom we must open our hearts in faith, so that he will lead us along the paths of reconciliation and communion.

    Blessed John Paul II asked: “How can we proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation without at the same time being committed to working for reconciliation between Christians?” (Ut Unum Sint, 98). May the faithful and constant prayer of our communities sustain theological dialogue, the renewal of life and the conversion of hearts, so that, with the Triune God, we will be able to journey together toward the fulfilment of Jesus’ desire that all may be one."

  3. So... what is wrong with asking a question? Are you trying to tell me to "Stay home and pray"? What is wrong with grass-roots dialogue? I think my question was reasonable. Did you read "From Conflict to Communion"?

  4. I hope you sensed that the comment was in jest, which is why I added the :) But seriously, the reason for the response is that your questions involve more than I have either the energy or desire to address at this time. Also, as I indicated in the post about not wanting this to turn into a discussion about sola scriptura, it was my desire to avoid turning this post into another Catholic vs. Protestant discussion (the same, really, is true about this blog in general - there are lots of blogs and forums out there where such debates are encouraged, but for now I want to keep this blog focused on contemplative spirituality and practices).

  5. I understand. :) What are some good websites for debate and apologetics? I am internet-ignorant.

  6. The forums at have a lot of discussions between Catholics and non-Catholics that I think you would enjoy. Also, some of the more notable apologists out there (Dave Armstrong, Taylor Marshall, Scott Hahn) have fairly active discussions on Facebook.

  7. I like the article, but I somehow fail to see where it contains anything about a debate for protestant and catholics.

    My love of Saint Benedict as much to do with what Martin Luther does not bring to me. Benedict establishes a way of life rooted in the Gospel and grounded in the scriptural principles of charity, humility, stability, and faithfulness. Saint Benedict brings to heart I have never met a stranger - treat everyone who come to your door like Christ.

    I have never been to a Catholic Mass - only recently started going back to church. I have visited at least four over the past year - I was at one church for at least four months - in which nobody never knew my first name. I visited others then landed where I am now, only to hear the sermons of "stewardship and finances and I quit the six figure job for this".

    What I am trying to say is, I don't think if we are Lutheran or catholic we are going to be in the express check out to heaven. What really matters most to me - is being ever so humble and coming to God in prayer, these different times of the day in prayer - it has brung a new peace in my heart.

    These different times of the day during the week - leads me - it brings me to that moment when I am at the table with the risen Christ. Its what I prayed for all week - Christ is present at that table with me - Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, there is no doctrine at that table just the body and blood that was shed for me.
    May the lord bless us and keep us, make his face shine upon us and give us peace.