(on account of February's brevity, today will cover both chapters 23 and 24)
The Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 23
Chapter 23 is the first of eight chapters dealing with consequences for faults. No one wants to talk about the dark side of community life, when earnest good intentions can no longer be assumed. We would that human evil remain an abstraction, an idea we can rail against on Facebook, but never encounter within our own homes. As soon as we open ourselves to living in community, however, we open ourselves to the possibility that someone will betray the trust that makes community possible. To betray is to make use of that which is derived from a community--resources, information, security, relationships--against the interests of that community.
These chapters are St. Benedict's 6th Century prescription for dealing with such betrayal in order to preserve the health of his communities. I will not be concerned with the specific means of correction or punishment, as they have little to offer us in the 21st Century, but I believe there is much to be gained from listening carefully with the ear of the heart, even as we move through these eight difficult chapters.
Notice with me the nature of the offenses our Father Benedict lists here in Chapter 23: obstinacy, disobedience, pride, murmuring, contemptuousness. These are attitudes that we can all find living within ourselves at one time or another. What is so harmful about them within a Benedictine community is that they indicate an unwillingness to be moulded, to be transformed. They are ways a human heart digs its heels in and refuses to budge. Such a posture cannot be ignored, if Benedictine community is to remain an association of unified intentions.
The Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 24
The faults we are dealing with here are betrayals of community life. They involve drawing benefits from a community while behaving in such a way that threatens the community's health. As such, St. Benedict fixes the consequences for these faults squarely at the heart of Benedictine community life, at the table and in prayer.
The connotations of the word "excommunication" in our current understanding are distracting, if we seek to understand the spirit of our Father Benedict's instructions. This is not excommunication in the idiom of banishment to eternal damnation. This is not a bishop cutting off a Roman Catholic nun from her church for political reasons. This word is used here to indicate a far more literal dynamic, that of being "excluded from the common" aspects of life in the monastery. And, depending on the seriousness of the fault as judged by the religious Superior, this excommunication is applied in degrees toward a two-fold end: the preservation of community health and the restoration of the wayward member.
This is the original "natural and logical consequence" method of discipline put in place by a parent who loves us (RB: Prologue).