A Pattern Is Emerging

There are reports circulating that the current Federal Government will abolish the National Water Commission in May’s Federal Budget.

If this comes to pass it would represent another development in what is becoming a pattern: first the abolishment of the Federal Department of Climate Change (and the removal of a responsible minister from the Cabinet); then the abolishing of the Climate Change Authority; then the winding up to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; the desire to reverse the imposition of a price on carbon emissions (and the transition to an emissions trading scheme that was attached to it); and now the winding up of the National Water Commission.

Can anyone say ‘anti-environment’ with me?

Reading the Rule of St Benedict: Chapter 64, vv 7-22

As set down for reading on the 21st April, 21st August, and 21st December

Once appointed, the abbot should always be mindful of what a burden he has undertaken, and to whom “he will render an account of his stewardship,” [Luke 16:2] and know that he should benefit the brothers rather than preside over them. Therefore it is fitting that he be learned in divine law, so that he knows how “to be a source of the old and the new,” [Matt 13:52] and that he be chaste, sober, merciful, and should always “put mercy above justice,” [James 2:13] in order that the same may happen to him.

Let him hate vices but love the brothers. In rebuke, he should act wisely and never excessively, lest he break the vessel by rubbing too hard to remove the rust. Let him also be wary of his own weakness and remember that “a bent reed is not to be broken.” [Isa 42:3] By this we do not mean that he should allow vices to be nurtured, but that he should cut them off wisely and lovingly, as he thinks best for each individual, as we already said. And he should strive to be more loved than feared. He should not be agitated or anxious, nor excessive and stubborn, nor jealous and overly suspicious, because he will never rest.

In his own commands he should think carefully and with foresight, and whether assigning godly or worldly work is in question, he should be discreet and moderate, in keeping in mind the discretion of the holy Jacob, who said, “If I work my flocks too hard by driving them on, they will all die in one day.” [Gen 33:13] Drawing on this and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, he should be moderate in all things, so that the strong have something to desire and the weak nothing to shrink from.

In particular, he should adhere to this Rule in all matters, so that when he has served well he may hear from the Lord what the good servant, who distributed the harvest to his fellow servants in due time, heard: “Amen, I say to you, he has set him over all his property.” [Matt 24:47]


Having listed all the things a potential abbot shouldn’t be in the first part of Chapter 64, St Benedict goes on to list the qualities, responsibilities and duties that a good abbot should possess and engender within himself. It is a sudden change, and rather than seeing a checklist that must be met, these qualities form the basis of a theory – or perhaps even theology – of authority and leadership within a community. Anyone called to leadership would do well to meditate on what St Benedict believes to constitute a good leader, on how authority should be exercised, and how leadership within a monastic community is almost akin to parenting. There is much wisdom to be distilled here, wisdom that is as applicable to contemporary life and society as to the nascent monastic community for which St Benedict was writing.

Of particular interest, perhaps, is the last paragraph of Chapter 64, and the limits it places on legitimate authority and leadership:

In ancient civilizations, the law was the lawgiver’s law. Subjects had no rights, only responsibilities. The lawgiver could change the law on a whim or a fancy. In the Roman empire, the paterfamilias, the Roman father, could do no wrong in his own home. No court of law would try him; no one would convict him. He himself according to the principles of Roman jurisprudence was judge and jury, king and lawgiver. In a climate and culture such as this, the chapter on the abbot… and this paragraph in particular, are extremely revolutionary. This section issues a clear warning: authority has limits; authority is not a law unto itself; authority is responsible to the persons under it for their welfare and their growth; authority itself is under the law. It is a theology such as this that makes people free and keeps people free because the knee we bow to government must really be bowed only to God. (p 276)

Joan Chittister, The Rule of St Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010). ISBN: 978-0-8245-2594-1.

Reading the Rule of St Benedict: Chapter 64, vv 1-6

As set down for reading on the 20th April, 20th August, and 20th December

In appointing an abbot, this procedure must always be kept in mind: the one installed should be one whom the entire community chooses, in harmony and the fear of God, or else the part of the community, however small, of sounder judgement. The one to be appointed should be chosen for merit of life and wisdom of teaching, even if he has the last rank in the community. If, God forbid, the entire community in common counsel chooses a person who condones its vices, and these vices somehow come to the attention of the bishop in whose diocese the monastery is located or to neighbouring abbots and Christians, they should prevent the plotting of the perverse from prevailing, instead setting up a worthy steward of the house of God, knowing that they will receive a good reward for it, provided they do it purely and with zeal for God, and if, on the contrary, they neglect this duty, it is a sin.


A good manager is not what St Benedict envisages for the abbot of his monastic community. Nor does he think theologians, ascetics, fundraisers or other ‘experts’ would necessarily suit the role. The focus for St Benedict is on “merit of life and wisdom of teaching” – in other words, the best abbot will be one who has lived and continues to live the good life, focussed on the search for God, and committed to the life of the community in which that search takes place. They may well be theologians or managers, fundraisers or ascetics – but those qualities, in and of themselves, are not what the monastic community in search of an abbot should focus on. For St Benedict, the challenge is to seek out the monk who has lived the good life, and trust in God that the other necessary qualities will come.

Christ Is Risen!!

I have just returned from the celebration of the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night here in the Parish of Forster Tuncurry, and in honour of the Resurrection I present this recording of the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet) as sung at Easter 2011 during the Easter Vigil of St John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

Χριστός Ανέστη!

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