One of many rules, the Rule of St Benedict was simple and adaptable and gave priority to communal life based on a balance of Prayer and Work. Benedict’s Rule contains seventy-three chapters of varying length, and is comparable in size to the Gospel of Matthew. It is clear that Benedict based his Rule not only on his own experience but also on the writings of other monastic authors, especially a document known as the Rule of the Master.
In Benedict’s Rule he establishes the hierarchy of the monastery, the arrangements regarding prayer and work, details concerning the food, drink and clothing of monks, correction and relations with the outside world. In all these regulations his aim is to give the strong something to strive after but at the same time not drive the weak away. Seven periods of prayer based on the Psalms punctuate each day, and every person has tasks to perform, which contribute to the upkeep and smooth operation of the community. The daily program is designed to allow for periods of silence, prayer, work, and the slow, deep reading of scripture and approved texts.
The Rule calls for promises of stability, obedience and “conversion of life”. Stability enables continuity of community life, obedience ensures adherence to the Rule, administered by an Abbot, and conversion of life makes way for ongoing growth into the way of Christ. This formula has been a powerful agent in creating Benedictine communities that became spiritual powerhouses for larger communities of social and cultural life. New Norcia would never have come about, or continued, were it not for the spirit of St Benedict and his Rule, which led the founders to build a stable monastic community as the cornerstone of all its life. One of the most famous sections of the Rule is Chapter 72:The Good Zeal of Monks. It is a summary statement of what Benedictine monastic life is all about.
This then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love. They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their Abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.