Listen!" wrote Benedict at the beginning of his monastic Rule. Writing around A.D. 540, he offered a way of listening in a setting where God's voice could be heard, where those who wished to seek God through humility and obedience in a community of like-minded Christians could practice the disciplines of prayer without the distractions of family life.

In his prologue, Benedict invites the reader to listen to the voice of God calling him or her to service in prayer, faith, and good works. Such a disciplined life may be difficult at first, Benedict says, but "as we progress in this life and in faith, our hearts will expand with the inexpressible joy of love as we run the way of God's commandments." This is the ultimate outcome to which the Rule points: Joy is the result of loving service to God.

Monastic "rules" were more than lists of dos and don'ts. They were blueprints for an ordered and celibate form of Christian life that had been growing in the Christian church for 200 years before Benedict. He based his own rule on earlier ones such as the anonymous Rule of the Master. But it was Benedict's "little Rule for beginners" that became the gold standard for Western monasticism. In a short space, about 50 pages in modern editions, Benedict wrote a Rule noteworthy for its wise moderation, biblical grounding, flexibility, and interweaving of spiritual teaching and practical directives.

Called Into Community

By the time Benedict wrote his Rule, the monastic movement had taken many shapes. The hermit's life of solitude was one form. But although Benedict had great respect for hermits, he thought that a community offered more safeguards and guidance. Would-be hermits should first live in a community before embracing solitude. Therefore ...

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