Benedict’s Rule: According to Need

I cannot read Chapter 34 of the Rule without falling into immediate conviction.  I write this in relation to the context of the American higher-education system.  I realize this will not fit many of you who read today’s post.  But perhaps you can glean a transferable concept that will apply to your life.

Today’s chapter is a “block buster” for the way we structure much of our life today.

Education today is largely based upon “aptitude” and “economics.”  Those who have proved themselves in previous academic work—and—who have the money to pay for (or take huge loans for) their next degree are “eligible” for admission.

These two criteria make access to education a reality for smaller and smaller numbers of people (as we move up the educational ladder), making some of our education only available to “the privileged elite.”

I go through periods of intense conviction about spending my life in a system like this, but I do not know how to go about changing it.  It is pervasive.

And then I read Benedict.  I think he would know.  I think he would say, “Make what you have to offer available to people according to their respective aptitudes and economics.  Teach them as they are able to learn and as they are able to pay.”

This would immediately challenge our educational institutions and radically transform the way we admit students and get money from them.  It would challenge the students to accept the fact that there might be someone in the class who had “paid less” than they did for the same course.  It would test the professors will to instruct those who didn’t fit the stereotype of “the brightest and the best.”  It would redefine the way we go about determining the “reputation” of an educational institution.  In short, it would overturn the whole system.  Everyone would have to think and behave differently.

And for Benedict—that’s the point.

I cannot begin to list the other contexts in which Benedict’s approach “according to need” would have radical consequences.  Perhaps you can think of things that fit how you live and where you work.  If you can, I imagine you’ll agree with me that the implications are devastating to a lot of our “systems.”

And whether or not my educational model speaks to you or not, Benedict’s final words speak to all of us.  The great danger in any reconstructive, renovative enterprise is that the people in it will “grumble.”

Grumbling was one of the main sins in monastic community, and Benedict speaks against it in various places in the Rule.  Grumbling is what the ego does when it isn’t being stroked—when it has to “give way” so that someone else can be given what they rightfully deserve.  Only an abandoned self will vote to re-organize “according to need.”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Benedict’s Rule: According to Need

  1. Tom Pope says:

    I felt the same way when I served as director of admissions. I would see “files” and interview applicants who had clear gifts and calling to ministry but could not admit them because of a grade point average below the level set by those who only wanted the “best and brightest.” Unfortunately, the best are not always the brightest. I doubt if St. Francis would have been seriously considered by any seminary today. I have long felt that seminary education today falls far short of what Christ would want. I struggled and succeeded in a system both as a student and as an administrator that I didn’t really believe in anymore. I enjoyed my colleagues, enjoyed working with men and women with their call to ministry, but at the end of the day, I still felt the place for theological education was supposed to be through the local church and through mentoring. I have someone who is licensed for ministry who has taken a year off from work to be mentored by me in pastoral ministry. When he finishes with me he will go before the board in his denomination (not UMC) and will be ordained. This is not a once a month meeting together. It is all day every day. He goes with me on visitation, he has an office close to mine at the church. He participates in weddings and funerals he helps me set up tables, chairs, goes to committees with me, etc. We spend much time together talking about theology, God, people and service. I have him read various books, follow blogs, such as this one etc. I value my seminary degree, but I know that there is nothing there I could not have been “self-taught.” For many it is no more than a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the challenge, the study, the coming away for three years to dedicate to this pursuit, but it is a luxury many, perhaps most cannot afford.

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