SAINT BENEDICT'S RULE: A New Translation for today
Patrick Barry OSB
(Ampleforth Abbey Press, distributed by Gracewing, 1997, 103pp, hardback, $30.00.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
One of the most interesting phenomena in spiritual writing in the last generation has been the number of works that have opened up the Rule of Saint Benedict and other Benedictine writings for lay people, for example Listen my Son: St Benedict for Fathers by Dwight Longenecker, reviewed by this writer in a previous edition of AD2000.
Such works demonstrate how the teachings in the Rule, although written primarily for monks, are nevertheless relevant and practicable for lay people in their spiritual lives.
Dom Patrick Barry, a former abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, whose other former abbots include the late Cardinal Hume, presents this new translation designed to meet the needs of a wide range of readers.
One may be initially tempted to ask why a new translation of this text is needed, a question which Fr Barry addresses in his preface: whilst the Latin original does not change, English does and contemporary language is needed for a text to resonate most effectively with contemporary people.
In his translation Barry avoids the extremes of a literal translation which fails to convey the nuances of meaning and an over liberal translation which deviates from the Latin.
While the Rule was written to regulate monastic life in the West, many of the injunctions can be directly applied to any state of life, for example, calls to humility.
However, most of the injunctions need to be applied somewhat laterally. For example, while it is impractical for lay people with families to divest themselves of ownership of everything they possess, they can still cultivate a sense of detachment from their material belongings, refusing to live by materialistic values.
Similarly, the regulations about the amount of wine that may be drunk are a reminder of the Christian virtue of moderation, particularly at the current time when the dire consequences of binge drinking are all too well known. However, remedies such as fasting and 'sharp strokes of the rod' for errant young children are best considered as discipline strategies from another era.
Although these strategies are archaic, this injunction underscores the reality that, as an integral aspect of the formation of children, appropriate boundaries must be set by those in charge with sanctions whenever they are breached.
Saint Benedict's Rule would make an ideal gift and/or an addition to any library.