1There are clearly four kinds of monks.
2First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot.
3Second, there are the anchorites or hermits, who have come through the test of living in a monastery for a long time, and have passed beyond the first fervor of monastic life. 4Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil. 5They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brothers to the single combat of the desert. Self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God’s help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind.
6Third, there are the sarabaites, the most detestable kind of monks, who with no experience to guide them, no rule to try them as gold is tried in a furnace (Prov 27:21), have a character as soft as lead. 7Still loyal to the world by their actions, they clearly lie to God by their tonsure. 8Two or three together, or even alone, without a shepherd, they pen themselves up in their own sheepfolds, not the Lord’s. Their law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy. 9Anything they believe in and choose, they call holy; anything they dislike, they consider forbidden.
10Fourth and finally, there are the monks called gyrovagues, who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. 11Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites. In every way they are worse than sarabaites.
12It is better to keep silent than to speak of all these and their disgraceful way of life. 13Let us pass them by, then, and with the help of the Lord, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites.
On the other hand, the last sentence is clear: Let us, with the help of the Lord, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind of monks, the cenobites.
We cenobites are monks who serve under a rule and an abbot. This sounds very straightforward, but is a most important foundation of our monastic life. We serve under a rule!
We should expect to have an organized life and one that sets limits to what we do and what we do not do. We have ways in which we live the monastic live and we are expected to conform to those ways of living.
So much of this goes against our modern age, which wants freedom and spontaneity. Even those of us who live under a rule sometimes find it really irritates us. Probably that is the whole point of an organized life: it shows us how un-free we really are.
Most of us have great inner freedom as long as we can do what we want to do. We have great inner freedom until we meet up with other who don't live freedom the same way: then we want them to change!
The other aspect of a cenobite is serving under an abbot. That is sometimes more difficult than a rule. The rule is written and we can know what it is. An abbot is flesh and blood and changes, like all flesh and blood! Serving under an abbot is not easy! Yet it is one of those indispensable conditions for being a true follower of Saint Benedict.
Real abbots may have wisdom but they may not. Real abbots may have wonderful gifts but they may also have very few gifts. This is just where the rule of obedience to the abbot becomes difficult. Most of us are willing to obey an abbot who seems to have some kind of holiness or some deep understanding of monastic life.
Most abbots, however, are just normal human beings as we are. That we find difficult in obedience! So the call in this first Chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict is to learn how to live with the abbot that we have.
We must learn to accept whatever abbot we have and learn how to obey. This frees us from our self and allows us to come more deeply into the great mysteries of God. May the Lord Jesus guide us in our obedience so that we may meet the living God!