Psalmody and the Holy Rule

Steps of humility, Holy Rule, Chapter VII

For the past few days, we have heard St. Benedict tell us about the steps of humility. These are steps, which if we ascend them, lead us to “heavenly exaltation.” The latter is the eschatological goal of human life but is attainable in this life by means of humility. That is interesting. St. Benedict is saying nothing less but that humility is what leads to deification. This is the second time Benedict brings up deification. Though often not translated or even placed in a footnote Prologue 9’s “divine light” is more accurately translated as “deifying light.” In Prologue 9 there is a passivity – listening – involved which requires hard work: obedience. “For we must at all times use the good gifts He has placed in us (Prologue 6).” But here we must devote our attention to humility.

“Brothers, holy Scripture cries aloud to us …” (Holy Rule, vii, 1). The teaching on and of humility begins with holy Scripture. This is not a proto-Protestant move of Benedict. Whereas for the Reformers (including our own Anglican Reformers) Scripture always speaks to us and stays on the outside as it were (Cranmer and the Continental Reformers were committed nominalists). For Benedict Scripture is to be practiced, put on, produce an inner transformation. This is not unlike the Reformation controversy concerning justification. To the Reformers justification concerns a declaration whereas for the Catholics it concerns a transformation. John Henry Newman wrote at length about this issue in his Lectures on Justification. Benedict, being a Platonic realist (common currency in his time) views the speech of Scripture as transformative (not unlike Newman in the lectures mentioned above).

St. Benedict immediately quotes from the Gospel of St. Luke (18, 14): “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted .“ Humility is here presented as a virtue mandated by the Gospel. In other words, the teaching to follow is, according to Benedict, to be understood as the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself mediated by the ministry of St. Benedict. The importance of humility could not be emphasized more strongly. Humility is the virtue taught by Christ Himself as the path to walk to attain to “heavenly exaltation.”

The Psalter has a key role to play here. Benedict spends no less than 11 chapters on the specifics of how Psalmody is to be performed. In fact, the recitation of the Psalms (and specifically the Psalms ! ) is so important that if a situation should occur where abbreviation of the Office is necessary it is the Responses and the Readings from Scripture that are to be shortened. Never the Psalter (Ch. XI, 12-13). Why this emphasis on the Psalter? A close reading of chapter VII will give us some important clues. As the reader will notice, perhaps aided by the footnotes in the translations of the Holy Rule, St. Benedict cites the Psalms more than 20 times in just this chapter ! Other Scriptural books are also cited but much, much less frequently. There is something peculiar about the Psalms …

Immediately after Benedict has provided the passage on humility from Luke’s Gospel he follows up with a double citation from the Psalms: 131:1 and 131: 2-3. The point being made in the Psalms is that humility implies an inner transformation. Humility is not a matter of mere outward behavior. It is an inner reality which finds expression outwardly. At the conclusion of the first step St. Benedict makes an interesting suggestion:

“In order then to keep his perverse thoughts under careful control, the profitable brother should repeat in his heart. ‘Then I shall be spotless in his sight if I keep myself in check against my sinfulness.’”

The method of “keeping control” here is that of antirhetikos (contradiction or as David Brakke translates the word “talking back” ). This method contradicts the tempting thought attacking the monk. In this case, it seems Benedict recommends that Psalm 18: 24 be used to contradict the thought which tempts the monk to “forgetfulness” (HR, VIII, 10). Here the Psalm is weaponized in the fight against sin. A major source for this practice of contradiction is Evagrius Ponticus. The latter wrote one of his longest works dedicated to precisely this practice. It is not unthinkable that Benedict was – at least – familiar with this Evagrian practice if not necessarily with his works.

Moving on in our reading of Chapter VII we find that Benedict uses the Psalms in yet another way. By means of the Psalms he tells us that God knows even our deepest thoughts and motivations (Ch. VIII, 15-18), that doing our own will is to indulge in our own corruption ( Ch. VII, 23), that God is very much aware of our inner state (whether outwardly expressed or not) (Ch. VII, 23). These verses of the Psalms (and other Scriptures passages) are to be memorized, internalized so that their “keeping them in our minds” brings about inner transformation. The Psalms are like building blocks, living building blocks, that (if Benedict’s advice is followed) will re-build our inner self. The obedience Benedict subjects us to is to break down the inner self we have constructed so that it may be rebuilt. This time not ego-centric but Christo-centric.

Something similar is going on in St. John Cassian’s Institutes. He opens his book with a prologue and immediately goes into a description of monastic dress. The point St. Benedict’s hero is making is not about monastic fashion preferences. There is no Kim Kardashian-esque obsession with what to wear. The items of the monastic dress are couched in Scripture verses and are thereby placed in a narrative which begins in the Old Testament (Elijah & Elisha), continues in the New Testament (St. John Baptist, St. Paul), and is presently represented by Cassian and the Egyptian Fathers by whom he was taught. The Scriptures cited and alluded to also serve to focus on the inner transformation of the monk. When the monk enters he takes off his old, worldly clothes and puts on the monastic dress. This indicates a break with his previous life (the old self) and the putting on of the new dress indicates an entry into a new life (a new self). Cassian uses Scripture as a tool to effect a transformation of the inner self. It comes as no surprise that Cassian too taught obedience, humility, and placed a heavy emphasis on the recitation of the Psalter. In fact, the chaotic state of Gaulic Monasticism (from Cassian’s point of view) is shown in their individualist use of the Psalms. Every monk has his own way to recite them and in so doing so shows his ignorance as to what Psalmody is even for!

Cassian is even more adamant than Benedict that Psalmody is essential to a monk’s daily practice. The correct way to recite them is given by the mediation of angels (like the Law of Moses) and thus enjoys super-human authority. Interestingly, the reading of Scripture is added by the Fathers upon their own human authority and insight. It is not essential, and it is not what the Divine Office is about to Cassian. It would seem that Benedict is a close reader of Cassian! Having arrived once again at the recitation of the Psalter it is now time to reveal why in the Office it is more important to recite the Psalms than to read Scripture. One thing should be clear by now: the Office is not about the public reading and proclamation of Scripture. The Office – at least as Cassian and Benedict see it – is about the regular recitation of the Psalms in the order and manner taught by Cassian and Benedict.

The Psalms contain all of Scripture in them. They re-tell the story of the Old Testament and they prophetically tell of Jesus Christ. In other words, the one who knows the Psalms – in real sense – knows all of Scripture (generally but not specifically so that Scripture reading is still mandated for every monk ! ). Another point is that the Psalms, in particular, seem to contain medicine against the disease of vice. The more the Psalms become the building blocks with which our minds are put together, the more Christ-like we will become. Here is the entire point! The deifying light which brings us to heavenly exaltation comes to us in a very special way via the Psalms. Their recitation is a fundamental technique to effect deification. As we absorb the Psalms we are absorbed by them. To put that differently: as we consume the words of God we are consumed by the Word. The recitation of the Psalter is the “opus dei (the work of God)” to which “nothing” is to be preferred because in this opus dei we perform the work of God (reciting the Psalter) and as we do so (and insofar as we do so) God performs His work on us (deification).

The Psalter as used in chapter VII in the Holy Rule shows what to do with the knowledge of the Psalms gained by their continuous recitation. The reason that both Cassian and Benedict attribute less value to the reading of Scripture in the Office is to be sought in the fact that the Psalms contain all of Scripture and that they are specifically designed and given by divine authority to be the basis of our prayer. The rest of Scripture is equally divine in authority but cannot generally be used in the same way the Psalms can be. For this reason, the recitation of the Psalter is the core of the Divine Office.

“Holy Scripture cries aloud to us” in and through the Psalms in particular. Psalmody is a way enable the monk in the struggle against vice and the attainment of virtue, and as we perform the “work of God” it is God who work in us. The 11 chapters to follow are therefore an essential part of “setting the fear of God always before our eyes and to utterly avoid forgetfulness.” Familiarity with the Psams at the level which is produced by their weekly recitation is where we start to be “always on our guard” (HR VII, 29) and how we “act wisely and seek after God” (HR VII, 27). The Psalms firmly place us before God and in His presence, we are transformed. Our transformation will show outwardly in our humility. Step 1 has been achieved … the other steps can be ascended in the same way.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Praktike & Commandments

CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:]

  1. ascetical practice,
  2. the [contemplation of] nature,
  3. and theology.

Ascetical practice or praktike  entails “the fulfillment of the commandents” (Praktikos 81, KG 1.10 in Ilaria Ramelli’s translation). The first thing about Christianity is to do what God tells you to do. This is not much different from what St. Benedict recommends from the very beginning of his monastic rule: “listen” which means not simply hearing but obediently perform what one is told. The Holy Rule is contained in between two words: “listen” and “arrive” and in between these words stands the “fulfilling of God’s commandments.” All three stages or elements involve knowledge. For Evagrius the concept of knowledge is central. He connects it to salvation. As Ramelli comments: “Knowledge helps virtue, and virtue helps knowledge. This is why Evagrius states that knowledge leads to salvation, and this is also why demons oppose this process (Kephalaia Gnosica, transl. by Ilaria Ramelli, p. 13 Kindle edition).”

And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: * for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people, * for the remission of their sins.

Office of Lauds, Canticle (Lk. 1 9-10), Monastic Diurnal, p. 42.

The practical guidance provided in the Rule of Benedict is an example of what form the “commandments” can take. Now it is not merely knowing what these commandments are and performing hem though. As Evagrius warns the demons fiercely oppose the performance of these commandments. This, however, is where we meet another aspect of what praktike is for and what sort of salvific knowledge the practitioner gains.

As the demons oppose the fulfilling of the commandments they try to find a foothold within us. The myriad of footholds are all subsumed under the eight logismoi (which in St. Gregory the Great’s hands will become the 7 deadly sins) or eight “tempting thoughts.” These are the passions, or weaknesses within us that the demons can exploit in their attempt to lure us away from the commandments into sin. But in this strugle we can become aware of our weaknesses, we can diagnose them, and they can be exposed and cured! This deeper insight or knowledge of where the demons and the weakness of out nature intersect is salvific if we use this knowledge to apply God’s medicine of saving grace. We can crucify our flesh, nailing our passions to the Cross, and see our lives transformed by the power of the Cross. That is is the real work of praktike to be crucified with Jesus Christ so that we may also rise with Him.

As we continue our journey with Evagrius by means of The Praktikos we will meet this idea again and again. We will have many more opportunities to delve deeper into these teachings and how we can live them.

Fr. Gregory Wasen

The Conceptual Content of Satisfaction

Cur Deus Homo in short

To find out where the Rule and Cur Deus Homo meet we will need to look at the concept of satisfaction again. In the Cur Deus Homo we have seen that:

  1. Sin consists in not rendering to God what is due him (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).
  2. Nothing can be added or subtracted from God’s honor in-itself (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  3. This disturbance is repaired either by satisfaction or punishment (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  4. It is repaired by punishment when God exacts a penalty upon the unwilling/unrepentant sinner (Cur Deus Homo, I, 14 & I, 15).
  5. It is repaired by satisfaction when the sinner willingly repays (Cur Deus Homo, I, 16).
  6. The satisfaction offered must be supereregatory (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).

This quick refresher in Anselmian thought should enable us to recognize where the Holy Rule and the Cur Deus Homo meet and here the one fertilizes the other.

The Holy Rule in short

It should be noted that the Holy Rule is not a theological treatise. It is a monastic rule of life. We should not expect Benedict to theologize as elaborately as Anselm in Cur Deus Homo. Still we have seen that satisfaction entails the following:

  1. Satisfacere concerns the monk at fault (RB, 11, 13; 43, 12; 44, 8-9; 46, 3; 71, 8 for example).
  2. Satisfaction in one way or another occurs 17 times in the Rule (see Mansini).
  3. Offence can be given to God or fellow monastics (RB, 9, 7; 11, 3; 11, 13; 16, 2; 18, 24
  4. Satisfaction takes place in the sphere of personal relationships and must be fitting (RB 24, 1-3; 44; 43; 45; 71 etc).
  5. Satisfaction is distinct from punishment (RB 5, 19).
  6. Satisfaction must be supereregatory (the satisfaction requires more than simply resuming to do what should have been done in the first place; prostration comes to mind).

There seem to be certain points of overlap and a deeper reading into the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo will make its Benedictine provenance even more evident (Obedience, Honor, and Order can also be shown to derive from The Rule rather than presumed feudalism).

Four Points where Cur Deus Homo & the Holy Rule meet

There are four points where satisfaction in the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo actually meet:

  1. Satisfaction concerns the personal relational sphere.
  2. Satisfaction must be fitting.
  3. Satisfaction is willingly given because punishment is reserved for the unwilling. Iow satisfaction is distinct from punishment.
  4. Satisfaction must be supereregatory.

This is not to say that Anselm was immune to the society in which he lived. Far from it. But since it was a decidedly Benedictine society the feudal link is far from the only possible, and certainly not the least problematic one. Recent scholarship has called into question the very existence of “feudalism” whereas other research which does believe some form of feudalism existed places it long after Anselm’s death. The easiest way to understand Anselm’s theory of satisfaction is to approach it from the very source that Anselm himself drank from very deeply: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Satisfaction in “Cur Deus Homo?”

Bad Anselm

The very name Anselm of Canterbury leaves a bad taste in many peoples mouths today. This is because Anselm has been associated with what has been called “the satisfaction theory of the atonement. So what is this satisfaction theory? A short description from the Theopedia defines it as follows:

The Satisfaction (or Commercial) theory of the atonement was formulated by the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’). In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Anslem believed that humans could not render to God more than what was due to him. The satisfaction due to God was greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is already required of them. Therefore, God had to make satisfaction for himself. Yet if this satisfaction was going to avail for humans, it had to be made by a human. Therefore only a being that was both God and man could satisfy God and give him the honor that is due him.

The classic Anselmian formulation of the Satisfaction View needs to be distinguished from Penal Substitution. Penal Substitution states that Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of those sinners united to him by faith. Anselm, by contrast, regarded human sin as defrauding God of the honour he is due. Christ’s death, the ultimate act of obedience, gives God great honour. As it was beyond the call of duty for Christ, it is more honour than he was obliged to give. Christ’s surplus can therefore repay our deficit. Hence Christ’s death is substitutionary in this sense: he pays the honour instead of us. But that substitution is not penal; his death pays our honour not our penalty.

The Protestant reformers shifted the focus of this satisfaction theory to concentrate not merely on divine offense but on divine justice. God’s righteousness demands punishment for human sin. God in his grace both exacts punishment and supplies the one to bear it.

This is an important difference. For Anselm, Christ obeyed where we should have obeyed; for John Calvin, he was punished where we should have been punished.


This is a good place to begin understanding, and appreciating, Anselm’s soteriology. The attentive reader will already have picked up on the similarities between satisfaction as described above and that of St. Benedict’s Rule. The distinction made above between punishment (penal substitution theory) and satisfaction theory (Anselm, but also the Rule of St. Benedict) is very important. I think it would be true to say that in Anselmian thought we are not saved from God but we are saved by the God-man: Jesus Christ. In penal substitution we are saved by God but also from God. But still satisfaction theory makes the atonement a transaction of divine financing and Anselm is responsible for this misconstruction of the atonement.

Bad Anselm!

Rectitude, essence, and reference to God

Anselm is a Platonist. To provide some context to the argument in Cur Deus Homo we need to take this into account. In Platonism things are what they are because of their “essence” or “form.” A circle is a circle because it participates in the form (essence) of “circle-ness. A human being is a human being because he participates in human-ness, etc. Ever since St. Augustine of Hippo these “essences” or “forms” have been considered to exist in the “mind of God.” All things to be what they are must therefore be oriented toward God. That is to be a circle the circle must participate in circleness which exists in the mind of God. The same is true for human beings. The proper participation and orientation Anselm calls “rectitude.” To be rectitudinous is therefore simply to be what one “ought to be.”

Now human beings, unlike circles, are able to make choice and to (in a sense) lessen their participation in human-ness and thereby and to that extent turn away from God. This is what sin is. By sin we fail to be rectitudinous. Sin results in a distortion of the created order and therefore in a lack of rectitude. This disrupts the relationship of the created world with its Creator and needs to be addressed.

Satisfaction and salvation

According to Anselm sin “consists in not rendering to God what is due him” (G. Mansini, “St. Anselm, Satisfactio, and the Rule of St. Benedict,” p. 103). Anselm explains this to Boso in Cur Deus Homo? Bk. I chapter 11 (scroll down). Sin results in the disruption of the order and beauty of the universe. This order and beauty is God’s honor and it is “external to God” because:

… it is evident that no one can honor or dishonor God as he is in himself; but someone seems to do so, to the extent that he can, when he subjects his will to the will of God or withdraws it from the will of God.

Cur Deus Homo, Bk. I, Chapter 15 (Jasper Hopkins translation).

This an important point. Previously Anselm had said that it is God’s honor which is offended and that requires either punishment or satisfaction. Here, upon being asked, Anselm further refines what this offended honor is. It appears that it is not so much that God had his divine toes stepped on and is now furious with the offender. Rather it seems to be the case that the divine order and beauty of creation has been disrupted. That the orientation toward God has been knocked out of whack and has become dis-oriented. It is this which prevents God and sinful creatures to relate as they ought. The problem is not that God has flown into a fit of murderous rage to be cooled in murdering his innocent Son on the Cross. That idea is the result of simply failing to read what Anselm is actually saying. In fact, it seems to me, most people repeating this horrible narrative have simply failed to pay close enough attention to Anselm’s argument (if they have read him at all ! ).

The disrupted order must be restored. Anselm believes that this restoration takes the form of human beings (that are saved) taking the place left open by the angels who had fallen (following Satan’s rebellion). How is this restoration to take place? Either by punishment (Curd Deus Homo?, Bk. I chapter 14) or by satisfaction (Cur Deus Homo?, Bk I, chapter 16 & 19). But simply offering God what is due to him is not enough. Satisfaction must be supereregatory: satisfaction must consist in giving back more than what is already owed. In other words: it is not enough to simply say sorry. After all, “sorry,” does nothing to restore or repair. Restoration requires “undoing” the evil that was done. This undoing is not in the power of a human being to perform and necessitates the God-man. Since man owns the problem God cannot (externally) do away with the problem (it violates God’s nature to do so). God must become  man and from the inside out and clean up the mess we had made.

Next we will take a look at the conceptual content of Anselmian “satisfaction” and how it corresponds to the concept of “satisfaction” in the Rule of Benedict.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen


Praktikos 1-3


The Praktikos is perhaps one of the most famous and popular works of Evagrius of Pontus. There are good reasons for this. Evagrius writes in such a way that engagement with his books can sustain steady spiritual growth over a very long time. To really “read” one of Evagrius’ works is to receive spiritual guidance from one of the Church’s most accomplished spiritual masters of all time. The failure to receive guidance from Evagrius is not usually on his part but on ours. To receive spiritual guidance for spiritual growth one needs to learn to “listen” and it is precisely this listening that is so fundamental to the Father of Western Monasticism: Benedict of Nursia. Let us, whether monastics or not, listen to Evagrius.

Praktikos 1 – 3

The online translation of Evagrius’ Praktikos by Fr. Luke Dysinger Osb translates the first three “chapters” or “sentences” as follows:

  1. CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:] ascetical practice, the [contemplation of] nature, and theology.

  2. THE Kingdom of Heaven is apatheia (dispassion) of the soul together with true knowledge of beings.

  3. THE Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity, coextensive with the capacity of the nous (mind/intellect) but surpassing it in incorruptibility.

The first thing to notice is that even though Evagrius begins this book with three definitions he does not offer a definition of praktike. In other words he declines to define the primary subject – after which the book is named – of the book. This is an interesting move and should not go unnoticed. In writing a book on spiritual issues it would have made sense to allow your readers to gain some grasp of your point of view by defining how your book will treat and look at the subject. It would make sense to establish clear limits so your readers have a well defined frame of reference within which they can begin to understand the message your book is trying to get across.

Evagrius is doing the opposite. He begins his book with a definition not of praktike but of Christianity. His second chapter is also not a definition of pratike, but rather of physike followed by the third definition of theologike. Pratike will not be defined until much, much later in the book (Praktikos, 78). From the beginning Evagrius lays down that whatever praktike is, it is not a monastic spirituality. Evagrius is not merely addressing ascetic professionals or monks, Evagrius is writing for Christians. Praktike, whatever it may be, is christian spirituality pure and simple. The spiritual growth to which praktike leads: physike and theologike are also not reserved for monks only. The path to physike and theologike are open to all Christians.

Physike & Theologike

If praktike can be said to be the path to physike and theologike, then, what are they? Physike – to put it simply – is mediated knowledge of God. That is we begin to grow intimate with our Creator by means of His creation: God speaks to us in the Bible, in events in our lives, through things in our environment. We begin to perceive creation as a “letter” written by God to us who are far away from Him. God reveals Himself by thigs he has created: thus mediated knowledge of God.

Theologike is different. It too is built on the soul that has been established in praktike, but it is unmediated knowledge of God. No longer does God limit Himself to revealing Himself indirectly, either through nature, events, or even the Bible. All these are presumed, but a new thing emerges: God reveals Himself to us without using “go-betweens.” This is what in Western theology is “the beautific vision” or in Evagrian language: “essential knowledge.”

Praktike is then the way to physike and theologike. Praktike is not defined and – as we shall see – physike and theologike are not exhaustively defined either. Rather what has happened in the first three chapters is that we have been presented with a path we should travel. We have not been given precise definitions of anything, but we have been given some parameters which will enable our journey – a journey back to God with whom we have lost contact.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Satisfaction in the Rule of Benedict

Satisfied with Anselm

With the somewhat provocative title above I mean to focus on St. Anselm of Canterbury OSB (!) and in particular his theory of the atonement by means of “satisfaction.” Many have sought Anselm’s source for this theory in the harsh and rather un-Christian feudalism of Anselm’s society. Others have pointed out that Anselm’s source must also include the contemporary penitential theory and practice of the Church. Guy Mansini Osb wrote a mostly ignored article many years ago proving that Anselm’s satisfaction theory does indeed find its natural fit in the Church’s penitential theory and practice, but was able to provide a more specific context: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. The doctrinal content of “satisfaction” in Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo?” is identical or near identical to that contained in the Rule of Saint Benedict. Feudalism has had no influence on Anselm’s thinking – at least not demonstrably so.

Satisfaction in the Rule

Mansini points out that satisfactio occurs nine and satisfacere occurs eight times in the Rule. The Rule is Benedict’s attempt to succinctly provide a short text to guide monastic life. The text is short and succinct indeed. For these terms to occur that often in it must be taken as a testimony to its importance. In the Rule a monk is said to incur “punishment for grumbling” or he can be subjected to “excommunication” (excommunicatione subiaceat, 23, 4), to “more severe correction” (maiori subiaceat emendationem, 46, 4), or even corporal punishment (corporali vindicate subiaceat, 71, 9). The monk does not incur nor is subjected to “satisfaction” (satisfactio / satisfacere).

Since there is someone being satisfied by the penitent, there is someone that was offended. In RB 11, 13 it is God who is offered satisfaction (for faults in the Divine Office) and therefore it is God that is offended by carelessness in the Divine Office:

Let this order of the night Office be observed on Sunday the same way in all seasons, in summer as well as in winter, unless for some reason (God forbid) the brethren should rise too late, then some of the lessons or the responsories would have to be shortened. Let every precaution be taken this does not occur. If it should happen, let him through whose neglect it came about make due satisfaction for it to God in the oratory.

RB 11, 13.

In other places the Rule indicates that individual monks can be offended:

And if a brother be corrected in any way by the Abbot or by any of his superiors for even a slight reason, or even if he just barely perceive that the temper of any of his Superiors is ruffled or excited against him in the least, let him without delay cast himself down on the ground making satisfaction, until the agitation is healed by a blessing.

RB 71, 6-8.

… and even the community can be offended and therefore offered satisfaction:

If anyone make a mistake while intoning a psalm, a responsory, an antiphon, or a lesson, but does not humbly make satisfaction on the spot in the presence of all

RB 45, 1.

Satisfaction in the Rule of St. Benedict takes place in the personal sphere between the monk and God, between a monk and other monks, between a monk and his community. Satisfaction is the appropriate means to obtaining pardon / forgiveness (24, 7), and receives it’s appropriateness from an act of humility as in Chapters 43, 6; 44, 3-4; 45, 1’s prostration-satisfaction.

The most important feature to notice in the Rule with regard to satisfaction is that there is a sharp contrast between punishment and satisfaction. The first (punishment) is unwillingly born whereas satisfaction is freely offered. The Rule states:

And for such an action he [the unwilling monk at fault] will gain no benefit; rather he incurs the punishment (poenam) of murmerers, unless he amends his ways and offer reparation (satisfactione emendaverit).

RB, 5, 19.

Punishment and satisfaction are here contrasted as alternatives. It is true that in chapter 45 satisfaction occurs as a “vindicate” (45, 1) but a distinction is here made between a “maiori vindicate” and an apparently minor punishment (vindictam). Punishment is here either willingly or unwillingly born. Major punishment is reserved for the unwilling, and minor punishment for the willing penitent. Satisfaction  is seen as vindictam into distinct forms. One is subjected to major punishment (vindictam) but not to minor punishment because the latter is performed willingly. The distinction noticed in chapter 5 holds. Moving on to chapter 71, 8-9 we see again the distinction between willing and unwilling satisfaction being made upholding the distinction notes earlier.

A final note about satisfaction in the Rule must bring forward the fact that satisfaction is “supererogatory.” That is the act of humble penitence must exceed mere “restoration” of the fault it must include something beyond what is normally expected of the monk. In other words a mistake in the Divine Office is not emended by merely correcting the fault made. The monk is required to perform an act of repentance on top of fixing the mistake. Satisfaction does not occur unless the act of repentance is supererogatory.

In this short article we have discovered that satisfaction is an important feature of the Rule of St. Benedict and that it plays an important part in Benedictine Monasticism. Next we shall investigate what concept of satisfaction meets us in the Benedictine monk Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus Homo?  Some of us may be in for a surprise …

Fr. Gregory Wassen

On Preexistence

… measure will be appropriately applied to a material body …

Origen On First Principles, Bk II, 9, 1.

Much has been made of Origen’s “doctrine of the preexistence of souls.” Not infrequently this is connected to a doctrine of reincarnation, or to a doctrine of a fall into bodies. The former allegation has so little ground in any of Origen’s writings that this need not detain us here. The so-called doctrine of the preexistence of souls and their fall from a dis-incarnate state into an incarnate state is a different matter. Origen’s writings have been mined for passages where he seems to teach precisely such a doctrine. Foremost among these passage is fragment 15 from On First Principles. Of which more anon.

In On First Priciples Origen asserts that only the Trinity can exist entirely bodiless. To be a creature is to be embodied whereas the Creator is without any body at all. Origen explicitly states that: “an incorporeal life will rightly be considered a prerogative of the Trinity alone (On First Principles, Bk. II, 2.2.) and statements tot this effect can be found throughout On First Principles. These are two fundamental principles in Origen’s thought. They are absolutely basic. From this fact alone the attribution to Origen of a doctrine where bare souls – souls entirely without bodies – fell from this dis-incarnate state into an incarnate state – souls imprisoned by bodies – is nothing short of ludicrous. And yet precisely such a doctrine has been attributed to Origen throughout the ages by a variety of people. Yet mere repetition of a falsity does not, at long last, make it true.

The only place in Origen’s writings where such a doctrine is to be found is – (in)famously – in On First Principles, fragment 15. How can this be? It is a matter of redaction really. Butterworth and Koetschau have done Origen (and themselves) no favours by simply assuming Origen taught such a doctrine (since everyone who is anyone said so?) and reconstructing from a variety of different (hostile) sources a text which must have belonged in On First Principles teaching precisely this doctrine. This text is known as fragment 15 and is not a text written by Origen but a pastiche from several authors who, in some cases, are not even claiming to quote from Origen but are simply repeating hearsay accusations against him!  In other words: the only text where Origen actually teaches the infamous doctrine of preexistence and fall is a text not actually written by Origen. This is should be very alarming to any reader seeking to understand Origen.

What can we find in On First Principles that was not dubiously reconstructed but written by Origen himself (even if translated by Rufinus)? This post began with a citation from On First Principles. It is the context of that citation that is all important:

Moreover, as Scripture says, God has arranged all things in number and measure; and therefore number will be correctly applied to rational creatures or understandings, that they may be so numerous as to admit of being arranged, governed, and controlled by God. But measure will be appropriately applied to a material body; and this measure, we are to believe, was created by God such as He knew would be sufficient for the adorning of the world. These, then, are the things which we are to believe were created by God in the beginning, i.e., before all things. And this, we think, is indicated even in that beginning which Moses has introduced in terms somewhat ambiguous, when he says, In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. For it is certain that the firmament is not spoken of, nor the dry land, but that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth which we now see afterwards borrowed their names.

Origen On First Principles, Bk. II. 9.1.

Origen, quite unambiguously, asserts that rational creatures have been embodied from the beginning. There was never a time that rational creatures (souls) were not in bodies. This squares very well with the basic Origenist doctrines of the incorporeality of the Trinity and the corporeality of creatures. What it does not easily combine with is the doctrine of preexistence and fall mistakenly attributed to Origen. Could it be that Origen never taught such a doctrine? That Justinian – never apparently having read On First Principles – attributed to Origen doctrines he never held? It seems a distinct possibility that the able codifier of laws was enough of an amateur at theology to make such a an error.

But the soul does preexist!

What should be clear at this point is that Origen teaches that only the three members of the Trinity are by nature incorporeal. All creatures are by nature embodied. Yet this does not exclude a doctrine of preexistence. What it does exclude is a doctrine of preexistence where the disembodied souls are embodied because of sin and not by nature. The doctrine attributed to Origen is the doctrine where preexistent souls fall into bodies as a direct consequence of a sin committed in the disembodied state. Why is Origen never accused of teaching mere preexistence?

One reason is perhaps that the bare hypothesis of a pre-existent soul, without the corollary of transmigration or a fall from heaven, was not a heresy. Most Christians who had any view on the origin of the soul believed that it came directly from the hand of God; even after Origen it was safe for a catholic Christian to infer that it had enjoyed an instantaneous existence before its junction with the body that had been cast for it on the wheel of generation. Modern scholars generally acquit the young Augustine of the Platonism that Robert O’Connel claimed to detect in his theory of the soul; nevertheless in an early work he spoke of the return of the soul to its birthplace in the heavens. While he deprecates the word ‘return’ in his Retractations, he assures the reader that even in his infancy as a Christian he had not meant to embrace the platonic doctrine, and that Christians of authority before him had asserted that the soul issues from heaven.

Mark J. Edwards, Origen against Plato, p. 90.

Indeed. A doctrine of preexistence as such is not contrary to an orthodox and catholic view. The doctrine of preexistence as it is condemned is combined with either reincarnation (transmigration) or with a fall from heaven. This is not found in Origen’s writings. The adoption of Justinian’s Anathemas into the text of On First Principles (Butterworth) is as questionable as is the suggested reconstruction of fragment 15.

Does the soul preexist? Yes in the sense that the soul is given from the hand of God and united to the body God created for it. No in the sense that disembodiment is not the soul’s natural condition, nor is there any form of reincarnation, nor is there any idea that the body is a prison into which the soul has fallen due to a sin committed in heaven. Souls and bodies go together. They are naturally united by God’s creational intent.

Double creation?

What of Origen’s teaching of a double creation? Within the parameters as found in On First Principles we will have to make sense of it by keeping in mind that:

  1. only the Trinity exists without any embodiment
  2. to be a creature is to be embodied
  3. creatures have been embodied from the beginning
  4. there was in fact a fall from one state to another

That leaves us with only one option. The creatures that Origen says fell from one state into another must have already been embodied from before they fell. The fall can be said to have transformed the bodies of the creatures it cannot be said to be the cause of the bodies of creatures. The transformation of those bodies was certainly for the worse and different souls find themselves in different bodies based on the degree of their fall. The glorious bodies from before the fall have become mortal, fleshly, bodies. It is also these mortal, fleshly, bodies that will become glorious bodies in the resurrection and these endure forever.

But where did Origen get the idea that there was a double creation? Are his detractors correct in accusing Origen of allegorizing away the literal meaning of Scripture? No. Not necessarily. Any reader who would be so inclined can pick up a modern commentary on Genesis and find a simple statement of fact: Genesis 1 and 2 are two not one and the same creation story. Origen, careful reader of Scripture that he is, notices that Genesis 1 and 2 are in fact two stories of creation and therefore concludes that – in a sense – man was created twice! So he naturally takes the first story of man’s creation to concern the inner man and the second story as relating the creation of the outer man: the body. Genesis 1 and 2 are not separated by sin. Origen, therefore, does not even hint that the inner man (soul) and the outer man (body) are united as a consequence of sin. Inner and outer man are a natural unity to him. It is because there are two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 that Origen presumes a double creation. If anything, Origen, read Scripture too literally!

Perhaps there should be more actual reading of Origen and less gossiping about Origen and his presumed teaching. To know his teaching we had best let him teach us.

Fr. Gregory Wassen