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

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