Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life are totally interwoven in the religious life to provide a strong rope that binds the soul to Christ.
The Benedictine braid has three strands: the three Benedictine vows of Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life. Today is the Memorial of St Scholastica, the twin sister of St Benedict, so it is a good day to start a little series on the three Benedictine vows.
The three Benedictine vows differ from the more famous Franciscan vows of Poverty, Obedience and Chastity. This doesn’t mean Benedictines are rich and lecherous, but that their own evangelical poverty and chastity are built into their vows of Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life in a different way.
The three Benedictine vows go to the heart of the spiritual life and can be seen to address the basic problems in the spiritual life. In the first chapter of his Rule Benedict discusses four types of monk: He could just as well be discussing four types of Christian. The first are the Cenobites. These are monks who live in community under the rule of the Abbot. The second are the Anchorites or hermits. The third are the Sarabaites, and the fourth the Gyrovagues.
The Sarabaites and the Gyrovagues are what concern us. Benedict describes the Sarabaites as, “not tested by a rule…they keep faith with this world…they have no shepherd…they live in twos and threes…their law consists in yielding to their own desires…what they like they call holy and they reckon illicit whatever displeases them.” In other words, they are sectarians. They follow a Do-It-Yourself religion. Benedict condemns them without reserve.
How can we attempt the spiritual life if we do whatever we please? It seems to me that the one area of my life where I am least likely to know what is good for me is my spiritual life. I need a guide. I need a shepherd. So the vow of obedience corrects the tendency to be Sarabaite. We live in community. We have a shepherd. We belong to the church and we live in holy obedience to the church’s teaching.
The Gyrovagues are wanderers. Benedict says, “They are never stable their whole lives but wanderers through diverse regions, receiving hospitality in monastic cells for three or four days at a time. Always roving and never settling…they follow their own wills and are enslaved by gluttony. They are even worse than the Sarabaites.” In our own terms, these are the church hoppers, the ones who go from denomination to denomination, or from parish to parish seeking the next spiritual thrill. They are constantly restless and shallow.
The antidote to this spiritual poison is the vow of Stability. This is the knowledge that I must settle down and find God right here in this ordinary life he has given me and nowhere else.
Over the next few days I will try to post further on Obedience, Stability and Conversion of Life so that we might learn more from our Holy Father St Benedict.