A Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery of men

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Benedictine balance


Quotes From the Rule of St. Benedict

In drawing up [the monastery's] regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.” 

Rule of St. Benedict prol.46

“All things are to be done in measure on account of the fainthearted…. Brothers who are sick or weak should be given a type of work or craft that will keep them busy without overwhelming them or driving them away. The abbot must take their infirmities into account."

- Rule of St. Benedict 48.9, 24-25

NB: For additional insights on balance, see the page Living a balanced life.

NB: For a quick reference summary of balance, see the page BREAD for balance.

Balance is often associated with Benedictine life and spirituality. But what precisely is it?

Sometimes Benedictine balance is understood to refer to moderation, which we mentioned briefly on the previous page. Moderation means finding the right amount of something, neither too much nor too little. St. Benedict counsels this in his Rule, such as when he says that the monks should not drink too much wine (chap. 40) and when he says that the abbot should be careful not to push his monks too hard (chap 48, v. 9 & chap. 64, vv.17-19; cf. also prologue, v.46). 

In practice, moderation is often cited against overdoing something (rather than under-doing it). In this way, balance means that we should be careful not to overdo certain things. As they say, even too much of a good thing can be bad! 

But we can also think of Benedictine balance as not under-doing or neglecting something that is essential. Compare this to what we mean by a “balanced diet.” Having a balanced diet means getting all the essential nutrients and not neglecting any. So, here we must ask: What is essential and should not be neglected? Then we must make sure not to neglect such things. From experience, we know how easy it is to neglect essential things, such as prayer and relationships, because we overemphasize other things, such as work.   

The Benedictine motto Ora et Labora (Latin for: “Pray and Work”) is sometimes used to indicate balance in this sense. The motto keeps in view two essentials in our lives, and says that both, rather than just one or the other, need to be done. A healthy spiritual life, after all, relies on not only doing one thing, but a combination of things. As one monk said of his vocation, “There are many parts to being Benedictine.”  The Benedictine monastic life is structured so that prayer, work, and the other essential things in life have their due place and are not neglected.

In sum, Benedictine balance means not overdoing things, even good things, as well as not under-doing, or neglecting, essential things. We are to arrange our lives, so that there is room for all the different things we need to do. These simple ideas can go a long way in our spiritual lives.