St. Benedict on monks sleeping together communally

I’ve always smiled at the thoughtfulness of St. Benedict’s very detailed rules for monastic living. Chapter 22 of The Rule takes up “The Sleeping Arrangements of the Monks.” In keeping with the spirit of communalism, Benedict stipulates:

“If possible, all are to sleep in one place, but should the size of the community preclude this, they will sleep in groups of ten or twenty”.

But considering that the monks are still males who are isolated from females and who have taken a vow of chastity, he adds:

“under the watchful care of seniors.”

Presumably, seniors are suitable for this duty as they have passed the point of needing to indulge their physical urges. Even so:

“A lamp must be kept burning in the room until morning.”

(Perhaps not uncoincidentally, the next section of the Rule is titled “Excommunication for Faults.”)

2 thoughts on “St. Benedict on monks sleeping together communally

  • August 7, 2017 at 8:02 am

    I’ve read the Rule of St. Benedict a few times, and always wondered why anyone would submit themselves to this sort of nonsense. After thinking about it for a long time, I was struck by how consistent the Rule is with Christian principles–St. Benedict was genuinely attempting to create the Christian version of Heaven on Earth. (The Franciscans, in contrast, attempted to live entirely by the Christian principles guiding life on Earth.) In a way, I admire them; while I strongly disagree with their premises, the Sts. Benedict (there were two) were unafraid to attempt to create their ideal life while on Earth.

    The fact that it was a living Hell by any rational standard merely demonstrates the futility of Christianity as an ethical guide.

    The absurdities go beyond merely communal sleeping–which, to be fair to the Benedictine Order, was actually a common practice in the Middle Ages (having your own bed was a luxury, in fact). Benedictine monks were to lose, as completely as possible, their sense of self, their identity. For example, if they had to answer Nature’s call in the night, they were to wake up another monk (so they didn’t commit any misdeeds while alone), and they were to put on the cowl and sandals so that they were, to the extent possible, not identifiable as individuals. That’s not me saying the intent of putting on the cowl and sandals–that’s THEIR explanation.

  • August 8, 2017 at 11:53 am

    10-20 men sleeping together. Sounds like basic training and at night always had night watchman.

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