Rule of St. Benedict and Beowulf Comparison
The single most important document on monastic life that helped to shape Western society:
The Rule of St .Benedict was composed in Italy around 530 AD. It is not an original work as such but based on earlier compilations. It held sway over the Benedictine communities for fifteen centuries and it had been their defining guide for prayers. It has also been an important civic administration of the West as The Rule admits the idea of a written constitution, authority defined by law and under the law, and the ruled had the right to review the legality of their superior’s actions ideas. That can be considered as the true style of a working democracy. The Saint established twelve monasteries. After organizing them properly he migrated to Monte Cassino and established a monastery and that became the centre to spread his Rule and institute.
Describe the monastery and Heorot as models of a society functioning as it should.
By the 10th or 11th century Benedictine had spread throughout the whole Latin Christendom, barring Ireland. The monasteries impacted the society deeply, as they were the centers of civilizing influences, presented object-lessons in organized work, and marked their presence in agriculture, farming, arts and trade and lived a well-ordered life. These methods brought great results as they understood the problems of the common man and worked in tandem with their secular aspirations.
Say it in the language of kings and gods. It becomes the Heorot model mentioned in the Beowulf poem. This is a poem about hell’s control of middle-earth. The theme is how the power of darkness defeats the well-intentioned kings and able heroes. The same Christian views about the fleeting nature of the secular joys are explained. Beowulf speaks about the transient world. This world can not bring permanent happiness to the humanity. For achieving the same one has to look within. To achieve the transcendental reality alone is the ultimate goal of humanity.
How are they similar?
They are similar because, both relate to the transient life in this mundane world. Both speak about the transcendental reality. The power that governs everything on this Planet Earth! The play of the good and evil! The optimistic and the pessimistic views relating to human life!
Beowulf is the same reworking of the war between heaven and hell, which is mentioned as conflict in mythical form between Christ and Satan. According to Christian Mythology, demonic powers took possession of the world immediately after Creation. In Beowulf also, the monster does the damage and assumes charge of Heorot.
How do they differ?
The Rule of St. Benedict, is the sum total of the revelations of one man. Even though it was composed from the previous many sources, the credit must be given to St. Benedict, for having compiled the divine code of conduct, after experiencing it, and setting an example by following it. It is consistent and the rules laid down can not be altered to suit the individual need. As for Beowulf, it is not consistent and the events follow a casual, not orderly sequence. The connections between the past, present and future are issues, not for reasoning but for direct experiencing. Heaven and hell are too much involved in this poem. This is at par with the negativities and positive qualities mentioned with The Rule of St. Benedict.
How are people to relate within these different systems?
People anywhere, at any time in the given history are mostly follow-the-leader type. They are just looking for the sterling guidance, whether it concerns religious, political or social issues. Even the best of the philosophies will be opposed during the lifetimes of the protagonists. The Rule of St. Benedict faced the same fate. Opposition was so strong; an attempt was made to poison St. Benedict. In Beowulf, one can observe the Christian biblical account of the origins of the created world. The interplay of the chaos and order has been described in the poem. Chaos obviously refers to the evil; and order restoration is the divine function.
Are there discussions of these good models turned bad?
The color of the robes does not make a saint. Benedictine was a mammoth system embracing hundreds of monasteries and many thousands of monks. With no organic bond between different monasteries, and in those medieval times ravaged by wars and actions of self-aggrandizement by the ambitious Kings, the monks could not live up to their ideals. Human failings afflicted them as well. Benedictine history does also relate to many scandals. But to say that there has been widespread and universal corruption is an overstatement. The reform movements tried to repair the damage and the vitality of the Benedictine norms remained throughout the ages and they exerted considerable influence on the life and living of the people. But the recurring wars between the European countries and communities, created great damage to the Benedictine in many part of northern Europe and the functioning of almost all the Benedictine monastery was badly affected. In the early years of the 10th century some 30 monasteries survived. But in the late half of the century the revival process gathered momentum.
What can these models tell us about the value systems of their creators?
The creators always create wonderful value systems but the trouble is with the followers. It goes to the credit of St. Benedict of Nursia (c.480-583 A.D.) to have given birth to monasticism in the West and molded the socio-spiritual life of the people according to those values. Though born in a rich family, he became disgusted by the absence of morality in Rome where he went for higher studies. St. Benedict was much respected; he did meditation for three years in a cave and lived in solitude. One comes across many legends about his struggles with temptation and the miracles he was able to perform. His enemies tried to poison him unable to cope up with his popularity amongst the people. His strict rules did not find favor with many. He won the adoration of the people for his character and piety. During this period, he set the standards for the ideal monastic life. This much about the famous The Holy Rule of St, Benedict. These rules are the delight of the common man. They lay great stress on the value of work, simplicity, obedience, community, moderation and prayer. They all live the admirable lifestyles. Beowulf is a poem about the social realities of the era to which it belongs. It relates to the two kinds of human society, one symbolizing the good hall and all the noble qualities that go with it and the other by the monster of negativities and bloodshed. The later always hanker after and cling to the never-satiating desires.
The pages of human history daubed in bloodshed relating to religious persecutions and violence, ask the crying question. How to make this Planet Earth heaven-like? The answer is simple and direct. Eyes full of understanding, hearts full of love and the life that refuses conflicts-enough, these alone are enough! The Rule of St. Benedict and Beowulf refer to the same. They say it different words, as they belong to the different time and the circumstances were different.