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STUDIES SERIES: NUMBER TWENTY-TWO
I'11c Meaning of Silence in the Rule of St Benedict
Cistercian Studies Series ISBN 0-87907-800-6
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 74188556
8 Copyright, Cistercian Publications. Inc., 1973
Ecclesiastical permission to publish this book was received from Bernard
Flanagan, Bishop of Worcester, December 13, 197 1.
'I'his Book was first presented as a doctoral dissertation at the
I;;~cwlty of Theology of St Paul University, Ottawa, as partial
1'111 l'illrncnt of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of'
I'ART ONE: THE RULE OF BENEDICT
I'Iw Structure of the Benedictine Rule
a in the Spiritual Doctrine Section
in the Discipline Section
'I S, IIII~
I'ART TWO: THE RULE OF THE MASTER
11 I'l~c. Kclationship between the Rule of the Master and
1111. Kule of Benedict
Rule of the Master on Silence
tI A (:omparison of the Two Rules
I'AKT THREE: OTHER SOURCES
'1 1111 reduction
11) JIIIIII Cassian
I I Ihsil
I " :\11~11stine
and Caesarius of Arles
I'dwmius and the Oriental Rule
I'II~. Rules of the Fathers and the Rule of Macarius 152
Sources and the Rule of Benedict
I'AKT FOUR: SILENCE AND SPEECH
111 Who is to Speak
I I I'lw Manner of Speaking
B EFORE INVESTIGATING the teaching of silence
in the Rule of Benedict, it will be helpful to consider
briefly the general interest in the topic of silence today.
Although there is no intention of doing justice to the biblio-
graphy of silence, some notations will indicate to the reader
that work is being done in this field and that silence is of in-
terest to modem man. Is this because it is a value that has been
overlooked by our task-oriented society and is being threat-
cmed, or is it because silence has a value which is perennially
iittractingman? It is not my intention at present to make any
judgment on this interest in silence but rather merely to note
it. The general interest in silence today will be considered from
two main points of view, philosophical and theological, but
this doesnot mean that all studies can be reduced to these two
categories. There is no intention to exhaust the matter with
THE GENERAL INTEREST IN SILENCE TODAY
The present age is recognized by many as an age of noise.
Modem communication media have made it possible for man
to enjoy sound whenever he desires and wherever he may be.
Moreover, technological advances have been accompanied by
various types of mechanical noises which have occasionally
been noted with alarm. These noises seem to be on the in-
crease and bring with them great dangers. There seems to be a
rise in the incidence of deafness, and some are even afraid that
man as a species will lose his sense of hearing due to the con-
stant bombardment of sound. It has been observed that noise
has had an influence on blood pressure, circulation and ner-
vous disorders. So man is concerned and sees he must control
noise and is beginning to make efforts to do so.'
The increase of noise may help explain why the topic of si-
lence is of interest today, an interest which is found even in the
literary field. The novel The Heart is a Lonely HunterZ portrays
John Singer as the hero of the story. In spite of being a mute,
Singer is the confidant of many of the characters in the story.
People could speak to him, and they knew he listened. Some-
how he answered their needs although he never spoke. In his
silence he communicated with others.
Two novels by Chaim Potok both treat of silence. These two
novels are closely related to each other. In The Chosen3 one
finds the old Chassidic Rabbi raising his son in silence in order
to make him feel for his people. The Rabbi does this because
he fears that his son is too intellectual and hopes to develop in
him a deep sensitivity. In the sequel, The Pr~rnise,~
the son has
become a psychologist who applies the treatment of silence
therapeutically to cure a young Jewish boy's problem of hatred
and inability to express his feelings. Thus in both novels the
theme or topic of silence is predominant.
The subject of silence is of interest to philosophers today and
is often studied in connection with their reflections on human
communication. Much has been written in the past few years
on the philosophy of language. Max Picard is justly famous for
his little book The World of Silen~e,~which
is in many ways
an effort to develop a metaphysics or ontology of silen~e.~
1. These thoughts have been especially inspired by Millicent Brower, "Noise
Pollution: a Growing Menace," in Saturday Review 50, 1967, p. 17-19.
2. Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, New York, Bantam, 1970
3. Chaim Potok, The Chosen, Greenwich, Fawcett, 1968, 271 p.
4. Chaim Potok, The Promise, New York, Knopf, 1969, 368 p.
5. Max Picard, The World of Silence, *anslated by Stanley Godman. Chicago.
Regnery, 1961, XX-232 p.
6. Ibid, cf. the Preface by Gabriel Marcel, p. xi-xvii.
I'lcxrd sees speech and silence as essentially related. This point
will be elaborated on later. For his part, the Italian philosopher
hlic.lwle Federico Sciacca follows Picard very closely in his re-
I lrctions on the meanings of speech and silence.'
(:losely related to the philosophic reflections on silence are
wlliit could be called theological reflections. The meaning of
uilcmce is reflected upon in the context of God's Word spoken
11) man in revelation. In order to hear God speak man must
listen, and in order to listen he must be silent.'Thus silence
In necessary for every Christian, not just for the monk. Silence
In not only necessary for listening to God's Word, but it can
Ibc the response of man. Indeed, silence is essential for the life
01' intimacy with God to which man is called. Silence is neces-
wry for prayer.9
A number of articles on the meaning of religious silence have
Iwcn written since the Second Vatican Council. The Council
( dled upon all religious to reform and adapt. Religious were
I I) renew their lives by a "return to the sources of all Christian
life and to the original spirit of the institute^."'^ And they were
I I adapt to the changed conditions of the present time. In light
01' this call to renewal and adaptation one of the areas to be
is that of silence which has always been considered
prt of religious asceticism and practice. Various articles have
I ppeared. ' '
7. Michele Federico Sciacca, "11 silenzio e la parola: Meditazioni di un filosofo,"
Vita Monustica 12. 1959. p. 21-29.
N. Cf. Ladislas Orsy, "God speaks in silence," in Sponsa Regis 36, 1965, p. 153-
9. RenC Simon, "Silence et vie chrbtienne," in L'Anneau d'Or, No. 114, 1963,
10. Perfectae Cantatis No. 2, in The Teachings of the Second Vatican CounciL
i,'omplete Texts of the Constitutions, Decrees and Declarations, Westminster, New-
mm, 1966, p. 234.
l l. Sister Ann Rita, "Religious Silence." in Sisters Today 38, 1967, p. 344346;
SinterJeanne Joseph Daly, "Out of the Depths," ibid., p. 194195; Thornas Dubay,
"Silence and Renewal," in Review for Religious 25. 1966, p. 80-94; C.R. Moens,
"Heligious Silence," in Sponsa Regis 36, 1965, p. 359-370; Sister Joann Otten,
trocr, "A position paper on a functional approach to silence," in Review for Re-
li&us 27, 1968, p. 208-222; M. Sweetman, "Silence," ibid.. 22, 1963, p. 430-
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SPEAKING AND SILENCE
A point that is made quite frequently by those who reflect
on the meaning of silence is that speech and silence must be
understood in relationship to each other. They do not destroy
each other, but sustain and support each other,12 and it is im-
possible to understand one without the other.I3 "Silence is not
the enemy of dialogue, but its natural co~nterpoise.'"~
is, according to Moens, an eloquent silence,'' that is a silence
that undergirds speech, prepares for it and enriches it. A speech
which rises out of silence is true dialog for it is above vain chat-
ter, empty words and wounding criticism. Silence can even
communicate, and this sometimes better than words.
In the meditations of the Italian philosopher Sciacca16 si-
lence and speech are integrally related. One thinks in silence,
reflects in silence, meditates and contemplates in silence. One
listens in silence. But even more, silence is speech.17Every
word is born in silence and returns to silence. The word is
born in silence, lives in silence, culminates in silence. Silence
is the father of the word, of speech. Language is a union of
words and silence. Words do not exist without silence, for
silence is an essential part of intelligible sound and without
silence there would be no language.
Sciacca's thought seems to be nothing more than reflections
on the thoughts of Max Picard.18Silence for Picard is the ori-
gin of all speech. Speech comes out of silence. It is in fact the
reverse of silence just as silence is the reverse of speech. "Speech
is therefore essentially related to ~ilence."'~
"Speech and si-
12. A. Marc, "Le Silence," in Revue d'ascitique et de mystique 26-27, 195051,
13. Simon, op. cit.. p 454.
14. Daly, op. cif, p 195.
15. Moens, op. cit., p 360361.
16. Sciacca, op. cit.
17. Ibid, p. 22: "11 silenzio i: parola . . . ."
18. Picard, op. cit.
19. Ibid, p. 9.
Ir11c.c belong together . . . Speech must remain in relationship
h the silence from which it raised itself
From these brief observations it is apparent that when one
~vl'lccts on silence he must also reflect on speech. Speech and
rrllrnce are essentially related, not as opposites or contraries,
IIIII because they are rooted in man who is communicating with
ruiother. In order to communicate, man must listen and so be
nllcnt, and when man wishes to respond he must use silence
,IN wcll as words to make himself intelligible. Thus speech and
nilcnce find their ultimate meaning in the fact that man com-
'I'here are two works which treat specifically and at some
Irngth the question of religious silence. The first is an essay
Iby Abbot Pierre Salm~n.~'
The second is a book by a Trappist
P. M. Brun~.~~
Abbot Salmon's essay is divided into two major parts. First
surveys the doctrine and practice of silence in the Scrip-
tures, in the Fathers, in ancient and medieval monasticism.
I Ic is especially interested in the practical regulations concern-
111g silence, but is also concerned with the reasons and moti-
v~ttions for silence. Salmon understands silence in its primary
ncnse as abstinence from words.
In his second part Salmon tries to produce a theological
nyllthesis of the meaning of silence based on the data of the
I'irst part. Silence does not mean mutism but rather modera-
I ion in speaking. Thus silence is a moral virtue. The primary
tncming of silence is to be found in relationship to prayer
,111d man's call to life in God.
Druno's work is much larger than Salmon's, but it is more
wstricted in scope. It is a study of monastic silence especially
20. Ibid. p 21.
2 1. P. Salmon, "Le silence religieux. Practique et Thkorie," in Mkhnges Bin6
rlictins, Abbaye S. Wandrille, Editions de Fontenelle, 1947, p. 11-57.
22. P. M. Bruno, Aux 6coutes de Dieu, le silence monastique, Besanqon, Librai-
rlr A. Cart, 1952, 289 p.
in light of the Cistercian tradition. The book is divided into
three parts: the first part discusses the foundations for silence;
the second part reflects on the advantages and good results of
silence; the third part considers the practice of silence.
In part one the author synthesizes the doctrine of the Rule
on silence and shows how it is dependent on its
sources. He then presents the interpretation of this doctrine
according to the Cistercian tradition.
Bruno's work is more systematic than analytic. There is no
detailed analysis of the teaching of silence in the RB. The third
part of his book betrays his systematic a priori. He subsumes
the theology or spirituality of silence under the category of
mystical theology and treats it accordingly. He presents twelve
degrees of silence, considering silence from a much broader
perspective than abstinence from words. His treatment belongs
more to the literary genre of spiritual theology than a methodi-
cal analysis of texts in order to determine doctrine and practice.
THE METHOD AND APPROACH OF THE PRESENT STUDY
I have chosen to write on silence in the Rule of Benedict for
a number of reasons. Silence is a topic which is of interest to
modern man as a superficial glance at pertinent literature re-
veals. It is a subject which is of interest to the modern religious
who according to the directions of the Second Vatican Council
is trying to renew and adapt his mode of life. The renewed in-
terest that is shown in silence is therefore a good reason to
study systematically the text of a monastic rule that has con-
tributed so much to the formation of traditional religious spir-
ituality. My purpose, therefore, is to study silence in the his-
torical document which is the basis for the Benedictine way of
life. There is no intent to say what exactly this means for re-
newal and adaptation. It is hoped that an analysis of the teach-
ing in the RB will speak for itself and help in the task of re-
newal and adaptation. But this thesis remains for the most part
a preliminary study with regard to this task.
23. From here on referred to simply as RB.
My primary concern is to study the RB's teaching on silence.
Wllilt exactly does the RB say about silence, its meaning and
11s purpose, its goal and concrete realization? Such questions
lllity seem to be irrelevant and futile to some. The Rule simply
utiltcs its position; it is clear and simple. But is such really the
I MC? What exactly does the RB say about silence? Is there a
I I hcrent doctrine and practice? Does the RB present a philos-
or theology of silence? In order to answer these ques-
lions a detailed analysis of the RB is essential. True, the RB
(ontains a specific chapter on silence, but it treats of silence
111 u number of places and these treatments should be brought
together and compared to see if there is an underlying doc-
trine of silence. Therefore the RB must be analyzed in itself.
But the RB is in the tradition of monasticism and in the past
1c.w years much study has been done on this complex tradi-
tion. The RB is not an isolated monastic document that ap-
pcared in a historical vacuum, but it had antecedents and
c,ontemporaries that influenced it. Indeed, when one studies
111c source of the RB it is obvious that that rule is dependent
monastic and patristic sources.
In the past few years it has become more obvious that the
1is closely related to the Rule of the Ma~ter,'~if
~cc:tly dependent upon it. If the primary source of much of
111c RB is the RM then it will be necessary to study the doc-
[tine and practice of silence in the RM in order to under-
stand the doctrine and practice in the RB. But this is still a
debated point, although the strength of argument rests
with those who consider the RM as prior to and as source of
RB. In any event, it will be very helpful to discover the
ItM's teaching on silence and compare it with the RB's.
Without a doubt the monastic works of John Cassian greatly
il~l'luenced the author of the RB. In studying the sources of
I lic teaching of the RB one must therefore consider the teach-
ill# of Cassian. Other sources of the RB should be considered.
'I'hey are the monastic Rules of Augustine, Basil and Pacho-
24. The Rule of the Master (Regula Magistri) will usually be referred to simply
mius, as well as others which will be considered. It is my in-
tention to investigate these works to find out how the author
of the RB used monastic sources in the matter of silence, that
is, how he was in keeping with or in opposition to his prede-
Such a study seems essential for it is only in its historical
context that a doctrine can be understood. Therefore my meth-
od will be twofold. First I plan to analyze the RB as a literary
unit without concern for its sources and the tradition in which
it is found. This will present the teaching of the RB on silence,
considering the RB as an integral work. But since no historical
document can be considered in isolation, it will be necessary
to analyze the recognized sources of the RB. This analysis will
throw light on the teaching of the RB. The task will then be to
unify what has been discovered from both methods. In this
manner the fuller teaching of the RB on silence will become
I wish to make it clear just what I mean by the teaching of
silence in the RB. There are many dimensions and aspects of
silence. Silence can be internal and external. There can be the
silence of man's psychic powers, the silence of the intellect, of
the will, of the emotions. Such a silence is characterized as in-
ternal tranquillity and peace. This type of silence is not my
primary object of investigation in the RB. My concern is rather
with external silence. Such a concern does indeed have to con-
sider the phenomenon of internal silence for the two are closely
related, one expressing and realizing the other. But it is obvious
that there can be a deep internal silence even in the face of
external noise and commotion. On the other hand there can
be great external silence while internally there is none.
When we consider external silence we must admit many va-
rieties of this type of silence. There is a silence from noise of
any kind. There is even the silence of physical movement, a
resting from movement. But what comes to mind primarily is
silence from speaking or the use of words and language. It is
this last type of silence that is the object of my investigation.
I am interested primarily in silence as a lack of verbal com-
munication, that is in silence from speaking. In my opinion
this is the primary aspect of silence in the RB.
With this limited concept of silence in mind my approach is
I wish to study silence in the context of the
llnc of speech. Such an approach is legitimate. It is based on
I 11c. modern philosophical studies concerning the meaning of
~llc.nce. Most of these studies consider silence in relationship
I I I vcrbal communication and language. It is also based on the
I( U's apparent teaching. One need only read chapter six of the
I( I1 to see that the doctrine on taciturnity presented there con-
I c.ms the use and restraint of speech as well as the non-use of
(IN- tongue. Silence for the RB is understood as silence from
alwi~king. This will become clearer as we proceed with the in-
vrnl igation. This is not to say that other aspects of silence are
11111 lo be found in the RB. Rather, the primary concern of the
I(H with regard to silence is silence from speaking.
It must be frankly admitted that although the analysis of the
I vx t s of the RB should be carried on with objectivity, a certain
is bound to enter in. Here one approaches the ques-
t ~I,II of hennene~tics.~~
Benedictines live by a historical docu-
and it is this document which must be analyzed and
Thus this thesis will not only be an analysis and
of texts but an interpretation. In any study the sub-
11'1.1 or investigator approaches the study with his own back-
and pre-understanding. This is bound to affect the
for the subject must enter into dialog with the text.
I'his does not mean that the subject should allow his person
11) clctermine what the text says and thus force the text into
III mwnceived categories. But the subjective aspect must always
'I'hc present author is an American Black Benedictine of the
I wcntieth century. He lives in the context of a living tradition
.III(I this life experience is bound to enter into his analysis of
t III. tcxt of the RB. Thus it should not be surprising if his in-
tc.rprctation differs from that of a Cistercian or of a monk of
century. Interpretations are conditioned by the his-
I I wical context in which the interpreter lives. They are all
v.llitl in so far as they do justice to the text itself, listening to
25. Cf my article "Relevance of the Rule Today," in The American Benedictine
Ilvr~ivw 19, 1968, p. 243-246.
the text and evaluating it in the light of lived experience.
We do not have an infallible teaching authority with regard
to the RB. But we do have the norms of tradition and the liv-
ing authority of the abbot. I therefore submit my interpre-
tation to my fellow monks and abbots. They will be best equip-
ped to judge the authenticity of my interpretation.
THE RULE OF BENEDICT
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