- Precise obedience (times and regimens)
- The practice of moderation (self-control)
- The structure of the order (accountable community)
These three principles dictate all life in the old Catholic (as in universal/complete) orders, Benedict himself dictated a strict observance of Christian practice that was adhered to as a spiritual act of obedience and commitment. The order itself thrived throughout centuries by the willful piety and practice of the individual monks that withstood beyond the distractions or open abandonment of less stringent or more liberal orders. Many guidelines and standards were erected specifically to avoid the faulty discipline and weaker faith rampant throughout the popular Christendom of the day.
The monastic community is more than aesthetic or exclusive; it is, by contrast, intrinsically spiritual and geared toward a complete devotion to God. All aspects of what we now call community stemmed, in that setting, from the practice of specific rules about times and practice. Waking and working at certain hours, eating and meditating for a set time created consistency that forced the body to align with the soul and spiritual expectancy of receiving from God. Moderation kept selfishness at bay while simultaneously creating dependence on Christ for sustainability physically (in food), mentally (in conversation and silence), and spiritually (in submission). Finally the structure of community created long lasting continuity and a basis for authority to be executed. All of these ensured the long-term commitment to central governance and strict observance to precepts.
Today the church (at least mainstream Christianity) could benefit greatly from more structure and less “organic estimation”. There are disciplines like prayer and bible exposition that are completely lost on an entire generation of believers because there is no continuity, no moral resonance or standard bearer for them be led by. Modern evangelicalism shuns strict observance as too rigid and restrictive to growth. They recoil from the tinge of catholic influence or ritual as justification for a more open and free expression of faith, but the result (in my opinion) is a weaker and less meaningful faith that relies on exterior (emotional) stimulation without internal (eternal?) power. The church could use some strict observance; as much as I appreciate organic life and growth I also see the need, now more than ever, for structured growth. All faith grows but the quality and strength of that growth is dependent on the pressures and structure placed around it. The Monastic orders came to understand this, as did the central Fathers of the great historical movements, we would do well to heed the call to moderation and obedience again.