Monday, 20 March 2017

rb41 - Why doesn't St Benedict follow the Roman practice on fasting?

Rosano Gospels: Last supper


FROM the feast of Easter until Pentecost let the brethren dine at the sixth hour and sup in the evening.

From Pentecost throughout the summer, unless the monks have work in the fields or the heat of the
summer oppress them, let them fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour; on the other days let them dine at the sixth hour. If they have field work or the summer heat be extreme, this dinner at the sixth hour shall be retained. Let this matter be determined at the abbot’s
discretion; and let him so arrange and ordain all things that souls may be saved and that the brethren may do their work without justifiable murmuring.

From September the 14th until the beginning of Lent let them dine always at the ninth hour. In Lent until Easter let them dine in the evening. Vespers, however, should be so timed that the brethren may not need the light of a lamp as they dine, but that all may be accomplished by daylight. And at all times let the hour of the evening meal, whether dinner or supper, be so arranged that everything may be done by daylight.

Caput XLI Quibus horis oporteat reficere Fratres

[1] A sancto Pascha usque Pentecosten, ad sextam reficiant fratres et sera cenent.

[2] A Pentecosten autem, tota aestate, si labores agrorum non habent monachi aut nimietas aestatis non perturbat, quarta et sexta feria ieiunent usque ad nonam; [3] reliquis diebus ad sextam prandeant; [4] quam prandii sextam, si operis in agris habuerint aut aestatis fervor nimius fuerit, continuanda erit et in abbatis sit providentia. [5] Et sic omnia temperet atque disponat qualiter et animae salventur et quod faciunt fratres absque iusta murmuratione faciant.

[6] Ab idus autem Septembres usque caput quadragesimae, ad nonam semper reficiant.

[7] In quadragesima vero usque in Pascha, ad vesperam reficiant; [8] ipsa tamen vespera sic agatur ut lumen lucernae non indigeant reficientes, sed luce adhuc diei omnia consummentur. [9] Sed et omni tempore, sive cena sive refectionis hora sic temperetur ut luce fiant omnia.


Prudent moderation?

It is often suggested in commentaries that this chapter, with its provision for exemptions and flexibility around the actual hour for meals on fast days, is an example of the unique premium St Benedict placed on discretio, or 'prudent moderation'.

I'm not suggesting that this isn't a feature of the Rule; of course it is.  But I can't help feeling that St Benedict's moderation and commonsense approach has in some ways been made to look more unusual than it actually was by virtue of an over-emphasis on the often distorting lens provided by the Rule of the Master.

St Benedict's provisions on meals, though, seem to reflect the prevailing practice of his time, perhaps in the face of an earlier more stringent practice.  St Caesarius of Arles, for example, also provided some flexibility:
From Pentecost till the calends of September decide for yourselves the manner in which you will fast. In other words, the monastery’s mother superior, who is to take into account what is feasible according to each one’s health, will endeavor to act with restraint in this matter. (Rule for nuns, ch 17)
Similarly, in the Jura monasteries, the Life of St Eugendus (abbot 485-514) records that while the abbot himself  only ate once a day, many of the other monks took two meals:
At all times he took refreshment only once a day.  During the summer it was at noon with the other monks when he was tired, while at other times he restricted himself to eating with those who were having a second meal in the evening...(Lives of the Jura Fathers, 131)
St Benedict 's regime is, moreover, consistent with that suggested more generally for is people by St Fulgentius at Ruspe in Africa:
He commanded that each week on Wednesday and Friday all clerics, widows, and those among the laity who were able, should fast and ordered that one be present for the daily vigils, observe the fasts, and attend morning and evening prayer (Life of St Fulgentius)

There is clearly a liturgical connection to the fasting regime, with two meals each day during Eastertide; business as normal during the Sundays after Pentecost; and a stricter Lenten regime.  In this, St Benedict's Rule is not dissimilar to that of Caesarius of Arles:
From the calends of September to the calends of November a fast is observed on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; there is also a fast from the calends of November to the Lord’s Nativity except on feasts and Saturdays. A fast of seven days is observed before the Epiphany. From the Epiphany to the week before Quadragesima there is a fast on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. (Rule for nuns, ch 17)
At the same time, though, he also alludes to a winter and summer dimension, and it has to be remembered that St Benedict was legislating for a monastic 'day' (ie twelve variable length hours counting from sunrise to sunset) that was much shorter in winter than in summer.  

The fast days

The most intriguing aspect of St Benedict's prescription though, it seems to me, is that St Benedict here follows older general practice attested to as early as Didache in making Wednesdays (because of Judas' betrayal) and Fridays (for the Passion) fast days.  

It is often claimed that St Benedict followed Roman practice in relation to his Office, simply adapting from its model.  If so, why didn't he also follow its related fasting practices?  According to a letter of Innocent I to the bishop of Gobbio dated 416 (and also noted in the Liber Pontificalis), the rationale for the Saturday fast related to the weekly liturgical cycle: 
If in fact we celebrate the Lord’s Day because of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection—doing so not only at Easter but each week renewing the image of this feast—and if we fast on Friday because of the Lord’s suffering, then we should not omit Saturday which appears to be enclosed between a time of sorrow and a time of joy...On Friday the Lord suffered his passion and went to the nether world in order to rise on the third day, thereby restoring joy after the sadness of the preceding two days. We do not deny that fasting on Friday is necessary, but we add that it is necessary to fast on also Saturday since these two days brought sorrow to the apostles and to those who followed Christ. These, who rejoiced on the Lord’s Day, desired not only that this day be very festive, but they also believed that it should be repeated each week.
The obvious solution is that St Benedict, however 'Roman' he might have been in terms of his virtues, was generally more inclined to follow general monastic custom rather than those of the city.  The Rule of Macarius, for example, used in Lerins in the first decades of the sixth century, prescribed fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, as did Fulgentius in Africa, as noted above.  Caesarius, it is true, added Mondays to this, but two days of fasting each week seems to have been more common.

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