The offence of striking another
Every occasion for presumptuous behaviour in a monastery must be avoided, so we insist that no one in the community may excommunicate or strike another unless given the power to do so by the superior. Those guilty of such wrongdoing should be rebuked before everyone so that all others may fear. Everyone, however, should have some responsibility for the control and supervision of children up to the age of fifteen, but they must be moderate and sensible in the way they exercise it. Just as among the adults any who assume power over others must be punished so anyone who flare up immoderately against children must be subjected to the discipline of the Rule, for it is written in scripture; do not do to another what you would be unwilling to suffer yourself.
This chapter is heavily influenced by the context of the culture of the time of writing, and will no doubt sit uneasily with our modern reading and the more liberal society in which we now exist, for better or for ill, and the idea that the abbot or abbess of the monastery would allow a physical strike to be made would be unheard of now. Could you imagine the same scenario happening in church, or in the workplace? But it seems that, on some occasions, when Benedict was writing that is exactly what occurred, no doubt as a rebuke for an offence. And it is also clear that when there were children in the monastery an element of corporal punishment was part of the daily proceedings, as it would have been normalised in society at that time – the monasteries of today don’t admit young children and corporal punishment of them, or adults, is not part of the discipline that is used.
It is rare that we can take something directly from the Rule and apply it to our own lives without much adaptation – but here is such an occasion. Benedict completely opposes physical violence (outside of the ordered corporal punishment, of which we are not debating) and those who allow their passions, their temper, to explode in such a way that physical violence is exercised, should be rebuked before the whole community. As we read in an earlier chapter, there are some faults that once confessed to the superior are never to see the light of day – violence is not one of them. The rebuke is public, before all the community, to discourage them from the same path and to highlight the shame of this particular sinful behaviour.
Violence is abhorrent. When we remember the Passion of Our Lord and the abject horror of the scourging and crucifixion, the marks of violence that still marked His risen body, we must recoil from it. When we read the stories of the countless martyrs of the church who could have violently defended themselves and remained physically alive through force, we dishonour their sacrifice when we take to physical action.
Violence is also supremely arrogant – to be possessed of the thought that we have any right whatsoever to put hands upon another person, to mark their skin, to blemish their body, to break their bones – it suggests an assumed power over another living being, a dismissal of the sovereignty of God through Whom and because of Whom they live and move and have their being.
Finally, it is an outburst of an inner failing. If we cannot bridle the passions, which in and of themselves are not bad, they will become disordered passions and they will destroy us – not just physically, not just mentally, but spiritually. Disordered passions board up the windows and doors of the soul and flood it with darkness, in which sin, like a mould spore, finds the perfect condition to growth, to thrive and to dominate. A physical outburst, be it in violence, lust, or whatever, shows that this process is already well underway, and it will be even harder to step back from the brink of the abyss. This is why Jesus Himself said;
21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22 The Authorised Version)
So we can see that even when the desire to insult comes to our mind, we have already committed murder, such was the hyperbolic warning of Christ, how much more, then, would the physical act of aggression be seen as damnation. It is clear that violence and adherence to the gospel is not possible.