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Hallo again to all.

Today is the last Sunday of the church year; next Sunday begins Advent and a new year. As with the secular calendar, we often use the last few days of the year to reflect on what the year has brought and what the next might bring, giving thanks for the good bits and also giving thanks that the bad bits didn't hurt us more.

Perhaps because of the apostolic nature of our church, we typically neglect to limit our reflection to the just-passed year, often taking our thoughts back tens or hundreds of years to some long-gone event that is still — or again — relevant. Or if not relevant, just interesting. We often dive in to the middle of the Anglican History website, opening some document more or less at random to see if it has anything to say to us. Not counting its links to other sites, Anglican History has about 8500 documents totalling about 100,000 pages, from sermons to epistles to translations of the Prayer Book into obscure languages to 'The Lives of the Holy Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow'.

In that last treatise, we stopped to brood on this paragraph:

After the interval of a year [in England], Benedict crossed the sea into Gaul, and no sooner asked than he obtained and carried back with him some masons to build him a church in the Roman style, which he had always admired. So much zeal did he show from his love to Saint Peter, in whose honour he was building it, that within a year from the time of laying the foundation, you might have seen the roof on and the solemnity of the mass celebrated therein. When the work was drawing to completion, he sent messengers to Gaul to fetch makers of glass, (more properly artificers) who were at this time unknown in Britain, that they might glaze the windows of his church, with the cloisters and dining-rooms. This was done, and they came, and not only finished the work required, but taught the English nation their handicraft, which was well adapted for enclosing the lanterns of the church, and for the vessels required for various uses.

We hadn't remembered the connection between this Benedict Biscop (fabulous name) in Canterbury and the Benedict of Nursia in Monte Cassino. Bede, quoted above, clearly states that Benedict died in England and that he made a Rule and gave it to his monks. But Benedict of Nursia (he of the Real Rule) died before Benedict Biscop was born. Just what is going on here?

Benedict 1 Benedict 3 Benedict 2

In one way, it doesn't matter. It's in the past. We honour it, but we aren't required to understand and rationalize every detail of it. Of that we're glad. It doesn't matter at all to our daily lives whether the Rule of Benedict came from Benedict B., Benedict N., some other man with the same name, or Benedict Arnold. The Rule matters. And it is the Rule that continues to inspire Christian holiness throughout the world: in New Jersey, for example, with St Benedict's Toolbox; and in Manitoba, with St Benedict's Table, to mention just two bright spots that stand out on the web.

Benedict was on our mind because of the visit last week by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope Benedict in Rome, and because of the lecture 'Benedict and the future of Europe' given by Dr Williams earlier at St Anselmo. Not needing to know the identity of the Real Benedict, we quickly turned our attention from the past to the present, to tomorrow, to Advent, to the new year. Just now we care more about when and where we can get an influenza vaccination and where we might have left our mobile phone. And we're really planning to re-read the Rule of Benedict to better grasp it. As Dr Williams said in his lecture:

For the Christian, the vision of the Rule is not an ideal created by some individual political genius, but a reflection of what is revealed in Jesus and the fellowship of Jesus about the essential character of human beings. What the Rule distinctively does is (at least) two things. It asks what the rhythm of life is that will best set human beings free to advance towards the joy for which they are made, how the priority of praise may be embodied in a responsible adult common life that is fully located in the material world. And it asks what the style of authority is that will enable ‘faith beyond resentment’, to borrow the title of a recent book by one of the most creative of English-language theologians, James Alison: how does authority operate to set us free from fear of each other, of our own weaknesses and limitations, of our inability to satisfy what we fantasise to be the demands of a distant God? [...] Benedict offers direct and practical help with just these things.

We can't imagine a better companion for Advent.

See you next week, in the new year.

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Last updated: 26 November 2006

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