Is there such a thing as a distinctive Benedictine spirituality?

Carving of St. Benedict in Alton Abbey
Carving of St. Benedict in Alton Abbey

Those who know of my regular visits to Alton Abbey won’t be overly surprised to discover my first portfolio, which has to be about prayer and ministerial formation, has a Benedictine focus.

The title of the main essay is:

How does Benedictine spirituality connect and contrast with my past practice, speak into my current prayer life, and inform my engagement in God’s mission?

In particular I’m going to be focusing on the ideas of community and hospitality expressed in the way the Rule of St Benedict can be applied, and also at the idea of obedience with is one of the vows that Benedictines make. If I was writing my dissertation I could have added more to the list, but I had to be selective… I ‘only’ have 5000 words to play with 😉

I am very aware that I am just dipping my toe in the deep water that is the Benedictine tradition, and am realising more what I don’t know, rather than what I do. Among the many questions I’ve got buzzing round my head at present, not all of which are directly related to the essay, are the following. You may have thoughts and wisdom in response to these that will contribute to my current ‘mind soup’, and if you’re prepared to share them, that would be wonderful.

  1. Is there actually such a thing as a distinctively Benedictine spirituality?
    I am reading a little about Ignatian spirituality (largely in its conversation with positive psychology), and believe there is a distinctly Franciscan spirituality, but I have heard it said at college that there isn’t anything distinctive about Benedictine spirituality, possibly because of its pragmatism. However, reading Joan Chittister’s preface to Thomas Merton‘s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict I’m not convinced, but wondered what others think? If you think there is, how would you describe it?
  2. In what ways is the hospitality of Benedictine communities distinctive from that of other monastic communities, like e.g. the Franciscans’? Geography has dictated my association with Alton Abbey, but I suspect God’s got a plan in that, and I don’t currently have the time and finances to tour the monasteries of England, so I’m interested in what others think, either from their studies or involvement with Benedictine communities, or from simply having visited contrasting monastic communities.
  3. Why, when the Rule of St. Benedict includes something known as the ‘Ladder of Humility’ which includes the idea that one shouldn’t be “given to ready laughter” (RB7.59-60), are the Benedictines I know some of the funniest people I ever meet? I rarely leave their company without having shared a laugh and always have a bigger smile on my face than the one I arrived with! (That goes for the cloistered brethren, not just the oblates I know.)

So that’s where I am, at least on the surface. Underneath in the warren of MA-land, it’s rather more complicated than that, but perhaps I’ll leave the lumpy bits in the ‘mind soup’ for another day.

Any ideas, thoughts or reflections, gratefully received. If I ever refer them in writing they will be suitably referenced I assure you!



  1. […] As I prepare to write a 5000 word essay this week, and re-start my hospital placement (grotty cough permitting) I wanted to reflect briefly on what those glimpses have said been, and what I’ve allowed the Christ-child to give me. They are what I have been given to build-up my sense of Christ’s presence with me as I return to my Benedictine studies. […]


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