Boxed in

When Benedict wrote his rule for monasteries in the sixth century he included specific instructions for how a novice would be received into the monks’ community of prayer.

The new and presumably young novice would enter a room called the oratory and vow stability, fidelity and obedience. Then he would say, “Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope” (Ps. 119:116, Rule of St. Benedict). Benedict would then instruct the novice to pull off his street clothes and put on the habit of the monks. We would expect this.

But the next thing is surprising: the old street clothes were to be placed in the monk’s closet.

I discovered these instructions when I was in graduate school. I was puzzled by Benedict’s concern to preserve the street clothes. I told my medieval church history professor that I thought that Benedict should have demanded that the old clothes be burned, making the vow to become a monk permanent.


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