History and Content of the Rule
The Rule of St. Benedict is an inspirational set of guidelines, both spiritual and organizational, written during the 6th century. Even if it was conceived around the same moment in time when St. Benedict founded his sacred monastery, it was never meant to be exclusively for Montecassino. Rather it was designed to be the sacred manual for monastic life and activities throughout all of the abbeys of the Benedictine Order. St. Benedict gained inspiration for his Rule from his spiritual peers (Romanus of Subiaco, for example), Scripture, Psalms, the Gospels, and from a document written by an anonymous abbot called the Regula Magistri. The exact relationship between the Regula Magistri, meaning "The Master's Rule", and Benedict's own Rule has been a topic of study and scholarly debate through the centuries. Today there is a general consensus that St. Benedict's Rule was written after the Regula Magistri, and therefore served as another source of inspiration for St. Benedict.
The Rule is composed of a prologue and 73 chapters. It was originally written in the language of the time: Lingua Vulgaris. Its simple and precise language was later described by St. Gregory the Great as sermone luculentam or "clear speech", meaning that it was written in a language that was easy to follow and understand.
The prologue introduces the main principles of religious and spiritual life, expressed in a manner sounding like a loving father welcoming and advising his sons. In this are some keys to the Rule: obedience, the importance of prayer, and the renouncement of one's personal will in order to gain the wisdom and virtues of others, first and foremost God, the community, and our monastic ancestors. The 73 chapters speak about: the duties and responsibilities of the abbot, instruction and guidelines for worship, code and conduct, discipline, organization within the monastery, and many other aspects including clothing/garments, hospitality protocol, gifts and letters etiquette, regulations on the sale of any crafts or goods, and other specific instructions regarding monastic life.
Taken as a whole the Rule has a message of love, devotion to God, prayer, work, chastity, moderation, obedience, humility, and community. When reading it one might be struck by its incredibly sensible view of life and human nature, its lack of harshness or excessive demands on the devout. St. Benedict found a great harmony and balance with his Rule. It contains words of encouragement, inviting us to follow the sacred path, and to not lose heart when it feels difficult. The last chapter has an important concluding message in which St. Benedict invites anyone and everyone, not just monks or abbots, to follow these simple spiritual Rules to piousness and virtue:
"Whoever you may be, that hurries towards your heavenly home, put in practice with the help of Christ this minimal Rule for beginners just outlined, and then to the highest peaks of doctrine and virtue[...]you can be certain to finally reach with God's protection. Amen".