Georg HOLZHERR. The Rule of Benedict. An Invitation to the Christian Life. Translated by Mark Thamert. Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications , Liturgical Press, 2016. pp. 596. $59.95 ISBN 97808790172568 (print) 9780879077341 (ebook). Reviewed by Christine FLETCHER, Benedictine University, Lisle, IL 60532.
This rich commentary on the Rule of Benedict is a worthy companion to RB 1980 The Rule of St Benedict In Latin and English with Notes ed. Timothy Fry OSB, and to Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary by Terrence G. Kardong. All three volumes give us a deep scholarly reading of Benedict’s rule, and helpful commentary. Holzherr, however, has given us something more; this is a spiritual as well as a scholarly commentary that focuses on the search for God that is the heart of monastic life.
Abbot Holzherr was a monk of the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland where he was elected abbot in 1969. He is one of the leading scholars and commentators on the Rule, although the previous editions of his commentary have only been available in German. The English speaking world now has the fruits of his life of scholarship and contemplation of the Rule.
The translation is an updated version of Holzherr’s Die Benedicktusregel: Ein Anleitung zu Christlichem (1980). This is the seventh edition of his commentary and uses the Latin and English text of RB 1980. Unlike RB 1980 which places the commentaries in the introduction and the appendices of exposition of monastic topics, Holzherr offers a commentary chapter by chapter, after an introduction which is a survey of early monastic rules and practice. This edition has revised previous introductions in light of the most current scholarship on the Rule.
Holzherr offers this analogy for his commentary: "The Rule is comparable to an old heavy red wine that is enjoyed in small sips. . . . Head and heart, soul and mind should taste the words of the Rule, just as the eye enjoys the color of the wine while tongue, nose, and mouth take in the delightful gift of God each in their own way" (xx–xxi). Reading the commentary offers not only scholarly commentary on the Rule and its relation to the Rule of the Master, but also a deep spiritual reading of the rule and its application to the individual soul on its journey to God. Holzherr uses stories from the Desert Fathers, from Gregory the Great, Augustine, Cassian, Basil, and others to keep the reader focused on the point of the exercise: the search for God which requires purity of heart. He sees Chapter 7, On Humility, as the centerpiece of the Rule.
To illustrate his method and the flavor of this commentary, consider how he handles Chapter 33, Monastics and Private Ownership, Holzherr first explains that Benedict’s “title and text are more reminiscent of Basil than of the Master. The chapter is presented in chiastic form. The loving care of the father stands in the center of the inclusion, framed by statements about renunciation of property and about community of good (Borias)” (285). The goal is “the inner attitude of the anawim, . . . Poverty is first of all an inner attitude, before being a question of property” 9286–287) For the monks to have this attitude, the monastery requires an earthly loving father who sees to the provision of the monks’ needs. Benedict’s requirement of individual renunciation of ownership doesn’t mean that the community is not well governed, or that material goods are treated carelessly.
This is an excellent volume for graduate studies on early monasticism or on Benedictine spirituality. It is also a good volume for monastic formation, for Oblates, or indeed anyone who is sincerely interested in seeking God. Holzherr is a wise guide and spiritual father to his readers.