Monastic spirituality centres on the struggle for spiritual perfection, as the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict reads: 'monks must prepare [themselves] in body and soul, to fight under the commandments of holy obedience'.12 A life of reading, prayer and meditation aspired to mystical union with God and citizenship among the number of the chosen in the heavenly Jerusalem. In monastic thought, the heavenly city's closest earthly parallel was the monastery, which contained, in so far as possible for a terrestrial place, the dignity and spiritual benefits of the supernal city. Bernard of Clairvaux described the monk as a dweller in Jerusalem, imitating the way of life of the heavenly city.13
8 See works by G. Constable, B. Kienzle, E. Peters and J. Russell in the bibliography.
9 Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).
10 B. M. Kienzle, 'Medieval Sermons and their Performance: Theory and Record', in C. A. Muessig, ed., The Sermon in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 89-124.
11 B. M. Kienzle, 'Holiness and Obedience: Denouncement of Twelfth-Century Waldensian Lay Preaching', in A. Ferreiro, ed., The Devil, Heresy and Witchcraft in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey B. Russell (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 259-78.
12 The Rule of St Benedict, trans. with intro. and notes by A. C. Meisel and M. L. del Mastro (New York: Doubleday Image Books, 1975), 45.
13 SBO, vol. 2, Sermo 55.2, 112; SBO, vol. 7, Ep. 64, 158; James, Letters, no. 67, 91.
Furthermore, the monastery was viewed as the schola Christi, with Christ as the master. As such it provided the education necessary for attaining eternal life.
Persevering in the monastic life required discipline: obedience to the Rule and to the abbot (or abbess) who governed in accord with its precepts. The Rule demanded of each follower the humility to surrender his or her own will in favour of that of the community as represented by the abbot, who holds the place of Christ in the monastery (RB 2). The abbot in turn was accountable before God at the judgment for his teaching and for the obedience shown by his disciples (RB 2). Hence the supreme and inseparable monastic virtues are obedience and humility.
A further key component of the monastic life is the activity of work, which encompasses both manual labour and prayer, termed the opus dei. This notion of work's importance derives from Pauline texts and the early fathers of monasticism: Christians should earn their own bread and also earn through their work the wherewithal to help the needy. Monks were taught to follow the Pauline model, as illustrated in Bernard of Clairvaux's definition of poverty as both denying patronage for oneself and providing it to others.14
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