Rorate Caeli

Centennial of Dom Delatte's Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict
I - Saint Benedict was above all a man of Tradition

Solesmes Abbey, France

Dom Paul Delatte, a diocesan priest who, later in life, joined St. Peter's Abbey, in Solesmes (historically, on the border between the Maine and the Anjou, now at Sarthe, Pays de la Loire, France), and, not long after his perpetual vows, was elected third Abbot of Solesmes in 1890, wrote many of the fundamental works on Benedictine life in the modern age. He suffered greatly in his years as successor to Dom Guéranger, certainly due to the intense persecution unleashed by the government of the Third French Republic, that forced the religious of France from outside their own houses (the monks of Solesmes had lived in various houses in the city outside their abbey since 1880) and finally into exile for not adapting to atrocious anticlerical association rules established in 1901.

But, and this is less well-known, Dom Delatte suffered even more from the intense internal persecution by some of his monks, who again and again denounced him (and also his great friend Mother Cécile Bruyère, first Abbess of St. Cecilia's, Solesmes) to the Apostolic See, causing him all kinds of trials, until his request for resignation (not his first) was finally accepted by the Holy See in 1921. Much of this is detailed in the French edition of a selection of his letters, "Lettres", published by Solesmes

Among his many great writings, probably none is as influential as his Commentary to the Rule of Saint Benedict, first published 100 years ago, in September 1913. The full text is available in its French text here, and in English here (translated by Dom Justin McCann, of Ampleforth Abbey). Various reasons prevented us from celebrating its publication in the exact centennial date, but since we are still in its centennial year, we are quite happy to post excerpts of the English translation for the edification of our readers. If you wish to help the work of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, you may also buy a print version from their website here.


"THE man of God, Benedict, among the many wonderful works that made him famous in this world, was also conspicuous for his teaching: for he wrote a Rule for monks, remarkable for discretion and rich in instruction. If anyone desires to know more deeply the life and character of the man, he may find in the ordinances of that Rule the exact image of his whole government: for the holy man cannot possibly have taught otherwise than as he lived." To this judgement of St. Gregory the Great, so complete for all its grace of form and sobriety of language, we may yet add two observations: first that the moral beauty of St. Benedict, his temperament and almost his characteristics, are reflected also in the pages, at once candid and profound, of his biographer; secondly, that the Rule itself came, in the middle of the sixth century, as the ripe fruit of a considerable monastic past and of the spiritual teaching of the Fathers.

St. Benedict was above all else a man of tradition. He was not the enthusiastic creator of an entirely new form of the religious life: neither nature nor grace disposed him to such a course. As may be seen from the last chapter of his Rule, he cared nothing for a reputation of originality, or for the glory of being a pioneer. He did not write till late, till he was on the threshold of eternity, after study and perhaps after experience of the principal monastic codes. Nearly every sentence reveals almost a fixed determination to base his ideas on those of the ancients, or at least to use their language and appropriate their terms.

But even though the Rule were nothing but an intelligent compilation, even though it were merely put together with the study and spiritual insight of St. Benedict, with the spirit of orderliness, moderation, and lucidity of this Roman of old patrician stock, it would not for all that be a commonplace work: in actual fact, it stands as the complete and finished expression of the monastic ideal. Who can measure the extraordinary influence that these few pages have exercised, during fourteen centuries, over the general development of the Western world? Yet St. Benedict thought only of God and of souls desirous to go to God; in the tranquil simplicity of his faith he purposed only to establish a school of the Lord s service: Dominici schola servitii. But, just because of this singleminded pursuit of the one thing necessary, God has blessed the Rule of Monks with singular fruitfulness, and St. Benedict has taken his place in the line of the great patriarchs.

We may almost say of the Benedictine Rule what is certainly true of the Law of God that it bears in itself its own justification, that it is self-sufficient; "the judgements of the Lord are true, justified in themselves," and that it only needs to be read and loved and lived. ... Perhaps the publication of these notes will satisfy, in some measure, the interest of the many Christian souls who ask us every day for enlightenment on the mode of life, spirituality, and real usefulness of monks.

The primary purpose of these studies is neither curiosity nor historical knowledge: our concern is with the soul and with the supernatural life. By constant communing with the master thought of St. Benedict and with the minds of his best disciples, will the sons of D. Guéranger be able to keep alive among them the true spirit of monasticism.