Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

DO RELIGIOUS HAVE RIGHTS?

The following is an essay by Dom Louis-Marie OSB, Abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Sainte-Madeleine at le Barroux in southern France.

The Abbot demonstrates the relevance of the Rule of Saint Benedict to the daily life of all Catholics, and particularly to those who have committed themselves to a common life, at whatever level.

Don’t try looking in the Rule of Saint Benedict for the expression “human rights”, you won't find it. So do monks and religious have no rights then?  Put thus, no, none.  Perhaps only in the chapter on impossible tasks where it says that the monk has the right to bring to his superior’s attention an order which exceeds his capabilities.

But to understand the thinking of Saint Benedict, the lovely harmony that he wishes to reign in the cloister, let us take some examples. Does the monk have the right to own a pencil, or some paper and all the other things necessary to his contemplative life? It seems to be so, as Saint Benedict judges these things indispensable, but he doesn’t say the monk has the “right” to have them for his use, he says that the abbot has the “duty” to give them to him. Another example: does the abbot have the right to be obeyed by his monks? Nowhere in the Rule will you find this right expressed so precisely. No, Saint Benedict's understanding is simply that the monks have a duty to obey their superior. Do the monks have a right to their proper place in the community, and do they each have the right to receive the same affection on the part of the father abbot? Saint Benedict says, no, not at all, but the superior has a duty not to trouble the order without good reason, and certainly never to make exceptions for individuals. Saint Benedict thus insists on common obligations, and not on rights.

This all seems though to be much the same, because at the end of the day the monk has his pencil, the abbot is obeyed, and order is respected.  But it’s not the same at all, as the spirit is quite different and in fact the two formulations are polar opposites. One concentrating on duties, favours charity, and the other, concentrating on rights, favours selfishness.  In the end it’s the difference between the city of God, where love of God and of others extends right to hatred of self, and the city of the Devil, where love of oneself extends all the way to hatred of God and of one’s neighbour.

This is one of the reasons why Saint Benedict banned all grumbling in community. Indeed, grumbles are often due to the claiming of rights. Already, at the beginning of the Rule, he makes fun of those monks who declare holy all the things they desire. A monk should never claim anything at all for himself, which demonstrates that the spirit of the monk raises itself to God, and thinks not of its rights but its duties. It is the same for families. Saint Paul recalls not the rights of husband and wife, but their duties to each other, and especially those of the husband, who should make sacrifices for his wife. The same goes for the relationship between parents and children.

This is equally valid for businesses. At job interviews young people present themselves with a file under their arms full of their innumerable rights: working hours, holidays, and all the other great values of the state.  And if shareholders only think of their dividends, why should we be surprised at the vicious circle which leads to conflicts?

We can apply the same principles to the press. If the supreme rule is “the right to know” why be surprised at the lack of charity and respect for the dignity of the individual? But the worst is, since the law which permits abortion, which has developed into fundamental women’s rights, the spirit of the whole of society has abandoned the rights of the child, which is the ultimate duty of parents. That’s diabolical.


Yet we have the example and the grace of Jesus Christ, who never claimed the right to be treated as equal to God, but who fulfilled his duty right to the end. Let’s imitate Him.

(Translation, Grand Priory of England)