Monk Habits for Every Day People

Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants

“I visited a Benedictine monastery,” writes Dennis Okholm, “and enjoyed the extraordinary hospitality of the monks.[1] I also felt totally immersed in scripture. All day, every day I was asked to listen to the Bible and let its words wash over me. To hear entire psalms taught me much about the nature of religious pilgrimage. To savor a minute of silence between each psalm and two minutes after a scripture reading allowed my heart to respond more fully.” In this book, Monk Habits for Everyday People, Okholm reminds us that “Christ is the point of it all, our true beginning and our end.”[2]

Dennis Okholm stayed with the monks for two days. “On my way home, I made a stop at a mall for a pair of tennis shoes. I found myself feeling out of place in the consumer culture that had shaped me. No forty-eight-hour experience had ever left such a huge crater in my life.”[3] Most Protestants have not considered staying two days with monks in a monastery. (“What? Mingle with all those monks trying too hard to please God?”). Fortunately for us Protestants, St. Augustine said positive things about the monasteries.[4] Of all the early church fathers, Augustine gets a five-star approval rating from the Reformers. Luther had some positive things to say about monasteries; for years he was an Augustinian monk. Luther conceded that the monasteries could be approved for Christians on condition that they teach scripture and Christian morals and homiletics, so long as the monks are under no constraint of vows. Calvin was fine with the kind of monasteries that Augustine described in Morals of the Catholic Church.[5] With Luther and Calvin approving the monasteries when certain conditions are maintained, we can take a positive look at Benedict of Nursia and what he set in motion at the monastery in Monte Cassino.

Benedict. Okholm writes:

“Benedict was the great man of the early days of monasticism. When he was about fifty years old, Benedict established a monastery at Monte Cassino, located about sixty miles south of Rome. Here he spent the rest of his life, wrote his Rule, and gained a reputation as a holy man with divine gifts. This was in 529 AD. Rome had fallen and the western empire was in political chaos, but also troubled by ecclesiastical dirty dealings and underhanded ploys to win theological battles” in a church that had become worldly.[6]

Benedict was fairly certain he could not revive the institutional church directly. He invited a few men to live in a community that would take to heart the way of living experienced in the earliest days of the church:

Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . .” And Acts 4:32: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.” 

In this way, Benedict’s monastic movement attracted the “evangelicals” of his day, and, in the coming years, renewed the institutional church as well.

The Rule of Benedict. Dennis Okholm recommends that churches searching for a new pastor use the guide that Benedict wrote on the qualities of an abbot. A renewal movement began as men organized Benedictine communities across Europe. In God’s providence, the Rule of Benedict set in motion a force for good that would make possible the reconciliation of many men and women to God and one another.  The Rule of Benedict also set in motion, for the first time in history, a change in the way men looked at labor: Benedict wrote “laborare est orare,” to labor is to pray. The best thing you can do to achieve church renewal is to join with other men or women into committed Christian communities. And may Jesus Christ be praised in all the earth.

[1] The monks will say, “Enter, Christ,” when a guest is standing at the front door.

[2] Dennis L. Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007). 7-9. Foreword, by Kathleen Norris

[3] Ibid. 19


[5] Calvin’s Institutes 4.13.9. Read Augustine’s Morals of the Catholic Church here.,_Augustinus,_De_Moribus_Ecclesiae_Catholicae_et_de_Moribus_Manichaeorum_%5BSchaff%5D,_EN.pdf

[6] Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants. 25