I am writing this letter not in response to any particular opinion I have seen expressed on campus, but rather many. It seems like whenever an argument is made, there is always an effort to tie it back to one (or more) Benedictine values. While they are a helpful guide what we want to model our community here at CSB/SJU after, I believe they are becoming a bit of a buzzword with issues on campus.
The Benedictine values aren’t even explicitly mentioned in the Rule of St. Benedict. They were instead interpreted by the monastic community, and referenced with passages taken from the Rule. One has to remember that behind each of the 12 rules lies almost two millennia of Catholic scholarship and monastic experience.
As a whole, they provide a helpful guide for living together respectfully as a community, and no rule is really any more important than another. By taking them out of the larger context of the Rule and Catholic teaching in general, they become so vague that an individual can interpret them just about any way they wish.
A rough comparison can be drawn between the Benedictine values and the American Constitution. The First Amendment tells us we have the right to free speech. On its own, it would seem like we have the right to say whatever we want to whomever we want. However, in the larger fabric of American tradition and society, we know that this right has provisions and limitations meant to protect others and fit in with our way of life.
Pull it out of that context, and you could use it to defend everything from hate speech to blatant deception. I often hear that certain actions will affect the “community” of the school (which technically isn’t even one of the 12 Benedictine values), but rarely hear actual values like “Moderation” or “Awareness of God” mentioned.
Since no rule is more important than any other, you can’t use just one—you have to look at the multi-faceted impact the changes will have on the university as a whole. As another example, adding a pro-choice group on campus to increase “community” would violate the actual values of “Respect for Persons,” “Truthful Living” and “Justice” just to name a few. Next time you decide to reference one in your argument, think to yourself: are you conveniently using it to make a point, or because you truly support moving our institution closer to values and teachings that began with the Catholic Church, were interpreted by the Benedictines and finally became the model for our school?
Jack Barsody ’19