2. The Qualities Required of the Abbot

An abbot worthy of presiding over a monastery must always remember what he is called and must fill the name of superior with his deeds. For he is believed to act in the place of Christ within the monastery, since he is called by that very name, as the Apostle says:

You have received a spirit of adoption making you children; because of this we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Rom 8:15)

Therefore, the abbot must neither teach nor ordain nor command anything contrary to the teaching of the Lord, whatever it may be. Rather let his command and teaching be mixed into the minds of the disciples as a leaven of divine justice.

Let the abbot always remember that at the dreadful judgment of God, he will have to give an account both of his teaching and then of the obedience of his disciples.

7 He should know that the shepherd bears the blame for whatever lack of value the owner may find in his flock.

8 However, it will be another matter if he has used all the skill of a pastor for a restless and disobedient flock, and has shown all manner of care for their diseased actions.

Their shepherd, once acquitted at the Lord’s tribunal, can say to the Lord with the Prophet:

I have not hidden your justice
within my heart;
I have declared your truth
and your salvation,
but they have condemned
and despised me. (Ps 40:11; Isa 1:2; Ezek 20:27)

10 And finally, the penalty for the flock, heedless of his care, will in the end be overwhelming death itself.

11 Therefore, when anyone receives the name of abbot, he ought to preside over his disciples with a twofold teaching: 12 that is, he should show all that is good and holy more by his deeds than by his words so that he might set before the able disciples the Lord’s commands by words. To the hard of heart, however, and to simpler folk, let him demonstrate the divine commands by his deeds.

13 Let him point out by his own deeds what should not be done, that is, all those things that run against what he has taught the disciples “lest, while preaching to others, he himself should be found counterfeit” (1 Cor 9:27), 14 and God should say to him, a sinner:

Why do you declare my just statutes
and take my covenant in your mouth?
Indeed, you have hated discipline
and have cast my words behind you. (Ps 50:16–17)

15 And also:

Why do you see the speck in your brother’s
eye and do not see the beam in your own? (Matt 7:3)

16 Let him make no distinction between persons in the monastery. 17 Let no one be loved more than another unless found better in good deeds or obedience. 18 Let no one well-born be placed before one who comes to the monastery from slavery, unless there is some other reasonable cause.

19 The abbot may put them in whatever seniority seems good to him or justice may demand; otherwise, let them all stay in their own places 20 because, whether slave or free, we are all one in Christ and bear an equal burden of service under the one Lord “because before God there is no distinction of persons” (Rom 2:11; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8). 21 Only for one reason are we set apart before him—if we are found humble and better than others in good works.

22 Therefore, let the abbot show equal love to all, and let him maintain the same discipline for all just as they deserve.

23 For indeed in his teaching, the abbot must always keep that saying of the Apostle where he says:

Reprove, entreat, rebuke. (2 Tim 4:2)

24 This means mixing gentleness with severity as circumstances require.

He should show the rigor of a teacher and the loving affection of a father. 25 In other words, he must reprove sternly the undisciplined and the restless, and he must entreat the obedient and the meek and the patient to make greater progress, but we charge him to rebuke and correct the heedless and the defiant.

26 He should not ignore the sins of offenders, but as soon as they begin to sprout, let him do all that he can to cut them off at the root, remembering the fate of Eli, the priest of Shiloh (1 Sam 2:11-4:18).

27 Those having more honor and understanding he should correct with words of counsel a first and second time, 28 but for the unruly and the stubborn or for the proud and the disobedient, let him restrain them at the very first sign of sin with a beating or other corporal punishment, knowing that it is written:

The fool is not corrected with words. (Prov 29:19)

29 And again,

Strike your son with a rod,
and you will deliver his soul from death. (Prov 23:14)

30 The abbot must always remember what he is and remember what he is said to be, and know that from the one to whom much is given, much will likewise be required.

31 Let him consider how difficult and how hard the task he has undertaken—the guiding of souls and the being of service to many with regard to their behavior. He will do this for some by kindness, for others by reproof, for still others by persuasion.

32 Let him so conform and adapt himself to all according to the character and intelligence of each person so that he not only suffers no loss in the flock committed to him, but he even has cause to rejoice in the increase of a good flock.

33 Above all, let him not, by ignoring or undervaluing the salvation of the souls committed to him, worry about things passing and earthly and fleeting. 34 Rather he should always bear in mind that he has undertaken the guidance of souls for whom he must also one day render an account. 35 And lest perhaps he should plead lack of means, let him remember that it is written:

Seek first the Kingdom of God and his justice,
and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33)

36 And again,

They lack nothing—those who fear him. (Ps 34:10)

37 Also, he should know that having undertaken the guidance of souls, he must prepare himself to render an account. 38 No matter how large the number of brothers he has under his care, let him know for certain that on the Day of Judgment he must render an account for each and every soul, and, without doubt, for his own soul as well.

39 And so, ever fearful of the future reckoning of the shepherd for the sheep entrusted to him, he becomes attentive to his own account even as he heeds the responsibilities for others, 40 and as he helps others to change by his counsel, he brings about in himself a change in his own evil ways.


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