Do you follow a Rule of Life? Is there a systematic way that you practice your faith in the pubic square? Do you share in these same practices with a community through which you find companionship and accountability?
Many Catholics throughout the centuries have found themselves seeking to live their lives more perfectly for God. They sought the wisdom of the spiritual leaders of their time who, to “make their election complete” (2 Peter 1:10) wrote down the attitudes and behaviors that they believed formed a person in virtue in order to rise to divine heights in their faith.
These written documents are called “Rules,” and there are five Rules that have been accepted by the Catholic Church.
Note that the following Rules have gone through several changes and additions over the course of the past 1,800 years. Since each religious Order has grown into several congregations, each Rule has consequently been amended and diversified to fit the needs of each community. That being said, this article provides the original Rule as transcribed the the founders of each congregation.
The Rule of Saint Augustine
Saint Augustine is one of the most well known and well researched of the Early Church Fathers. His desire for holiness among his people led him to write a Rule of Life that would be practiced by the monks he would establish informally as a congregation around the year 400 AD (the Augustinians would not be formally created until March 1st, 1244). These monks would live lives so extremely devoted to God that every minute of their lives seemed to be accounted for in the Rule. Even their thoughts were regulated by the guidelines laid out by Augustine whose ability to delve deep into the psyche of spirituality made this Rule the first of many to come. In fact, many other religious congregations looked to the Augustinian rule as a template by which they would add their own tenets as prescribed by the charism that defined their Order.
Both the Dominican Rule and the Norbertine Rule were originally founded on the tenets of the Rule of Saint Augustine. They were almost a carbon copy to the Augustinian Rule that each founder adopted so as to accentuate the importance of preaching as the central charism for his congregation. Saints such as Saint Dominic, Saint Tomas Aquinas, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Rose of Lima, and Saint Martin de Pores lived this rule in order to serve God through their lives.
You can read the Rule of Saint Augustine online here.
The Rule of Saint Benedict
The Benedictine Order was founded c. AD 529 by Saint Benedict of Nursia The Rule of Saint Benedict has been at the forefront of monastic communities for centuries. It has also helped lay men and women come to understand the beauty of having order in their spiritual lives and the place in which the central charism of “work” has its place in their lives. Saints such as Benedict himself, Saint Scholastica (his sister!), Saint Peter Damien, Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux all vowed to withhold the tenets of this rule, which led to their pathway toward sanctity.
Note: since the rule itself is quite lengthy (692 pages!) the Benedictines provide the option to read a portion of the Rule each day so as not to be overwhelmed by its content. Click here to check it out. Want to read the Rule in its entirety? Check it out online here.
The Rule of Saint Francis
The Franciscan Order was founded on February 24th, 1209 by Saint Francis of Assisi. The Rule of Saint Francis has its roots in detachment of worldly things and in chastity. Such was the charism of its founder in that he desired to reach out to souls with the empty hands of his poverty. In his own words, he aspired “To observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience without anything of our own, and in chastity.”
Saints who have followed versions of this Rule in order to arrive at their final destination of Paradise include Francis of Assisi, Saint Claire, Saint Boneventure, Saint Anthony of Padua and Blessed John Duns Scotus. Saint John Bosco was a Third Order Franciscan before he founded the religious congregation of the Salesians.
You can read the Rule of Saint Francis online here.
The Rule of Saint Albert (The Rule of the Carmelite Order)
Saint Albert Avogadro was a Latin Patriarch in whose jurisdiction there was Mount Carmel, the legendary mountain range where a spring surged by the hands of the great prophet Elijah. Journeymen would come to live alongside this spring as monks and, as such, they asked Saint Albert to teach them how to live good, holy lives. So, Saint Albert helped them create the rule that would be the source document for the Carmelite Order. It was written in 1208 and, in 1247, Pope Innocent IV made a few changes that allowed the brother to adapt to living in cities as the migrated to Europe.
The key tenets include a focus on contemplation and prayer as well as detachment.
Saints who followed this Rule of life on their way to salvation include Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Pope Saint John Paul II was also a Third Order Carmelite before he began his studies to become a priest.
You can read the Rule of Saint Albert online here.
The Basilian Rule
This rule was created in two parts – the “Greater” and the “Lesser” rule. Saint Basil created the rule for his congregation of monks in 356 AD. It is written in a catechetical manner, drawing upon the virtues that need to be practiced over vices and how each relate to Sacred Scripture, which Basil claims to be the “Ultimate Rule”.
You can read the rules created by Saint Basil online here (the rule starts on page 45).
What is your rule of life?
These are the only five official Rules in existence in the Catholic Church. Every other religious congregation either pulls from one of these rules or has their own formula by which they live out their charism. So, the Society of Jesus, Opus Dei, the Missionaries of Charity, the Salesians, the Lasallians, etc. all provide their members with a way of life, a constitution or a formula, but not necessarily a “Rule”.
The reason being is that they have been spread across continents, cultures, and customs, which require their members to maintain a certain degree of freedom to participate in their diversified ministries. A Rule, on the other hand would require them all to live the same exact way which, for several congregations, isn’t prudent or efficient when given the richness of the multiple talents of their members, especially as cultures change and evolve over time.
So, what is your Rule of Life? Take a read through the aforementioned Rules and see if you might glean a sense of God-light that shone on the pathways of the Saints who followed them closely.