Saint Benendict and the purification of economy

by Fr. Massimo Lapponi

One of the greatest Catholic personalities of the 20th century was the economist Barbara Ward (1914-1981) – see: In 1973 was published the text of an important lecture, held by her in the Vatican, entitled: “A new creation?”.
In an article in the journal “New scientist” of May 26, 1977, a brief news was given about the Ward lecture and these words were quoted: « (…) all the perceptions which are beginning to disturb and displace the old certainties and drives of post Renaissance man have deep affinities with the Christian view of the world. To use science as a responsible tool for deciphering nature’s laws and working with them in all their complexity is closer to Christian concepts of stewardship than a single-track search for more power and more mastery (…) As a result, the times that are coming could also be more receptive to the Christian vision». And the article added that, according to Ward, throughout history a surfeit of violence, arrogance and rapacity has brought on a renewed hunger for spiritual vision.
In the text of the lecture, Ward, as a response to this renewed thirst for a spiritual vision of life, points to the model of those who, throughout the world, following a religious vocation, with the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, have renounced to claim for themselves and have become willing to give more than they receive.
Obviously – adds Ward – not everyone has the vocation to renounce to form a family, to own and to command, but for all the model of consecrated life must be an example to imitate, in renouncing the excessive thirst for enjoyment, possession and self-affirmation.
The three vows of religious life are common to all the different observances, but the monastic tradition, represented in the West by the Rule of Saint Benedict, to which all the successive forms of cloistered life refer, has the merit of not only remaining on the principles. In fact it infuses, through a wise regulation of the hours of a community day, the leaven of religious vows and their intimate meaning – which everybody can adopt – in the daily life of those who want to live together a well regulated and Christian life.
Therefore, if, as Ward suggested at the time, and as we have, in a recent article also reaffirmed – see: – in terms of a truly realistic economic science, it is essential to radically correct human formation, flanking purely scholastic and scientific preparation with a vigorous moral and spiritual formation, perhaps no instrument could be more suitable for this purpose than the Rule of Saint Benedict, provided that it is made accessible by youth through the work of families and parishes.
In fact, human formation does not concern, in the first instance, our professional attitudes, to be exercised outside the home, but our way of living daily together with people who share our same destiny – that is, first and foremost, our family members. It will be, therefore, first of all, the way of life of the family to which they belong that will impress on the young generations a way of behavior more or less in accordance with what is required by the crisis of our time. And if the crisis of our time, as pointed out by Ward, demands a renewed spiritual vision of life, this vision can only be transmitted through a profound renewal of family life.
We have been working on this renewal for about ten years, that is, since the publication of the book “San Benendetto e la vita familiare” (Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 2009) – the English translation can be downloaded through this link: – and since the foundation of the online school “La corona di dodici stelle” – see:
But what now appears indispensable is that the Benedictine and cloistered monasteries themselves become aware of the immense apostolic and social value of consecrated life, of its three vows and of the wise Benedictine regulation of common life. On the one hand this awareness will be the foundation for a substantial renewal of monastic life – of which the absolute necessity has long been felt – and on the other hand it will make immensely easier for families to assimilate, through the teaching and example of consecrated men and women, that wise and gentle divine form through which Saint Benedict has reshaped the daily life of Christian communities.
At the center of this realization must be the conviction that the three monastic vows are not, in reality, a true renunciation of love, of the goods of the earth and of the realization of themselves, but that, on the contrary, they represent the purification and exaltation of the greatest gifts that God has given to men: love, the use of creation and freedom. It is the example of the Crucified One – the supreme model of every consecrated soul – that reveals to us what a mystery of love is hidden in the gift of one’s life for the mystical Bride of Christ – and were not born in the cloisters or under their inspiration the sweetest artistic expressions of human soul? – what wealth available to all the poor of the earth is subject to the rule of the King crowned with thorns and what freedom to fulfill one’s truest destiny is celebrated by the One who, in obedience to the Father, let himself be nailed to the cross.
If, then, the Crucified One indicates to the men of today the divine way to purify economy from the poison of human prevarication, the faithful disciple of the Crucified One, Saint Benedict, teaches us how to make the sublime wisdom of the cross flow into the folds of the daily life of families and into the intimate formation of the hearts of our children.
Should we not, therefore, wholeheartedly hope that this purifying renewal will take place in the sacred world of cloistered life and then pour out, like a beneficial and uncontainable river, into the walls of our ruined houses?