A Guide for Happiness and Holiness

Written in the sixth century, the Rule of St. Benedict continues to bring meaning those who seek happiness and holiness—among people who are part of religious orders and lay people alike. It provides useful perspective and guidance on serving others, especially the infirm; showing hospitality, even to strangers; maintaining a balance in one’s daily schedule; and reverencing Christ and His word.

This book of precepts is the formative inspiration for Trappist life and a guide for ordering our daily existence. It describes important concepts, such as obedience, silence and humility. It suggests ways to handle sacred practices and everyday tasks. And it helps define roles, relationships and expectations for those living in community.

The constitutions of our order interpret Benedict’s rule for our time. We frequently revisit the rule and reflect on how we might honor the vision of St. Benedict in the context of a modern world so radically different from his.

Medieval Origins

In the early part of the fifth century, as the Roman Empire began to crumble and was sacked by invaders, the Catholic Church was also undergoing a period of change and discord. In growing numbers, people were attracted to religious life, and increasingly they left places of solitude to live communal lifestyles.

St. Benedict emerged as an inspiring, guiding figure for many immersed in monastic life—and soon it became clear that this lifestyle should be better defined. Studying older teachings in combination with his own experiences, Benedict compiled and refined a set of rules that, in the collective, came to be known as the Rule of St. Benedict.

Wider Adoption

At first, St. Benedict’s Rule was followed only by the monks of Monte Cassino, a monastery he founded. When this monastery was invaded and destroyed, the monks who fled took the rule with them and preserved it for posterity. In the sixth and seventh centuries the rule took root in Ireland and traveled to France and parts of Europe.

King Charlemagne, intending to unify all Romanic and German peoples, chose Benedict’s rule to create a uniform discipline across all monasteries of the realm.

In 1098, the Abbey of Citeaux was founded in southern France by monks who wanted to return to the original observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. These monks, called Cistercians, are the ancestors of we who are called Trappists today.

In 1803, the first Trappists came to America fleeing persecution under Napoleon and later led the foundation of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. Today Trappist monasteries of men and women across the United States continue to witness the wisdom and beauty of the Benedictine way of life as envisioned by St. Benedict in his rule.