The Benedictine Way of the Heart

by Clarissa Anne

Clarissa Anne is a Resident Novice in the Feline Cloister. She loves welcoming visitors to the Paradise Cloister page of the website. She came to the Cloister to be with like-minded felines who were also looking for God.

Welcome to my first article.  I’m so glad you’re here to learn about the Benedictine Way of the Heart.   I will give you a little background on what influenced Benedict.  And then we’ll look at the Rule.


The Heart in Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition

The Heart in Scripture

I had no idea how often Scripture uses heart.  Me-yow!  Hundreds of times!  In Scripture, the heart is the core of the person.  What is important is held in the heart.  Heart and action are intimately joined together.  Actions both good and evil spring from the heart.  

“The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good,
and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the
abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”  Luke 6:45

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21

 “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”  Deu 30:14

 “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13

Remains of the church of the small monastery of Qubbet al-Hawwa, partially built in tombs on the west bank of Aswan. Photo by Karel Innemée.

The Heart in Monastic Tradition

Benedict inherited many generations of monastic thought and practice, including that of the heart.

The noted feline Benedictine scholar, Br Terrence Sebastian Furling, OSB-F, paws that “for the ancients the heart was not so much the seat of emotion as the seat of decision.” [1]

The goal was to have God in the heart as the source of thoughts and actions, and not ego-desires or vengeful anger.

John Cassian was a 4th century chronicler of Egyptian monastic life cited by Benedict as important reading in Chapter 73 in The Rule of St. Benedict.  Cassian wrote in his Conferences that the objective of monastic living was to have a pure heart.

“We must follow completely anything that can bring us to this objective, to this purity of heart, and anything which pulls us away from it must be avoided as being dangerous and damaging.”  [2]

The Rule as a Path to a Heart of Love

Benedict continues the monastic tradition of living from the heart.  I counted 33 appearances of “heart” in the Rule.  Ten of these are in Chapter 7 – Humility.  Makes sense to me because humility is the opposite of pride.  Pride closes us off.  Humility helps us  open our hearts to others.

What is interesting is that most occurrences of the word heart in the early chapters, before Chapter 20 – Reverence in Prayer.  This doesn’t mean that Benedict left the heart behind.  I mew an emphatic, “No!”  In these later chapters he shows us in even more detail what living from the heart looks like as we strive to form a heart of love.


The Inner Attitude

For Benedict attitude and action are to be in alignment.  In other words, our inner attitude needs to be a mirror of outward action.  This can be difficult.

Have you ever grumbled while you were doing a task, maybe even something that benefited others?

Benedict insists that our inward attitudes must match the outward actions we take.  Most of the mentions of the heart fall under the category of having the right inner attitude.  The right attitude would be that of love, care, compassion, etc.

Amma’s favorite image of the compassionate St. Benedict
Malling Abbey, England

“If disciples obey grudgingly and grumble, not only aloud but also in their hearts, then, even though the order is carried out, their actions will not be accepted with favor by God, who sees that they are grumbling in their hearts.”  RB 5.17-18

Novice Sebatian Thomas’ Aunt Flossy who does good works, but grumbles while doing them.

Here are a few more examples.

“As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual guide.”  RB 4.50

The heart can bring forth thoughts and actions that do not support the objective of having a heart of love, a heart filled with God.  Sharing with a trusted spiritual guide or friend will help lessen the negative impact of what Benedict calls “wrongful thoughts.”

In Chapter 7, Benedict clearly states the importance of the heart in how we act.

“The twelfth step of humility is that we always manifest humility in our bearing no less than in our hearts, so that it is evident at the Opus Dei, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else.”  RB 7.62-63

Outward Action


To act from a pure heart takes practice and guidance.  Here are some ideas from the Rule beginning with the very first, and hopefully familiar, first verse of the Rule.

“Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” Prologue 1

Benedict is asking us to listen from the very core of our being, from the deepest place where we draw on God’s Presence Within – our heart. 



Prospective Novice Pumpkin and
Artie the Squirrel listen
from the heart


The Rule of St. Benedict is a handbook for love, the kind of love that brings care and compassion to others.  Here is the first verse in Chapter 4 – The Tools for Good Works,

“First of all, “love God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27). RB 4.1-2

In his commentary on the Rule, ninth century monk Smaragdus had this to say about the verses above.

“…when [God] orders us to love with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength he has left no part
of our life that is entitled to be free from, or empty of the love of God.” [3]

Samaragdus really make me purr here!  Every part of  life we live from the heart can be steeped in God’s love flowing through us.  Wow!  This is what living from the heart is all about!

Loving our neighbor

Truthful Living

Living truthfully is another Benedictine heart practice.

“Rid your heart of all deceit.”  RB 4.24

“Those who walk without blemish and are just in all dealings; who speak truth from the heart and have not practiced deceit;”  Prologue 24-26

Benedictine scholar and author just discovered by the Feline Cloister, Sr. Hildegard Maria Ramos, OSB-F, mewed this about truth:

“Benedict is not concerned with pious facades.  It is the heart that musy be changed….Many have one thing in their heart, yet utter something else from their mouths.”  [4] 

Why is it dangerous to hold deceit in our hearts?  We then allow the devil to occupy our minds.

Seek God’s Kingdom

We can focus on things that draw us away from the good treasure of the heart.  We are cautioned by the wise abbot Benedict.

“Our God says: “Take care that your hearts are not weighted down with overindulgence” (Luke 21:34).”
RB 4.39.

Although Benedict is speaking here about too much food, I think overindulgence in anything weighs down our hearts and blunts our minds.  We focus on whatever we want more of (food, praise, affirmation, having the best fur and the most toys, the best computer or the best smartphone, etc.).  We forget that our heart is to focus on God.

Not this………..

……………but this!

For an interesting article on mindful eating click here

Monastic Spirituality and the Heart

“Monastic spirituality is a spirituality of the heart.” [5] We are to live from our personal center – the heart, a pure heart that seeks God and cares for others.

In Scripture God comes to us and speaks to our heart.  Benedict affirms this through the importance of lectio divina in the Rule.

“Listen readily to holy reading.”  RB 4.55

“On Sunday all are to be engaged in reading except those who have been assigned various duties.”  RB 48.22

In her book Why the Rule of St. Benedict is Not Just for Humans, Benedictine scholar Sr. Scholastica Muffin, OSB-F, writes,

“The heart, for Benedict as well as in Sacred Scripture, not only designates the core of a person with its power of loving, but also the ability to think.  Benedict mentions the heart especially when envisioning the monastics in their relationship to God and when confronting Sacred Scripture.

“The heart is the field into which the seed of the Word of God falls.  The ear should be connected to it.  The heart that receives the Word of God also receives the life of God and so can expand to become God’s dwelling.”  [6]

Closing Thoughts

There is so much more I could share but I don’t want to wear you out!  If you would like to take a look at the chart I put together “Occurrences of ‘Heart’ in the Rule of St. Benedict,” jump to Heart Research from Novice Clarissa Anne.

I encourage you to take a look at the article, “Do Not Harden Your Heart” in Felines Unpack the Rule of Benedict.  In this article our novice scholar Little Jenny unpacks Prologue 10.  You can reach the article here.

Thank you for reading my first article.  I love that the Rule draws us into a heart aligned with God.  Hope you do too!


Your faithful Benedictine friend,

Resident Noice Clarissa Anne

Visit Novice Clarissa Anne on the Paradise Cloister page.  Tap here.

Resident Novice
Clarissa Anne
purrs her blessings to you

“But as we progress in this way of life and in faith,
we shall run on the path of God’s commandments,
our hearts overflowing
with the inexpressible delight of love.”

Prologue 49


[1]  Terrence G. Kardong, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 418.

[2]  Cassian, John. Conferences.  Classics of Western Spirituality. Translated by Colm Luibheid. (New York: Paulist Press, 1985),  Conference 1.5, p. 40 .

[3]  Samaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2007), 163.

[4]  Ibid., 194 and Michael Casey, OCSO, A Guide to Living the Truth: Saint Benedict’s Teaching on Humility (Liguori, MS: Liguori/Triumph, 2001), 149.

[5]  Micael Casey, OSB, The Undivided Heart: The Western Monastic Appraoch to Contemplation (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1994), 36.

[6]  Aquinata  Böckmann, OSB, Perspectives on the Rule of St. Benedict: Expanding our Hearts in Christ (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2005.  Originally published in German in 1986), 17, 18.

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