Ampleforth Abbey

25 February 2018

Silence: St Benedict's Insights


Abbot Patrick Barry OSB comments upon Chapter 6 of the Rule of St Benedict, which discusses St Benedict's attitude towards silence. Abbot Patrick is the oldest member of the Ampleforth community. In his many years of monastic life, he has served in a wide variety of roles. In addition to teaching Classics in the College, he was a housemaster and later became headmaster of Ampleforth College. From 1984 until 1997, he served as Abbot of Ampleforth.

There is always something deep about Benedict’s advice on life – something that requires us to stop and think about what we had hitherto taken for granted. Silence is one such example.

With radio television, iPods, cell phones and all the other devices of incessant, insistent, noisy communication, not only is all room for silence abolished but there is danger that all appetite for silence also is lost.

In the face of all this chattering world St Benedict quotes the words of a psalm: “I have resolved to keep watch over my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue” and “One who never stops talking cannot avoid falling into sin.” His plea is for moderation and self-control. You can shrug your shoulders and forget it, or you can accept Benedict’s intervention and face the fact that it has some importance for your life. Even lay life will be richer for those who do so.

Monks accept his point and monasteries have become rare and precious places where it is possible to rediscover our true self, hidden beneath the chattering surface, through quiet and silence and the inner cleanliness it brings.

That inner health that comes with regular times of silence is rudely denied to people in all the great cities of our world today where incessant din is inescapable.  It is a solemn thought that even at night time, from birth to death the children of city life today grow up and die without ever having the experience of a moment’s true silence. St Benedict’s understanding of silence would save them from that fate.