The Altenburg Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue

A Middle High German Version Adapted for Nuns (1505)

Translated by John E. Crean, Jr. University of Hawaii at Manoa

Honololu HI

The beginning of the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict.


1. Daughter, hear what your teacher is saying. Press closer to him with the ear of your heart. Willingly grasp what your dear father is warning you about, and see to it for sure

2. that through your obedient efforts you are able to return to that very same, sane teaching from which you strayed through idle disobedience.

3. You are the one I am talking to: you who would say no to your own wants, and prefer to serve our true King and Lord, Jesus Christ; you who would be willing to don her strongest and brightest armour, that of divine obedience.

4. First, whatever good work you begin, pray over it most earnestly, that you might follow through,

5. so that he who has so graciously numbered us among his children might at no time become saddened by our misdeeds.

6. At all times, his good works towards us should prompt our obedience towards him, lest like an angry father, he might perhaps disinherit his children.

7. Lest, as a dreaded master, he might become provoked with our bad behaviour. Lest he regard us as the most wicked of handmaidens and consign us to everlasting torture as persons unwilling to follow him to everlasting glory.

8. So we should get up! Because Holy Scripture awakens us and says it is now time we ought to arise from sleep,

9. and with our eyes wide open to see God's light, and our ears wide open to hear God's voice telling us, warning us daily:

10. “If today you hear his voice, do not hear it with a hard heart.”

11. And elsewhere the Bible says, “whoever has ears to listen with, let that person hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to Christianity.”

12. Well, what is God saying? Come here, my daughters, and hear me out I want to teach you the fear of the Lord.

13. Run as long as you have the light of life, lest death's darkness grasp hold of you.

14. Out of the multitude of all his people, the Lord is looking for an energetic woman to whom he will call and repeat, again and again:

15. “Who is she who would have life and desire to see good days?”

16. If you hear those words and answer me, then God will speak to you.

17. If you want for yourself real and lasting life, then teach your tongue not to utter malice, and seal your lips from forming inappropriate, disloyal words. Turn your back on evil and do good. Seek peace, and follow her path.

18. If you will do that, my eyes shall rest upon you, and my ears shall be attentive to your prayers. Even before you call out to me, I am already telling you: “Look, here I am!”

19. Dearest sisters: what now could be sweeter for us than to hear the voice of our Lord inviting us like this?

20. You can be sure of this: out of his pure goodness, our Lord points us in the way of eternal life.

21. So, if we have girded our loins with faith and kept up our good works, we will get to see him, being led there by the Holy Spirit. He has invited us into his very own home.

22. If we want to sit in his living room, we cannot arrive at his home empty-handed. We must come there with our good works in hand.

23. But let us converse with the Lord along with the prophet David, and say: “Lord, who will be able to visit with you in your home? Or who will stand with you on your holy hill?”

24. On this very subject, let us sisters hear our Lord as he answers us, in the very same breath pointing us towards home.

25. He is saying: “Whoever would enter here, let her enter without blemish, and bring about justice;

26. let her speak the truth in her heart and not bring forth disloyalty on her tongue.

27. Let her do no evil nor say anything nasty to her neighbour.

28. Those things the devil would whisper in her ear. Let her just chase those words off the face of her heart, along with all the rest of Satan's poisonous plans. Simply ignore him, and all his sick thoughts. A sister who has, has already dashed her own self-will against the Rock that is Jesus Christ.

29. Such sisters fear God and lean not on their own understanding. They know it is God within them, not they themselves, who makes possible their good works.

30. Such sisters praise and lift up the Lord, who is bringing to full bloom the good works within them. They echo the prophet David when he says, “Lord, honour your name, not our own.”

31. St. Paul, too, would not take credit for his own teachings when he said, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

32. He also said, “Whoever will boast, let her boast of God.”

33. Our Lord speaks about this in the Gospel when he says, “Whoever hears my words and carries them out, that person I would liken to a certain shrewd man who built his house on a rock.

34. The waters came and the winds blew into the house, but it did not fall, because it was built on a rock.”

35. Our Lord alone accomplished that. He waits each day to see if we will respond to his holy warnings with our works.

36. That is why the days of our lives are portioned out to us: for us to correct our sins.

37. As St. Paul says, “Do you not know that God's patience is what is calling you to penance?”

38. The good Lord says, “I do not want a sinner to die, but that she experience conversion and live.”

39. Now, very dear sisters, having asked our Lord about who will dwell in his home, we have heard his expectations for those who would dwell there. If we carry out those offices, then will we inherit the kingdom of heaven.

40. So let us get our hearts and bodies ready for all-out warfare in meeting the demands of holy obedience.

41. Whatever seems impossible to our own human nature, we need to ask God to supply us with, by the help of his grace.

42. If we want to avoid the pains of hell and come to life eternal,

43. while we occupy his dwelling, are still drawing breath, and can still accomplish things in our earthly lives,

44. we must run and do what profits our eternal lives.

45. In order for this to happen, it is necessary that we found “The Lord's Service Academy.”

46. In that school, it is not our intention to insist on anything hurtful or heavy,

47. but rather, guided by right reason, to apply a bit more rigour, to root out vices and to sustain love.

48. Therefore, do not become frightened right away and run from the road to recovery; you cannot get to that road except by starting out on the narrow path.

49. But by living out your life and your faith, by spreading your heart out so wide as to reach out and touch the sweetness of God's love: that is how we are supposed to run along the path of God's will.

50. Never retreating from the authority of his teaching, we remain set apart for life to remain under it. To whatever extent we patiently identify with Christ's suffering, in like measure do we merit becoming companions in his kingdom. Amen.