CELT document T201052

Monks' Rules


Here begin the Chapters of the Rule.

  1. Of Obedience.
  2. Of Silence.
  3. Of Food and Drink.
  4. Of Overcoming Greed.
  5. Of Overcoming Vanity.
  6. Of Chastity.
  7. Of the Choir Office.
  8. Of Discretion.
  9. Of Mortification.
  10. Of the Monk's Perfection.

Columbanus Hibernus

Regula Monachorum

English Translation

Edited by G. S. M. Walker


1. Monks' Rule

Here begins the Monks' Rule of St. Columban the Abbot.

First of all things we are taught ‘to love God with the whole heart and the whole mind and all our strength, and our neighbour as ourselves;’ (Matt. 22.37 et 39) next, our works.

1. Of Obedience

At the first word of a senior, all on hearing should rise to obey, since their obedience is shown to God, as our Lord Jesus Christ says: ‘He who hears you hears Me.’ (Luc. 10.16)(II)

Therefore if anyone hearing the word does not rise at once, he is to be judged disobedient. But he who answers back incurs the charge of insubordination, and thus is not only ‘guilty of disobedience, but also, by opening the way of answering back’ (Cf. Basil. (transl. Rufin.) Interrog. 69) for others, is p.125 to be regarded as the destroyer of many. (III) Yet if any murmurs, he too, as though not obeying heartily, must be considered disobedient. Therefore ‘ let his work be rejected,’ (cf. Basil. Interrog. 71) until his goodwill be made known. But up to what measure is obedience laid down? ‘Up to death’ (cf. Basil. Interrog. 65, Cassian. Inst. xii. 28) it is assuredly enjoined, since Christ obeyed the Father up to death for us. And this He suggests to us saying through the Apostle: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who though He was in the form of God, thought it no prize to snatch at to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, being made obedient to the Father up to death, even the death of the cross.’ (Phil. 2. 5-8) Thus nothing must be refused in their obedience by Christ's true disciples, however hard and difficult it be, but it must be seized with zeal, with gladness, since if obedience is not of this nature, it will not be pleasing to the Lord Who says: ‘And he who does not take his cross and follow Me, is not worthy of Me.’ (Matt. 10. 38) And thus He says of the worthy disciple, how that ‘Where I am, there is My servant also with Me.’ (Ioann. 12.26 )

2. Of Silence (IV)

The rule of silence is decreed to be carefully observed, since it is written: ‘But the nurture of righteousness is silence and peace.’ (Isa. 32.17 ) And thus, lest one be apprehended as guilty of much talking, it is needful that he keep silence, except for things profitable and necessary, since according to Scripture, ‘in many words sin will not be lacking.’ (Prov. 10.19) Therefore the Saviour says: ‘By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ (Matt. 12.37) Justly will they be damned who would not say just things when they could, but preferred to say with garrulous loquacity what is evil, unjust, irreverent, empty, harmful, dubious, false, provocative, disparaging, base, fanciful, blasphemous, rude, and tortuous. Therefore we must keep silence on these and kindred matters, and speak with care and prudence, lest either disparagements or swollen oppositions should break out in vicious garrulity.

3. Of Food and Drink (V)

Let the monks' food ‘be poor and taken in the evening,’ (cf. Hieron. Epist. lviii. 6) such as to ‘avoid repletion,’ (cf. Hieron. Epist. xxii. 17) and their drink such as to avoid intoxication, so that it p.127 may both maintain life and not harm; vegetables, beans, flour mixed with water, together with the small bread of a loaf, lest the stomach be burdened and the mind confused. For indeed those who desire eternal rewards must only consider usefulness and use. Use of life must be moderated just as toil must be moderated, since this is true discretion, that the possibility of spiritual progress may be kept with a temperance that punishes the flesh. For if temperance exceeds measure, it will be a vice and not a virtue; for virtue maintains and retains many goods. Therefore we must fast daily, just as we must feed daily; and while we must eat daily, we must gratify the body more poorly and sparingly; since we must eat daily for the reason that we must go forward daily, pray daily, toil daily, and daily read.

4. Of Poverty and of Overcoming Greed (VI)

By monks, to whom for Christ's sake ‘the world is crucified and they to the world,’ (cf. Gal. 6.14) greed must be avoided, when indeed it is reprehensible for them not only to have superfluities, but even to want them. In their case not property but will is required; and they, leaving all things and daily following the Lord Christ with the cross of fear, have ‘treasures in heaven.’ (cf. Matt. 19.21) Therefore, while they will have much in heaven, on earth they should be satisfied with the small possessions of utter need, knowing that greed is a leprosy for monks who copy the sons of the prophets, and for the disciple of Christ it is revolt and ruin, for the uncertain followers of the apostles also it is death. Thus then ‘nakedness and disdain of riches’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. 43 ) are the first perfection of monks, but the second is the ‘purging of vices,’ (cf. Cassian. Conl. xiv. I) the third the most perfect and perpetual love of God and unceasing affection for things divine, which follows on the forgetfulness of earthly things. Since this is so, ‘we have need of few things, according to the word of the Lord, or even of one.’ (Luc. 10.42) For few things are true necessities without which life cannot be led, or even one thing, like food according to the letter. But we require purity of feeling by the grace of God, that we may understand spiritually what are those few gifts of love which are offered to Martha by the Lord.


5. Of overcoming Vanity (VII)

How dangerous vanity also may be is shown by a few words of the Saviour, Who said to His disciples when they exulted in this vanity, ‘I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven,’ (Luc. 10. 18) and Who says to the Jews when once they excused themselves, ‘But what is lofty among men is an abomination in the Lord's sight.’ (Luc. 16. 15) By these and by that most notorious case of the Pharisee who excused himself, we gather that vanity and proud self-esteem are the destroyer of all good things, when the Pharisee's vainly extolled goods perished and the publican's self-confessed sins vanished away. Then let no large word proceed from a monk's mouth, lest his own large labour perish.

6. Of Chastity (VIII)

A monk's chastity is indeed judged in his thoughts, and to him, along with the disciples who approached to hear, it is doubtless said by the Lord: ‘He who looks on a woman to lust after her has already defiled her in his heart.’ (Matt. 5. 28) For while his vow is weighed by Him to Whom he is devoted, there is cause to fear lest He should find in the soul something to loathe, lest perhaps according to the opinion of St. Peter they have ‘eyes full of wantonness and of adultery.’ (2 Pet. 2. 14) And what profit is it if he be virgin in body, if he be not virgin in mind? ‘For God, being Spirit,’ (cf. Hieron. Epist. xxii. 38 Ioann. 4. 24) dwells in the spirit and the mind which He has seen undefiled, in which there is no adulterous thought, no stain of a spirit polluted, and no spot of sin.

7. Of the Choir office

But concerning the synaxis, that is, the office of psalms and prayers in canonical manner, some distinctions must be drawn, since its observance has been variously bequeathed to our remembrance by different authorities. Thus, in accordance with the nature of man's life and the succession of the seasons, the same will be variously suggested by myself also in writing. For it should not be stereotyped in view of the mutual changes of the seasons; for it is fitting that it be longer on the long nights and shorter on the short ones. Hence, in agreement with our predecessors, from the twenty-fourth of June, while the night increases, the office p.131 begins to grow gradually from twelve chants of the shortest measure on the night of the Sabbath or the Lord's Day, up to the beginning of winter, that is, the first of November. Then they sing twenty-five antiphonal psalms [of twice the same number] which always follow third after two chanted, in such a way that within the two aforesaid nights they sing the entire total of the psalter, while they modify the remaining nights for the whole winter with twelve chants. At winter's end, gradually each week throughout the spring, three psalms are always dropped, so that only twelve antiphons remain on the holy nights, that is, the thirty-six psalms of the daily winter office, but it is twenty-four throughout the whole spring and summer and up to the autumn equinox, that is, the twenty-fourth of September. Then the fashion of the synaxis is like that on the spring equinox, that is, the twenty-fifth of March, while by mutual changes it slowly grows and lessens.

Thus we must weigh our watching according to our strength, especially when we are bidden by the Author of our salvation to watch and ‘pray at all times,’ (Luc. 21. 36) and when Paul ordains: ‘Pray without ceasing.’ (I Thess. 5. 17) But since we must know the manner of canonical prayers, in which all gather together at appointed hours in common prayer, at the conclusion of which each should pray ‘in his own cell,’ (cf. Matt. 6.6; cf. Cassian. Inst. iii. 3 ) our predecessors have appointed three psalms at each of the day-time hours, considering the interruption of work, together with an addition of versicles which intercede first for our own sins, then for all Christian people, then for priests and the other orders of the holy flock that are consecrate to God, finally for those that do alms, next for the concord of kings, lastly for our enemies, that God reckon it not to them for sin that they persecute and slander us, since ‘they know not what they do.’ (Luc. 23. 34) But at night-fall twelve psalms are chanted, and at midnight twelve likewise; but towards morning twice ten and twice two are appointed, as has been said during the seasons of short p.133 nights, while more, as I have already said, are always ordained for the night of the Lord's Day and Sabbath vigil, on which seventy-five are sung individually in the course of one office.

These things are said with reference to the communal synaxis. However, as I have said, the true tradition of praying is that the capacity of the man devoted to this work should be realized without wearying of his vow, whether the excellence of his capacity allows this, or whether his mental grasp or physical condition could allow it, considering his limitations, and that it should be realized as far as the zeal of each demands, if he be unhampered and alone, or as far as the scope of his learning requires, or the leisure of his position, the amount of study, the type of occupation and the difference of ages permits, although this is to be reckoned as the excellence of a single work in such various ways, because it alternates with labour and circumstance. And thus, although the length of standing or singing may be various, yet the identity of prayer in the heart and mental concentration that is unceasing with God's help will be of a single excellence. However there are some Catholics, who have the same ‘canonical number twelve of psalms,’ (cf. Cassian. inst. ii. 4 et 12) whether on short nights or on long ones, but they render this canon in four portions during the night; that is, at nightfall and at midnight and at cock-crow and at morning. And as this office seems small to some in winter, so in summer it is found burdensome and heavy enough, while with its frequent risings in the night's short length it causes not so much weariness as exhaustion. But on the most holy nights, namely on those of the Lord's Day or the Sabbath, three times the same number is performed at morning, that is, with thrice ten and six psalms. The crowds of these men and their holy life have directed many to this canonical number with sweet delight, as well as to the rest of their discipline, in the belief that none is found weary under their rule. And though their crowds are so great that a thousand fathers are said to live under one archimandrite, yet there, from the foundation of the community, no quarrel is related to have been seen between two monks; and without the dwelling there of God Who says, ‘I will dwell with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be My people,’ (2 Cor. 6. 16) this clearly could not happen. Therefore they have grown deservedly, and they grow daily—thanks be to God—in whose midst God dwells, and through whose merits may we merit salvation from our Lord and Saviour.



8. Of Discretion (IX)

How necessary discretion is for monks is shown by the mistake of many, and ‘indicated by the downfall of some, who beginning without discretion and passing their time without a sobering knowledge, have been unable to complete a praiseworthy life;’ (cf. Cassian. Conl. ii. 2) since, just as error overtakes those who proceed without a path, so for those who live without discretion intemperance is at hand, and this is always the opposite of virtues which are placed in the mean between each extreme. Its onset is a matter of danger, when beside the straight way of discretion our foes place the stumbling-blocks of wickedness and the offences of various mistakes.

(X) Therefore we must pray God continually that He would bestow the light of true discretion to illumine this way, surrounded on every side by the world's thickest darkness, so that His true worshippers may be able to cross this darkness without error to Himself. So discretion has got its name from discerning, for the reason that it discerns in us between good and evil, and also between the moderate and the complete. For from the beginning either class has been divided like light and darkness, that is, good and evil, after evil began through the devil's agency to exist by the corruption of good, but through God's agency Who first illumines and then divides. Thus righteous Abel chose the good, but unrighteous Cain fell upon evil.

(XI) God made all things good that He created, but the devil sowed evils over them by cunning craftiness and the sly inducement of a perilous design. What things then are good? Doubtless those which are ‘untouched, and have remained in the undefiled state of their creation;’ (cf. Cassian. Conl. viii. 24 ) which ‘God [alone] created and prepared, [according to the Apostle], that we should walk in them; [which are] the good works in which in Christ Jesus we were created,’ (cf. Eph. 2. 10) namely goodness, innocence, righteousness, justice, truth, pity, love, saving peace, spiritual joy, together with the fruit of the Spirit—all these with their fruits are good. But to these the evils are opposed, namely wickedness, seduction, unrighteousness, injustice, lying, greed, hatred, discord, bitterness, together with their manifold fruits, things which are born from them. For countless are the things that are produced from the two opposites, that is, from goods and evils.

(XII) But what departs from its established goodness and innocence is the first evil, which is the pride of primal wickedness; the opposite of which is the lowly esteem of a righteous p.137 goodness that acknowledges and glorifies its Creator, and this is a rational creature's first good. Thus the rest also have gradually grown to a huge forest of names in two sections. Since this is so, the good must be firmly held by those that have God's help, which is ever to be prayed for in prosperity and in adversity, lest either in prosperity we be lifted up to pride, or in adversity be cast down to despair. Thus we must always restrain ourselves from either danger, that is, from all excess by a splendid temperance and true discretion, which cleaves to Christian lowliness and opens the way of perfection to Christ's true soldiers, namely by ever discerning rightly in doubtful cases, and everywhere dividing justly between good and evil, whether between both in external acts, or between flesh and spirit in the inner life, or between good works and character, or between action and contemplation, or between official duty and private devotion. Therefore the evils are to be equally avoided, pride, ill will, lying, seduction, unrighteousness, wicked transgression of morality, gluttony, fornication, avarice, wrath, dejection, inconstancy, vainglory, boasting, slander; the goods of the virtues are also to be followed, lowliness, kindness, purity, obedience, temperance, chastity, liberality, patience, cheerfulness, constancy, zeal, persistence, watchfulness, silence, which through an enduring courage and sobering moderation, as in some weighing balance of discretion, are to be weighed in the performance of our customary work, according to the capacity of our endeavour, if everywhere we seek sufficiency. For it is doubtful to none that ‘the man to whom sufficiency is not enough’ (cf. Sulp. Sev. Dial. i. 18) has overstepped the measure of discretion, and whatever oversteps the very measure is clearly a vice.

(XIII) Thus between the little and the excessive there is a reasonable measure in the midst, which ever recalls us from every superfluity on either side, and in every case posited provides what is universally fixed by human need, and spurns the unreasonable demand of superfluous desire. And this measure of true discretion, weighing all our actions in the scales of justice, in no wise allows us to err from what is just, or to suffer a mistake, if we ever follow straight behind it as our leader. For while we must always restrain ourselves from either side, according to that saying, ‘Keep yourselves from the right and from the left,’ (cf. Deut. 5. 32) we must ever proceed straight forward by discretion, that is, by the light of God, p.139 while very often we say and sing the victorious psalmist's verse, ‘My God, enlighten my darkness, since in Thee I am rescued from temptation.’ (Ps. 17. 28) ‘For temptation is the life of man on earth.’ (Iob 7. 1)

9. Of mortification (XIV)

The chief part of the monks' rule is mortification, since indeed they are enjoined in Scripture, ‘Do nothing without counsel.’ (Ecclus. 32. 24) Thus if nothing is to be done without counsel, ‘everything must be asked for by counsel.’ (cf. Cassian. Conl. ii. 10) Thus we are enjoined through Moses also, ‘Ask thy father and he will show thee, thy elders and they will tell thee.’ (Deut. 32. 7) But though this training seem hard to the hard-hearted, namely that a man should always hang upon the lips of another, yet by those who are fixed in their fear of God it will be found pleasant and safe, if it is kept wholly and not in part, since nothing is pleasanter than safety of conscience and nothing safer than exoneration of the soul, which none can provide for himself by his own efforts, since it properly belongs to the judgement of others. For what the judge's examination has already tried preserves from the fear of censure, and on him is laid the weight of another's burden, and he bears all the peril that he undertakes; for, as it is written, the peril ‘of the judge [is greater than that] of the accused.’ (cf. Matt. 7.1. et seq.) So anyone who has always asked, if he follows will never err, since if the other's reply has erred, there will be no error in the faith of him who believes and the toil of him who obeys, nor will they lack the reward of his asking. For if he has considered anything by himself when he ought to have asked, he is proved guilty of error in this very fact that he dared to judge when he ought to have been judged; even though it turn out right, it will be reckoned to him as wrong, since he has departed from the right course in this; for the man to whose duty it belongs only to obey presumes to judge nothing by himself.

Then, since this is so, monks must everywhere beware of a proud independence, and learn true lowliness as they obey without murmuring and hesitation, that according to the Lord's word ‘[they may feel] the yoke [of Christ] pleasant and [His] burden light.’ (Matt. 11. 30) Otherwise, while they are learning the lowliness of Christ, they will not feel the pleasure of His p.141 yoke and the lightness of His burden. For lowliness of heart is the repose of the soul when wearied with vices and toils, and its only refuge from so many evils, and in so far as it is wholly drawn to the meditation of this from so many errant and empty things without, so far does it enjoy repose and refreshment within, with the result that even bitter things are sweet to it, and things before considered hard and toilsome it feels to be plain and easy, and mortification also, which is unbearable to the proud and hard-hearted, becomes his comfort who takes pleasure only in what is lowly and mild. But we must know that neither this bliss of martyrdom nor any other benefit that follows can be perfectly fulfilled by any, save him who has given particular attention to this, that he be not found unready. For if, in following this pursuit, he has wished to observe or nourish any of his own desires, at once occupied and wholly confused by concern for these intrusions, he will not always be able to follow thankfully where the commandment leads, nor can the disorderly and unthankful perform as is his duty.

Thus there is a threefold scheme of mortification: not to disagree in mind, not to speak as one pleases with the tongue, not to go anywhere with complete freedom. Its part is ever to say to a senior, however adverse his instructions, ‘Not as I will but as thou wilt,’ (Matt. 26. 39) following the example of the Lord and Saviour, Who says, ‘I came down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him Who sent Me, the Father.’ (Ioann. 6. 38)

10. Of the Monk's Perfection

‘Let the monk live in a community under the discipline of one father and in company with many, so that from one he may learn lowliness, from another patience. For one may teach him silence and another meekness. Let him not do as he wishes, let him eat what he is bidden, keep as much as he has received, complete the tale of his work, be subject to whom he does not like. Let him come weary to his bed and sleep walking, and let him be forced to rise while his sleep is not yet finished. Let him keep silence when he has suffered wrong, let him fear the superior of his community as a lord, love him as a father, believe that whatever he commands is healthful for himself, and let him not pass p.143 judgement on the opinion of an elder, to whose duty it belongs to obey and fulfil what he is bidden’ ([for the entire chapter] cf. Hieron. Epist. cxxv. 15) as Moses says, ‘Hear, O Israel,’ (Deut. 6. 4) and the rest.


2. Communal Rule

Here begins the Communal Rule of the Fathers.

  1. Of confession before meat or entering our beds, and of keeping grace at table, likewise also of silence.
  2. That the lamp should be blessed, and of him who has called anything his own, and of the management of the knife at table, and of him who has lost anything in serving, and of prostration in the synaxis, and of him who has lost the crumbs.
  3. Of him who has lost anything carelessly, and who has spilt anything on the table, and who on leaving the house has not bowed himself for prayer, and who forgets the prayer before work, and who eats without grace, and who on returning home has not bowed himself, and of him who has confessed all this.
  4. He who at the beginning of a psalm has not chanted well, and who has bitten the Lord's chalice with his teeth, and who has not kept his place, and who has laughed in the synaxis, and who receives blessed bread, and who forgets to make the offering. Of idle tales and of self-excuse, and of setting counsel against counsel, and of striking the altar.
  5. Of him who utters a loud speech, and who excuses himself, and who contradicts a brother in pointing something out, and that those who excuse themselves are not the sons of God.
  6. Of him who has said a proud word, and who utters a loud speech, and who conceals someone's fault until he may utter it for a bad end, and who censures another's works, and who utters reproof against reproof.
  7. Of him who slanders another, and of the argumentative, and him who censures his superior, and of him who has been melancholy, and who entices his brother to evil, and who condemns another's obedience.
  8. Of him who instructs his brother against his own senior, and who gainsays his case to his prior, and who does not ask pardon when reproved, and who wishes to be the visitor of others, and those who visit the kitchen without orders, and who go outside the bounds, and who speak together when forbidden, and who say that they are not permitted to do what they are asked, and of those who say “We are doing what you tell us,” and who knowingly transgress, and of him whose chrismal has fallen off.
  9.  p.145
  10. Of him who utters an idle word, and of brethren doing penance, and of minor penances.
  11. Of a brother who has been disobedient, and who says and does not, and who murmurs, and who fails to seek pardon or excuses himself, and who provokes two brethren to anger, and of lying, and of him who contradicts a brother, and who breaks a commandment, and who does the work enjoined him with negligence, and who slanders his abbot, and who forgets or loses something out of doors.
  12. Of him who speaks with a lay person, and who completes his work and then does something without orders, and of him who is double-tongued, and who eats in a strange house, and who tells a past sin, and who on returning from the world tells also of worldly things, and of him who is the accomplice of one who does something contrary to the injunction of the rule.
  13. Of him who excites wrath in his brother, and of him who does not come to grace at table, and who sleeps at prayer, and who does not respond “Amen”, and who neglects an hour-office, and who does not hear the call to prayer, and who communicates in his night-garment.
  14. Of him who on the fourth and sixth day eats before nones, and who tells a lie, and who sleeps in the same house as a woman, and who does not close the church behind him, and who spits in church, and who is forgetful of psalmody.
  15. Of him who comes too slowly to some signal, and who makes a sound after the peace, and who enters with his head covered, and who does not ask a prayer, and who eats without praying, and who makes a noise during prayers, and who retains anger or melancholy.
  16. Of neglect in the offerings.

Here end the chapters.

Here begins the actual Communal Rule of the Brethren.

A diversity of faults should be cured by the application of a diversity of penance. Therefore, my dearest brethren:

It has been ordained, my dearest brethren, by the holy fathers that we make confession before meat or before entering our beds or whenever it is opportune of all failings, ‘not only mortal ones, but also of minor omissions’ (cf. Caesar. Arelat. Serm. 235. 4) since confession and penance free from death. Therefore not even the very small sins are to be omitted from confession, since, as it is written, ‘He who  p.147 omits small things gradually declines’ (seq. Ecclus. 19. 1) so that confession should be made before meat, before entering our beds, or whenever it is opportune to make it.

Thus him who has not kept grace at table and has not responded “Amen”, it is ordained to correct with six blows. Likewise him who has spoken while eating, not because of the wants of another brother, it is ordained to correct with six. If one has called anything his own, with six blows. And him who has not blessed the spoon with which he sups with six blows, and him who has spoken with a shout, that is, has talked in a louder tone than the usual, with six blows.

If he has not blessed the lamp, that is, when it is lighted by a younger brother and is not presented to a senior for his blessing, with six blows. ‘If he has called anything his own,’ (cf. Basil. (transl. Rufin.) Interrog. 29, Cassian. Inst. iv. 13) with six blows. If he has done some idle work, with six blows. Let him who has cut the table with a knife be corrected with ten blows. Whoever of the brethren, to whom the care of cooking or serving has been entrusted, has spilt any drop, it is ordained to correct him by prayer in church after the end of the office, so that the brethren pray for him. Let him who has forgotten the prostration at the synaxis, that is, at the office, namely the prostration in church after the end of each psalm, do penance likewise. In the same manner let him who has lost the crumbs be corrected by prayer in church; yet this small penance is only to be assigned to him, if it is something small that he has spilt.

But if through negligence or forgetfulness or failure of care he has lost more than usual either of fluids or of solids, let him do penance with a long pardon in church by prostrating himself without moving any limb while they sing twelve psalms at the twelfth hour. Or certainly if it is much that he spilt, according to the measures of beer or portions of whatever things he has lost in spilling through the occurrence of neglect, let him supply for an equal number of days what he had been accustomed to receive lawfully for his own use, and know that he has lost them to his cost, so that he drink water in place of beer. For what is spilt on the table and runs off it, we say that it suffices to seek pardon in his place.

‘Him who on leaving’ (cf. Hieron. Epist. xxii. 37) the house has not prostrated himself to ask a prayer, and after receiving a blessing has not sained himself, has not approached p.149 the cross, it is ordained to correct with twelve blows. Likewise him who has forgotten the prayer before work or after work, with twelve blows.

And him who has eaten without a blessing, with twelve blows. And let him who on returning home has not bowed himself within the house to ask a prayer, be corrected with twelve blows. But the brother who has confessed all these things and others as far as deserves an imposition, with half penance, that is, a modified penance, and so with these matters; thus we ordain to apportion meanwhile.

Him who through a cough has not chanted well at the beginning of a psalm, it is ordained to correct with six blows. Likewise him who has bitten the cup of salvation with his teeth, with six blows. Him who has not followed the order for the sacrifice for celebrating, with six blows. A priest when celebrating who has not trimmed his nails, and a deacon, whose beard has not been shaved, him who receives the sacrifice, approaches the chalice, straight from farm-work, with six blows. And him who is smiling at the synaxis, that is, at the office of prayers, with six blows; if his laughter has broken out aloud, with an imposition, unless it has happened pardonably. A priest, when celebrating, and a deacon, who are holding the sacrifice, should beware lest they wander with roving eyes; and if they neglect this, they must be corrected with six blows. He who has forgotten his chrismal when hurrying out to some work, with five times five blows; if he has dropped it on the ground in a field, and found it at once, with five times ten blows; if he has hung it on a tree, with thrice ten, if it remains there overnight, with an imposition. He who with unclean hands receives the blessed bread, with twelve blows. He who forgets to make the oblation right until they go to Mass, with a hundred blows.

He who tells idle tales to another, if he censures himself at once, with a mere pardon; but if he has not censured himself but has declined the way in which he ought to excuse them with an imposition of silence or fifty blows. He who brings forward an excuse honestly, when examination is made of something, and does not at once say in begging pardon, p.151 “It is my fault, I am sorry,” with fifty blows. He who honestly sets counsel against counsel, with fifty blows. He who has struck the altar, with fifty blows.

He who utters a loud speech without restraint, unless where there is need, with an imposition of silence or fifty blows. Let him who makes excuses for pardon do penance likewise. He who has replied to a brother on his pointing something out, “It is not as you say,” except for seniors speaking honestly to juniors, with an imposition of silence or fifty blows; unless this only be allowed, that he should reply to his brother of equal standing, if there is something nearer the truth than what the other says and he remembers it, “If you recollect rightly, my brother,” and the other on hearing this does not repeat his assertion, but humbly says, “I trust that you remember better; I have erred in speech by forgetfulness, and am sorry that I said ill.” These are the words of the sons of God, if ‘nothing be in rivalry, [as the apostle says,] nor in vain glory, but in lowliness of spirit each reckoning the other better than himself.’ (Phil. 2. 3) But let him who has excused himself be considered, not a spiritual son of God, but a carnal son of Adam.

Whoever has not quickly fled to the haven of rest of the Lord's humility, when opening the way of argument for others largely as he sticks to a word of pride, let him be cut off in his cell from the freedom of holy church in order to do penance, until his good will is made known, and through humility he be joined afresh to the holy congregation.

He who utters a loud speech to censure the porter's work, that the porter has not kept the hours well, with an imposition of silence or fifty blows. And he who conceals some fault when he sees it in his brother, until he is reproved over another failing or over the same, and then brings it forward against his brother, with three impositions. Let him who corrects or slanders other brothers' works, do penance with three impositions. Let him who utters reproof against reproof, that is, who chides one who is chiding him, likewise do penance with three impositions.

He who slanders a brother, or hears one slandering, and does not at once correct him, with three impositions. He who utters some abuse with spleen, let him likewise do penance with three impositions. He who in censuring something does not wish to show it to his immediate  p.153 superior, until he may show it to the senior father, with three impositions, unless all these things arise out of a confession of modesty. If a brother has been melancholy if possible, let him receive comfort, if he can contain himself, let him keep back his confession for the meanwhile, so that he may speak more modestly, when the melancholy has ceased let the brethren pray for him.

If anyone says to his brother, enticing him who dwells in the best spot, “It is better for you to live with us, or in some community,” with three impositions. And Let anyone who finds fault for showing obedience to a brother do penance likewise.

He who advises a relative when learning some skill or anything enjoined by the seniors, that he should rather learn reading, with three impositions.

He who dares to say to his immediate superior, “You shall not judge my case, but our senior, or the remaining brethren,” or, “We will all go to the father of the community,” must be punished forty days in penance, on bread and water unless he himself says lying prostrate before the brethren “I am sorry for what I said.” Any brother who is kept at some work, however wearied he be, yet let him speak in his own cause to the overseer thus, “If you agree, I shall speak to the abbot, but if not, I shall not speak”; in another's cause, “If you keep on, do not feel it hard if perhaps I speak to the abbot”; so that obedience may be observed.

He who does not bring back what he is furnished with until the morrow, if he himself remembers and brings it back, with six blows; if he forgets until it is sought for, with twelve. If anyone has forgotten to ask his due of penance until the morrow, with six blows. He who murmurs, who says, “I will not do it unless the abbot or prior tells me,” with three impositions. He who makes unnecessary journeys or detours, with twelve strokes. It is forbidden for any ‘to hold [another's] hand.’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. ii. 15)

Let the overseer provide for showing hospitality to arrivals, whether pilgrims or other brethren, and let all the brethren be ready to serve with all diligence for the sake of God. Although the overseer has not noticed or has not been present, let the remainder do carefully what is needful, and guard their baggage, until this is prepared and allotted to a keeper; but if they have neglected it, with a penance for this as seems good to be applied according to the judgement of the priest.


Let him who does not ask pardon when corrected do penance with an imposition. He who has visited other brethren in their cells without asking leave, let him do penance likewise; or if he has gone to the kitchen after nones without instructions or orders with an imposition; or if he has gone outside the wall, that is, outside the bounds of the monastery, without asking, with an imposition. Youths who are assigned a period for not speaking to each other, if they have transgressed it, with three impositions. Let them say this only, “You know that we are not allowed to speak with you.” And if anyone has commanded what they are not allowed, let them say, “You know that we are not allowed”; and if the other commands further, let him be condemned to three impositions, but let them say, “We do what you say”, so that the good of obedience may be preserved. But they must particularly beware, that just as they do not speak together amongst themselves, so they do not confer either through the lips of another brother. But if they have transgressed this knowingly, let them do penance in the same way as if they had spoken amongst themselves.

Let him whose chrismal has fallen off and without breaking anything, be corrected with twelve blows.

He who utters an idle word, to be condemned to silence for the two following hours, or to twelve blows.

Let brethren doing penance, however hard and dirty the work they do, not wash their heads except on the Lord's day, that is, the eighth, but if not, on every fifteenth day, or certainly on account of the growth of flowing locks, let each employ the judgement of his senior in washing. For turning aside from the way without asking leave or receiving a blessing, six blows. If the immediate superior is made aware of minor penances at table, let him impose them there, and let no more than twenty-five blows be given at one time.

Brethren doing penance, and those who need a penance of psalms that is, one for whom it has been necessary that he should chant further psalms on account of a night dream, because of a devilish delusion, or because of the nature of his dream should, when they need a penance of psalms, chant, some thirty, some twenty-four psalms in order, some p.157 fifteen, others twelve; and thus these persons, as penitents, knee on the Lord's night and in the season of Easter-tide.

If a monk to whom his abbot or immediate superior has given commandment, repeats the same command to the brethren, it must be kept in such a way that the junior obey the senior; yet let him be careful to see whether what he has told them be correct. If the abbot or principal overseer commands something, and the deputy overseer repeats something else, the monk himself must obey, though silently pointing out what the other principal has commanded; but within the monastery, let none command with another overriding commandment, except him who bears supreme authority.

From day-break until night let there be one change of clothing, and another at night; let clothes be changed in private. He who serves on the Lord's Day or on another feast, for the ablutions or for any want, requires one prayer before leaving and entering. But let him ask leave. If he is not going far, he requires the sign of the cross. Although he crosses himself while walking, yet it is not necessary that he turn towards the East. Anyone going out of the house in a hurry and crossing himself, does not require a turning to the East. Let him also do so when he meets any in walking, if he is in a hurry, asking a prayer, and bowing himself. In the house, where genuflexion is not suitable, an inclination only will be enjoined.

If any wishes, let him prepare the offering of the Lord's Day on the day of the Sabbath; when the ablutions are over the priests are to change, if it is possible, but let the deacons perform their proper service either before or after the exhortation.

If anyone has had an unclean dream, or has been defiled, or is doing penance, when the exhortation is given, he is bidden to stand. But on the great festivals, when they hear the signal to sit during the daily exhortation, when it is almost half-way through, they are told to sit. Then when all hear the signal for the synaxis that begins the day's assemblies, let them wash before entering the oratory, unless they have already washed. A cantor will be appointed to lead the chanting, and a subcantor; and let there be no bending of the knee, but only an inclination. Let the ranks who are senior be in the middle of the oratory, and the rest  p.159 stand by on right and left, except for the celebrant and him who serves him. And on every dominical festival let the hymn of the Lord's Day be sung, and on the opening day of Easter-tide. Now let him who has begun to approach the altar, to receive the sacrifice, prostrate himself thrice. And let novices, because they are untrained, and any who are such, not approach the chalice, and when the oblation is offered, let none be compelled by force to receive the sacrifice, except in case of necessity. And on every Lord's Day and festival, let him who has not been in the assembly of the brethren as they pour out prayers to the Lord, pray by himself, if some need compels him. And during the oblation let there not be much movement. A penitent also, when overtaken by the necessity of a journey, and walking with the rest who are lawfully using food, if the third hour has come and they are making a long march, let him also receive some measure of food for a portion, and let him receive what is lacking to it when he goes to rest.

But all the brethren together, every day and night at the time of prayers, on the ending of all psalms, should uniformly bend their knees in prayer, if bodily weakness does not prevent it, saying in silence, ‘O God make speed to save me, Lord make haste to help me.’ (Ps. 69. 1) And after they have chanted this verse silently thrice in prayer, let them rise uniformly from their bending in prayer, except on the Lord's Days and from the first day of holy Easter up to the fiftieth day, on which, while they bow themselves slightly in time of psalmody, let them without bending their knees pray carefully to the Lord.

If any brother has been disobedient, let him spend two days on one loaf and water. If any says, “I will not do it,” three days on one loaf and water. If any murmurs, two days on one loaf and water. If any does not seek pardon or mentions an excuse, two days on one loaf and water. If two brothers have had an argument and come to anger, two days on one loaf and water. If anyone maintains a falsehood and affirms his difference, two days on one loaf and water. If any contradicts a brother and does not ask his pardon, two days on one loaf. If any cuts short what he is bidden and breaks the rule, two days on one loaf and water. If any, p.161 when a task is enjoined him, actually does it carelessly, two days on one loaf and water. If any has slandered his abbot, seven days on one loaf and water; if his brother, twenty-four psalms, if a lay person, twelve psalms. If any forgets something out of doors, if it is comparatively small, twelve psalms, if it is greater, thirty psalms. If any has lost or destroyed something, according to its price, so also is his penance.

If any holds converse with a lay person unbidden, twenty-four psalms. If any, when he has completed his task, does not ask for something else and has done something unbidden, let him sing twenty-four psalms. If anyone has been double-tongued and distresses the hearts of the brethren, one day on a loaf and water. If any has eaten in a strange house unbidden and reaches his own house, one day on a loaf. If any has related a past sin, one day with a loaf. Or he who has walked in the world and speaks of the world's sin, one day on bread and water. And the lukewarm, who has heard someone murmuring and slandering or doing something against the rule and agrees to withhold confession, one day on a loaf.

If any excites anger in his brother and afterwards makes it up to him, and the other does not forgive him but sends him to his senior, he who has excited anger, twenty-four psalms, and the other, one day on bread and water. If any has wanted something and the overseer forbids and the abbot orders, five days. If any has not come to prayer at table and after food, let him sing twelve psalms. If any has slept while prayer is made, if often, twelve psalms, if not often, six psalms. If any does not say Amen, thirty lashes. If he has omitted an hour, fifteen psalms, songs of degrees, except for the morning hour in winter, twelve psalms. And he who has not heard the call to prayers, twelve psalms. If any comes to the sacrifice and his night girdle or garment around him, twelve psalms.

If any eats before the ninth hour on the fourth and sixth day, unless he be sick, let him live two days on bread and water. If any has told a lie unwittingly, fifty lashes; if he speaks wittingly and presumptuously, two days on bread and water. If his lie is contradicted and he p.163 affirms it, seven days on bread and water. If any monk has slept in the same house as a woman, two days on bread and water; if he did not know that he ought not, one day. If any does not shut the church, twelve psalms. If any spits and touches the altar, twenty-four psalms; if he touches a wall, six. If he forgets chanting or reading, three psalms.

If any comes too slowly to the prayers, fifty, or noisily, fifty, or if he is too slow in doing what he is told, fifty. If he has made a sound after the peace, fifty. If he has replied stubbornly, fifty. If he comes into the house with his head covered, fifty lashes. If he does not ask a prayer when he enters the house, fifty. If he eats without prayer, fifty. If he has spoken with something in his mouth, fifty. If he has caused a noise while prayer is made, fifty lashes. If any retains anger or spleen or ill will against his brother, according to the time he has kept it, so shall be his penance on bread and water; but if he has confessed on the first day, let him sing twenty-four psalms.

Whoever has lost the sacrifice and does not know where it is, let him do penance for a year. He who has shown neglect to the sacrifice, so that it is dried up and eaten by worms, with the result that it is reduced to nothing, let him do penance for half a year. He who has been guilty of neglect to the sacrifice, so that a worm is found in it and yet it is entire, let him burn the worm with fire and hide its ashes in the earth near the altar, and himself do penance forty days. And he who neglects the sacrifice, and it has been changed and the bread has lost its savour, if it is coloured red, let him do penance twenty days, if deep purple, let him do penance fifteen days. But if it has not been changed in colour, but is congealed, let him do penance seven days. But he who has immersed the sacrifice, let him drink the water immediately which was in his chrismal; let him eat the sacrifice. If it has fallen from a boat or a bridge or a horse, and not by neglect but through some chance, let him do penance for one day; but if he has submerged it through disrespect, that is, has waded out of the water and not taken thought for the danger of the sacrifice, let him do penance forty days. But if he has vomited the Supper on a day of sacrifice, with the excuse of richer food than usual and not through the vice of gluttony but of indigestion, twenty days; if because of ill health, let him do penance ten days on bread and water.


‘He who knows that his brother is sinning a [mortal] sin’ (cf. 1 Ioann. 5. 16) and does not correct him, must be reckoned a transgressor of the Gospel law, until he corrects the man about whose evil he kept silence, and confesses to the priest, so that for as long as his evil conscience kept silence, so long he may do penance in affliction. Let him who has kept silence about a small sin do penance with a similar reproof but not the same affliction, but with thirty strokes, or else let him sing fifteen psalms. If in the future he despises this and neglects trifling faults, let him do penance on bread and water, ‘so that the sinner may be reproved’ (cf. Matt. 18. 15) according to the Lord's command. But let him who corrects ungently, be taken note of, until he asks pardon from the brother who has been reproved, with thirty strokes also or fifteen psalms. He who upbraids another with a shameful sin, before he corrects him ‘alone between themselves,’ (cf. Matt. 18. 15) let him be reproved as the Lord says, until he makes it up to the one who has been upbraided, and let him do penance for three days on bread and water.<

He who breaks the rule of a particular command or of the general discipline, let him be expelled and remain without food, that he may be re-admitted on the morrow.

He who speaks freely to a woman quite alone without the presence of trusty persons, let him remain without food, or two days on bread and water, or two hundred strokes.

He who dares to make a journey without the permission of the superior, by going out free and unrestrained without any need, let him be chastised with fifty strokes. ‘The taking up of private work,’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. 16) with a hundred strokes, ‘the possession’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. id. ib.) of anything, which need does not universally allow the brethren, must be restrained with the loss of the same and a hundred strokes. But to cause to give or receive something necessary and lawful without orders, with twelve strokes, unless some reason forbids it, so that a prayerful reparation should win pardon.

He who speaks while eating, with six strokes. And the man whose voice carries from table to table, with six strokes; if he has sent a shout from the house out of doors or from outside into the house, with twelve strokes.

Leaving or entering the house or doing a task without prayer and the sign of the cross, with twelve strokes, if otherwise, with five strokes.

Saying mine or thine, with six strokes.

An affirmation honestly made against another, with six blows; if from argumentativeness, with a hundred strokes or an imposition of silence.

If he has not kept the order of chanting, with six blows.

If at the appointed time of silence he has dared to speak without necessity, with seventeen strokes.

If any has lost or wasted anything from the furniture of the monastery  p.167 through lack of regard, let him restore it by his own sweat and application of work, or in proportion to its value at the judgement of the priest let him do penance with an imposition, or one day on bread and water. ‘If he has lost or broken it not through lack of regard but by some accident, let him pay for his neglect not otherwise than by a public penance; when all the brethren are gathered at the synaxis he will ask pardon lying prostrate on the ground all the time, until the performance of the prayers is finished, and will receive it when he has been ordered at the abbot's judgement to rise from the floor. In the same way let any make satisfaction who has come too slowly when summoned to prayer or to some work.’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. 16)

‘If he has faltered in chanting a psalm, if he has replied needlessly, too harshly, or too proudly, with an imposition. If he has fulfilled the obedience enjoined too carelessly, with an imposition. If he has murmured even slightly, with an imposition. If preferring reading to work or obedience, with an imposition. If he has carried out his appointed duties too lazily, with an imposition. If at the dismissal of the synaxis he has not hastened back to his cell at once, with an imposition. If he has stood with another for a short time, with an imposition. If he has gone aside anywhere for a short space of time, with an imposition. If he has dared to converse at all with one who is not the partner of his cell, with an imposition. If he has held another's hand, with an imposition. If he has prayed with one who is excluded from prayer, with an imposition.’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. 16)

‘If he has seen any of his relatives or lay friends, or spoken to such unbidden, if he has received a letter from anyone, if he has dared to send one without asking his abbot, with an imposition. If he has hindered anyone from the fulfilment of a necessary deed, with an imposition. If through enthusiasm of mind he has gone beyond the lawful measure of devotion, with an imposition. If thanks to his own indifference he has dared to restrain another who is zealous from some lawful deed, with an imposition.’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. 16)

‘Thus far in like transactions also does spiritual censure proceed,’ (cf. Cassian. Inst. iv. 16) so that ‘the reproof which is given by several’ (2 Cor. 2. 6) may profit the sinner for salvation, and being more careful and diligent for the rest, through improvement of character he may be found saved by the goodness of God.

But he who has occasioned a brawl, let him do penance for seven days. However, he who has despised his immediate superior or spoken evil of the rule, is to be cast out, unless he himself says, I am sorry for what I said. Yet if he has not humbled himself, let him do penance for forty days, since he is infected with the disease of pride.

The talkative is to be punished with silence, the restless with the p.169 practice of gentleness, the gluttonous with fasting, the sleepy with watching, the proud with imprisonment, the deserter with expulsion. Let each suffer exactly in accordance with his deserts, that the just may justly live. Amen.

In every place and occupation the rule of silence is determined to be strictly kept, so that we may be cleansed from every vice as far as human weakness is able, which usually rushes into vices with a precipitate course of speech, and that we may utter with the mouth some edification for our neighbours, for whom our Saviour Jesus shed His holy blood, rather than abuse of the absent conceived in our heart, ‘[and altogether] idle words, [for which] we shall render an account [to a just Avenger].’ (cf. Matt. 12. 36)

These things have seemed good to be ordained for those who wish to take the high road to ‘the topmost peaks of heaven,’ (Ovid Met. ii. 3) and who, while the sins of savage men surround them in the darkness, wish to cleave to the One God, sent upon this earth. They shall doubtless receive immortal rewards with the highest joy, which never declines for ever.

Here ends the Communal Rule of St. Columban the Abbot. Thanks be to God.

3. Penitential

Of Penance here begins.

1. A

‘True penance is not to commit things worthy of repentance but to lament what has been committed.’ (cf. Ambr. De Quadrag. Serm. 9, Greg. Magn. Homil. in Evang. ii. 34. 15) But since this is annulled by the weakness of many, not to say of all, the measures of penance must be known. And thus a scheme of these has been handed down by the holy fathers, so that in accordance with the greatness of the offences the length also of the penances should be ordained.

‘Therefore, if any has sinned in thought, that is, has desired to kill a man, or to commit fornication, or to steal, or to feast in secret and be drunken, or indeed to strike someone, or to desert, or to do anything else like this, and has been ready in his heart to carry out these sins; let him do penance for the greater in half a year, for the less in forty days on bread and water.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 1-3)

But if any has sinned in act with the common sins, if he has committed the sin of murder or sodomy, let him do penance ten years; if he has committed fornication once only, let him do penance three years as a  p.171 monk, if oftener, seven years; if he has deserted and broken his vows, if he repents and returns at once, let him do penance a hundred and twenty days, but if after a period of years, three years.

If any has stolen, let him do penance for a year.

If any has perjured himself, let him do penance for seven years.

5. If any has struck his brother in a quarrel and spilt blood, let him do penance three years.

But if any has made himself drunk and vomited, or being overfed, for this reason has vomited the sacrifice, let him do penance forty days.

However, if he is forced by ill health to vomit the sacrifice, let him do penance seven days. If any has lost the sacrifice itself, let him do penance for a year.

If any has defiled himself, let him do penance for a year, if he is a Junior.

If any has borne false witness knowingly, let him do penance for two years, together with the loss or restitution of the object in dispute.

So much for ordinary cases; now for the slight sins of disorderly characters.

He who does something by himself without asking, or who contradicts and says, “I am not doing it,” or who murmurs, if it is a serious matter, let him do penance with three impositions, if a slight one, with one. An affirmation frankly made against another is to be rewarded with fifty strokes, but if it is made of design, with an imposition of silence; for if it is made through contentiousness, the penance should be for a week.

He who slanders or willingly hears a slanderer, let him do penance with three impositions; if it concerns the superior, let him do penance for a week.

He who has despised his immediate superior in pride, or has spoken evil of the rule, is to be cast out, unless he has said immediately, “I am sorry for what said;” but if he has not truly humbled himself, let him do penance forty days, because he is infected with the disease of pride.

The talkative is to be punished with silence, the restless with, the practice of gentleness, the gluttonous with fasting, the sleepy with watching, the proud with imprisonment, the deserter with expulsion; let each suffer exactly in accordance with his deserts, that the just may justly live.


The diversity of offences makes adiversity of penances. ‘For doctors p.173 of the body also compound their medicines in diverse kinds;’ (cf. Greg. Magn. Reg. Past. iii. 36) thus they heal wounds in one manner, sicknesses in another, boils in another, bruises in another, festering sores in another, eye diseases in another, fractures in another, burns in another. Then so also should spiritual doctors treat with diverse kinds of cures the wounds of souls, their sicknesses, offences, griefs, distresses, and pains. But since this gift belongs to few, namely to know to a nicety how to treat all things, how to restore the weak to a complete state of health, let us set out even a few prescriptions according to the traditions of our elders, and according to our own partial understanding, ‘for we prophesy in part and we know in part.’ (1 Cor. 13. 9)

First we must enact concerning mortal sins, such as are punished even by the cognizance of the law.

‘If any cleric has committed murder and killed his neighbour, let him do penance for ten years in exile. After these let him be restored to his native land, if he has performed his penance well on bread and water, being approved by the testimonial of the bishop or priest with whom he did penance and to whose care he was entrusted, on condition that he make satisfaction to the relatives of the slain, playing the part of a son, and saying, “Whatever you wish I will do for you.” But if he has not made satisfaction to his relatives, let him never be restored to his native land, but like Cain let him be a wanderer and fugitive upon the earth.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 23)

‘If any has fallen by the worst lapse and begotten a son, let him do penance as a pilgrim for seven years on bread and water. Then first at the discretion of the priest let him be restored to communion.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 12)

But if any has committed fornication as the Sodomites did, let him do penance for ten years, for the three first on bread and water, but for the seven others let him refrain from wine and meat, and let him never again live with another.

‘However, if any has committed fornication with women, but has not begotten a son, and it has not reached public knowledge; if he is a cleric, three years, if a monk or deacon, five years, if a priest, seven, if a bishop, twelve years.’ (cf. Excerpt. de libr. David. 7, Paen. Venniani 10-11)

‘If any has perjured himself, let him do penance seven years, and never take an oath again.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 22)

‘If any has destroyed someone by his magic art, let him do penance three years on bread and water by measure, and for three other years let him refrain from wine and meats, and then finally in the seventh year let him be restored to communion. But if any has used magic to excite love, and has destroyed no one, let him do penance on bread and water for a whole year, if a cleric, for half a year if a layman, if a deacon for two, if a priest for three; especially if any has thus produced abortion, on that account let each add on an extra two hundred and forty days, lest he be guilty of murder.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 18-20)


‘If any cleric has committed theft, that is, has stolen an ox or a horse, a sheep or any beast of his neighbour's, if he has done it once or twice, let him first make restitution to his neighbour, and do penance for a whole year on bread and water. If he has made a practice of this, and cannot make restitution, let him do penance three years on bread and water.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 25-26)

‘But if any cleric or deacon, or a man in any orders, who in the world was a layman with sons and daughters, after his profession has again known his wife, and again begotten a son of her, let him know that he has committed adultery, and has sinned no less than if he had been a cleric from his youth, and had sinned with a strange maiden, since he sinned after his vow, after he consecrated himself to the Lord, and has made his vow void. Therefore let him likewise do penance seven years on bread and water.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 27)

‘If any cleric has struck his brother in a quarrel and spilt blood, let him do penance for a whole year; if a layman, for forty days.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 8-9)

If any has defiled himself with his own hand or with an animal, let him do penance two years, if he is not in orders; but if he is in orders or under a vow, let him do penance three years, if his age does not forbid.

‘If any desires a woman and cannot commit the act, that is, if the woman does not allow him, let him do penance half a year on bread and water, and for a whole year let him refrain from wine and meats and the communion of the altar.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 17)

If any has lost the sacrifice, let him do penance for a year. If through drunkenness or greed he has vomited it up and cast it carelessly aside, let him do penance a hundred and twenty days on bread and water; but if through ill health, let him do penance seven days.

But these provisions are made for clerics and monks collectively; now for laymen.

‘Whoever has committed murder, that is, has killed his neighbour, let him do penance three years on bread and water as an unarmed exile, and after three years let him return to his own, rendering the due of affection and duty to the relatives of the slain; and thus after making satisfaction let him be restored to communion at the discretion of the priest.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 35)

‘If any layman has begotten a son by another's wife, that is, has committed adultery in violating his neighbour's bed, let him do penance for three years, refraining from the more appetizing foods and from his own wife, giving in addition the price of chastity to the husband of the violated wife, and thus let his guilt be cancelled by the priest.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 36)

But if any layman has committed fornication in sodomite fashion, that is, has sinned by effeminate intercourse with a male, let him do penance for seven years, for the three first on bread and water and salt  p.177 and dry produce of the garden, for the remaining four let him refrain from wine and meats, and thus let his guilt be remitted to him, and let the priest pray for him, and so let him be restored to communion.

‘But if any of the laity has committed fornication with women who are free from wedlock, that is, with widows or virgins, if with a widow, let him do penance for one year, if with a virgin, for two years, provided that he pays her relatives the price of her disgrace; yet if he has no wife, but has lain as a virgin with the virgin, if her relatives agree let her be his wife, but on condition that both first do penance for a year, and so let them be wedded.’ (cf. Excerpt. de libr. David. 6, Paen. Venniani 36)

But if any layman has committed fornication with an animal, let him do penance for a year, if he has a wife; yet if he has not, for half a year. Likewise also let him do penance who, having a wife, has defiled himself with his own hands.

If any layman or lay woman has smothered their child, let them do penance for a whole year on bread and water, and for two others let them refrain from wine and meats, and so first let them be restored to communion at the discretion of the priest, and then let such a husband use his bed lawfully. For the laity must know, that in the period of penance assigned to them by the priests it is not lawful for them to know their wives, except after the conclusion of the penance; for penance ought not to be halved.

If any layman has committed theft, that is, has stolen an ox or a horse or a sheep or any beast of his neighbour's, if he has done it once or twice, let him first restore to his neighbour the loss which he has caused, and let him do penance for a hundred and twenty days on bread and water. But if he has made a practice of stealing often, and cannot make restitution, let him do penance for a year and a hundred and twenty days, and further undertake not to repeat it; and thus let him communicate at Easter of the second year, that is, after two years, on condition that, out of his own labour, he first gives alms to the poor and a feast to the priest who adjudged his penance, and so let the guilt of his evil habit be annulled.

If any layman has perjured himself, if he did it out of greed, let him sell all his property and give it to the poor, and devote himself wholly to the Lord, and receive the tonsure, bidding farewell to the entire world, and until death let him serve God in a monastery. Yet if he did it, not out of greed, but in fear of death, let him do penance for three years on bread and water as an unarmed exile, and for two more let him refrain from wine and meats, and thus by offering a life for himself, that  p.179 is, by freeing a slave or maidservant from the yoke of bondage, and by doing many alms throughout two years, in which he may quite lawfully use all foods except meat, let him communicate after the seventh year.

‘If any of the laity has shed blood in a brawl, or wounded or maimed his neighbour, let him be compelled to restore all the damage he has done; but if he has nothing to pay with, let him first attend to his neighbour's work, while he is sick, and call in a doctor, and after his recovery, let him do penance for forty days on bread and water.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 9)

If any layman has become intoxicated, or eaten or drunk to the extent of vomiting, let him do penance for a week on bread and water.

‘If any layman has desired to commit adultery or fornication with a married woman, and has lusted after his neighbour's wife, and not committed the act, that is, has not been able to, because the woman did not allow him, yet he was ready to fornicate, let him confess his guilt to the priest, and so let him do penance for forty days on bread and water.’ (cf. Paen. Venniani 17)

But if any layman has eaten or drunk beside the temples, if he did it through ignorance, let him undertake forthwith never to do it again, and let him do penance forty days on bread and water. But if he did it in derision, that is, after the priest has declared to him that this was sacrilege, and if then he communicated at the table of demons, if it was only through the vice of greed that he did or repeated it, let him do penance for a hundred and twenty days on bread and water; but if he did it in worship of the demons or in honour of idols, let him do penance for three years.

If any layman in ignorance has communicated with the followers of Bonosus or other heretics, let him rank among the catechumens, that is, separated from other Christians, for forty days, and for another eighty days in the lowest rank of Christians, that is, among the penitents, let him wash away the guilt of his unsound communion. But if he did this in derision, that is, after he had been warned and forbidden by the priest not to pollute himself with the communion of an evil faction, let him do penance for a whole year and a hundred and twenty days, and for two other years let him refrain from wine and meats, and thus after imposition of hands by a Catholic bishop let him be restored to communion.

Finally we must add concerning the minor ordinances of monks.

If any has left the enclosure open during the night, let him do penance with an imposition; but if during the day, with twenty-four blows, if others were not following behind when he left it open. If p.181 someone has gone immediately in front of himself, let him do penance with an imposition.

If any, desiring a bath, has washed quite alone, let him do penance with an imposition. But if any, while washing lawfully in presence of his brethren, has done this standing, unless through the need for cleansing dirt more fully, let him be corrected with twenty-four strokes.

But if any, even while sitting in the bath, has uncovered his knees or arms, without the need for washing dirt, let him not wash for six days, that is, let that immodest bather not wash his feet until the following Lord's Day. Yet a monk, when standing privately alone, is permitted to wash his feet; while a senior even publicly, but with another washing his feet, is permitted to be washed standing.

But before sermon on the Lord's Day let all, except for fixed requirements, be gathered together, so that none is lacking to the number of those who hear the exhortation, except for the cook and porter, who themselves also, if they can, are to try hard to be present when the gospel bell is heard.

It is ordained that confessions be made carefully, especially of mental disturbances, before going to Mass, lest perhaps any should approach the altar unworthily, that is, if he does not have a clean heart. For it is better to wait until the heart is healed, and becomes a stranger to offence and envy, than rashly to approach the judgement of the throne. For Christ's throne is the altar, and His Body there with the Blood judges those who approach unworthily. Therefore, just as we must beware of mortal and fleshly sins before we communicate, so we must refrain and cleanse ourselves from interior vices and the sicknesses of a drooping spirit, before the covenant of true peace and the bond of eternal salvation.


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Title statement

Title (uniform): Monks' Rules

Title (original): Regula Monachorum

Title (supplementary): English Translation

Editor: G. S. M. Walker

Author: Columbanus Hibernus

Responsibility statement

translated by: G. S. M. Walker

Electronic edition compiled by: Marcos Balé

Funded by: University College, Cork and Professor Marianne McDonald via the CELT Project

Edition statement

2. Second draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 17210 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2004

Date: 2008

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T201052

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Availability: Copyright for the printed edition rests with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

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Primary Manuscripts

  1. 1
  2. (T) Turin Bibliotheca Nazionale G. V. 38 (s. IX–X), foll. 80v–90. (10 chapters).
  3. (Ti) Turin Bibliotheca Nazionale G. VII. 16 (s. IX2), foll. 2–13v. (10 chapters)
  4. (C) München Staatsbibliothek Clm 28118 (s. IX in.) fo1. 86v–98r. (10 chapters).
  5. (K) Zürich Kantonsbibliothek Rh. hist. 28 (s. IX), foll. 47–53v. (14 chapters).
  6. (G) St. Gall Stiftsbibliothek 915 (s. X) foll. 154–67. (14 chapters).
  7. (E) München Staatsbibliothek 14949 (Em. w. 6) (s. XV) foll. 8–16. (14 chapters).
  8. (Theta) Stuttgart Landesbibliothek cod. theol. oct. 64 (s. XII), foll. 93–100. (14 chapters).
  9. Admont Stiftsbibl. 331 (s. XIII), foll. 40v–43. (14 chapters).
  10. (Lambda) Bamberg Lit. 143 (olim B VI 15) (s. XII) foll. 63r–63v, 73v–78r. (14 chapters).
  11. (Pi) Fulda Aa 96 (s. XV) foll. 68v–70v. (14 chapters).
  12. (Sigma) Salzburg St. Peterstift b IX 20 (s. XV), foll. 3v–6. (14 chapters).
  13. (Tii) Turin Bibliotheca Nazionale G. V. 7 (s. IX).(Fragments only).
  14. (P) Paris Bibliothèque Nationale lat. 10879 (s. X/XI). (Fragments only).
  15. (A) Berlin Staatsbibliothek Meermann Collection Phillipps 1747 (s. XI). (Fragments only).

Editions and Translations

  1. Collectanea Sacra, ed. P. Fleming (Louvain, 1667). [Based on (T) and (Ti); also incorporates variants from two lost manuscripts formerly at Augsburg and Ochsenhausen].
  2. Regula Monachorum, ed. Otto Seebaß, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 15 (1895), pp. 366 ff.
  3. Sancti Columbani Opera, ed. G. S. M. Walker, (Scriptores Latini Hiberniae Vol. II), Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, (Dublin, 1957 repr. 1970)

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  137. Dieter Schaller, ''De mundi transitu': a rhythmical poem by Columbanus?', in: Lapidge (ed.), Columbanus: Studies, 240–254.
  138. Michael Lapidge, ''Precamur patrem': an Easter hymn by Columbanus?', in: Lapidge (ed.), Columbanus: Studies, 255–263.
  139. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'The computistical work of Columbanus', in: Lapidge (ed.), Columbanus: Studies, 264–270.
  140. Michael Lapidge, 'The Oratio S. Columbani', in: Lapidge (ed.), Columbanus: Studies, 271–273.
  141. Michael Lapidge, 'Epilogue: Did Columbanus compose metrical verse?', in: Lapidge (ed.), Columbanus: Studies, 274–285.
  142. Charles Clement O'Brien, Exegesis, Scripture and the Easter Question in the Letters of Columbanus, unpublished M.Phil. Thesis, National University of Ireland, Cork, Department of History 1998.
  143. T. M. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, Cambridge 2000, 344–390: Columbanus and his disciples.
  144. Damian Bracken, 'Authority and Duty: Columbanus and the Primacy of Rome', Peritia 16 (2002) 168–213. (available at CELT.)

The edition used in the digital edition

Walker, G.S.M., ed. (1957). Sancti Columbani Opera‍. 1st ed. repr. 1970. Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {Sancti Columbani Opera},
  editor 	 = {G.S.M. Walker},
  edition 	 = {1},
  note 	 = {xciv + 247 pp.},
  publisher 	 = {The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies},
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  date 	 = {1957},
  note 	 = {repr. 1970},
  UNKNOWN 	 = {seriesStmt}


Encoding description

Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Sampling declarations

The present text represents pp. 123–181 of the printed edition. All editorial introduction, footnotes and indexes have been omitted. Notes detailing citation sources are integrated into the electronic edition by cit tags. (See under quotation).

Editorial declarations

Correction: Text proofread twice at CELT.

Normalization: The electronic texts represents the edited text.

Quotation: Citations are tagged cit. This element contains bibl and qt elements.

Hyphenation: Soft hyphens are silently removed. When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a page-break, this break is marked after the completion of the hyphenated word.

Segmentation: div0=the monks' rules; div1=the Set of Rules; div2=the individual rule (Monks' Rules; Communal Rules, and Pentiential). Paragraphs are marked.

Standard values: Dates are standardized in the ISO form yyyy-mm-dd.

Interpretation: Names are not tagged.

Reference declaration

A canonical reference to a location in this text should be made using “Rule”, eg Rule 1.

Profile description

Creation: By G.S.W. Walker. [For details of Latin text see Latin file, L201052.]

Date: 1956

Language usage

  • The text is in English. (en)

Keywords: religious; prose; medieval; monastic; monks' rule; St Columba; translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2019-06-05: Changes made to div0 type. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2008-09-22: Header updated, keywords added; seriesstmt added, file validated; new wordcount made. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2008-07-18: Value of div0 "type" attribute modified, 'creation' tags inserted, content of 'langUsage' revised. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2005-08-25: Normalised language codes and edited langUsage for XML conversion (ed. Julianne Nyhan)
  5. 2005-08-04T16:40:10+0100: Converted to XML (ed. Peter Flynn)
  6. 2004-02-24: Minor corrections to citations, and changes to division structure; file re-parsed; HTML file created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  7. 2004-01-08: Second proofing of file; minor additions to header; HTML file created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  8. 2003-07-28: Citations and divisions checked, file reparsed. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  9. 2003-07-23: List of secondary literature sorted by publication date; list of manuscripts, editions and translations inserted. (ed. Emer Purcell)
  10. 2003-07-10: File parsed. (ed. Marcus Balé)
  11. 2003-06-26: First proofing of file, insertion of basic structural markup; citations tagged. (ed. Marcos Balé)
  12. 2003-06-18: File scanned. (data capture Marcos Balé)
  13. 2003-03-06: Header created; list of secondary literature compiled and checked. (ed. Beatrix Färber)

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  • Dates are standardized in the ISO form yyyy-mm-dd.

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page of the print edition

folio of the manuscript

numbered division

 999 line number of the print edition (in grey: interpolated)

underlining: text supplied, added, or expanded editorially

italics: foreign words; corrections (hover to view); document titles

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L201052: Monks' Rules (in Latin)

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