It is said that the heart of the home is the kitchen table, and the same is true of the monastic home. Saint Benedict devoted ten chapters to the monastic table and to providing and serving food as well as necessities; inserted in the middle are chapters on the sick, the aged, and children. That arrangement makes it clear that the table is about care, not just discipline. Sister Aquinata Böckmann offers a thorough study of these core chapters in Benedict's Rule. Drawing on scholarship and personal experience of the monastic table, she demonstrates in this commentary the relationship between Benedict’s Rule and other rules, including those of Basil, Augustine, and the Rule of the Master. More than discipline, what comes through here is the focus on care for weaker members, practicality about work schedules and demands, and the overall desire to meet the needs of the brothers and sisters sharing life together.
Aquinata Böckmann, OSB, PhD, is a member of the Benedictine Missionary Sisters of Tutzing, Germany. She has taught in Rome since 1973 at the Pontifical Institute for Spirituality and Moral Theology Regina Mundi and as the first woman professor at Sant' Anselmo. She is the author of Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict, also published by Liturgical Press.
Sr. Aquinata Böckmann's book Around the Monastic Table is a precise commentary on the chapters in RB which deal with the practical details of daily living. Her years of dedicated scholarship and of living the Rule have yielded high dividends for the advantage of the ordinary reader. Rather than write an academic treatise or merely tell us what Benedict says, the author invites us to accompany her on a journey of discovery. Without demanding more preparation than the average reader has, she works us hard so that we can come to see for ourselves something of the subtle wisdom of Saint Benedict, expressed in his ordering of daily life. The resulting insights are profoundly satisfying. The author is to be congratulated on the effectiveness of her pedagogical approach. An important book on less commonly treated aspects of Benedictine spirituality.
Fr. Michael Casey, OCSO, Tarrawarra Abbey, Yarra Glen, Australia
With skill and "heart," Sister Aquinata Böckmann uncovers in chapters 31-42 of the Rule of Benedict a comprehensive spiritual vision mirrored in the image of the common table. While one could easily miss the profound connections in these seemingly disparate chapters of the Rule, Böckmann's meticulous and critical analysis of these chapters as if they were a unified whole, uncovers the truth that in Benedictine monastic living, liturgy, common meals, and daily service belong together as do the oratory, refectory, and workplace.
Sr. Ephrem Hollermann, OSB, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology, Koch Chair in Catholic Thought and Culture, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, St. Joseph, Minnesota
Sister Aquinata draws from an array of early monastic sources to illuminate the teaching of the Rule of Benedict on monastic meals. She shows the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the community meal, a sometimes overlooked aspect of Benedictine spirituality. This study presents the fruit of years of monastic scholarship matured in Benedictine community living. Along the way, she enlivens the narrative with a trove of information about the eating practices of antiquity.
Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, Arkansas
Aquinata Böckmann has the rare combination of highly-skilled textual analysis and sensitivity to the lived experience of Benedictine monastic life. This combination makes her work uniquely valuable as a contemporary exploration of the Rule rooted in the text and its sources. Her topic is aptly chosen, since Benedict's traditional model of family dining is an `endangered species' of social interaction today, even in monasteries. Following Benedict's lead in the Rule, Sister Aquinata situates eating together within a network of monastic social connections related to the use and sharing of material goods. Food, drink, tools, care for one another: all of these converge at the common table, like the monastic community itself.
Father Columba Stewart, OSB, DPhil, Vice-President
We welcome with delight Sister Aquinata Böckmann's new book Around the Monastic Table, a study of some of the very central chapters of the Rule, chapters 35-42. Her detailed study of the text, her attention to sources both scriptural and patristic, give us an abundance of new insights. She sets each chapter in its context and then offers reflections on current practice. Her summary points throughout the book show how careful has been her study and how prayerful has been her reflection. The book is challenging and accessible, it is the work of a great scholar, and it flows from her own love of the Rule and from her lived experience.
Sr. Margaret Malone, SGS, Kardinia, Australia
Following on from her fundamental work Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict, Sr. Aquinata Böckmann, OSB, offers us a second book about St. Benedict's twelve chapters, Around the Monastic Table (RB 31-42). The results of her exhaustive exegesis are surprising: instead of providing severe ascetic regulations about fasting and silence, Benedict emphasizes how the `counterculture' of regularly eating together leads monks and guests, as the subtitle says, to `grow in mutual service and love.'
Sr. Michaela Pfeifer OCist, Monastero S. Giovanni Battista, Italy
Aquinata Böckmann has invested her lifetime toward scholarship in the Rule of Benedict. Around the Monastic Table is a thorough, compelling, and challenging book. Many of us quote the Rule but have not studied these wise teachings using the best of critical exegetical tools available. Oblates and monastics have a rare readable opportunity with this book. She has done her homework and now we can do ours.
Meg Funk, Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Beech Grove, Indiana
. . . offers rich fare for all who strive to live according to Benedict's wisdom. Around the Monastic Table leads us into a deeper understanding of our monastic practices and traditions and invites us to live them accordingly.
Cistercian Studies Quarterly
Students of the Rule of St. Benedict will find a wise resource on practicalities for living a disciplined life, flowing from a deep, reflective study on its content.
[T]his volume is one of the most significant and engaging works in recent memory on the ethics of food and eating within the life of the Church community.
The Englewood Review of Books
This is a . . . remarkable book.
The table Sister Aquinata Böckmann spreads in her commentary on chapters 31-42 of the Rule of St. Benedict offers choice food for the mind, the soul, and the heart. Her detailed exegesis of the text of these chapters is enriched by her full and deep knowledge of the whole monastic tradition. Her understanding of the human heart and the human community is equally full and deep. Monastic readers will find here an exposition of the tradition that instructs and a compassion for humanity that moves the heart to deeper monastic commitment. Other readers will recognize the truth of Sister Aquinata's understanding of humanity in Christ and find inspiration for living fully human lives.
Sister Shawn Carruth, OSB