Posted by: gebs | April 9, 2008

A.A. and the Rule of Benedict


Although Alcoholics Anonymous is not identified with any religious denomination, a lot of A.A. meetings are held at churches. Here at Blue Cloud Abbey patients at the treatment center on the nearby reservation have us hear their Fifth Steps.  A.A. meetings are held at the abbey on Saturday evenings. When referring to the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous, one quickly discovers that it has an affinity with that of the Benedictines.  

In the Prologue to the Rule, St. Benedict says, “Our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend our misdeeds.”  For an alcoholic, the truce is called hitting bottom.  From there, he or she can climb back up.  St. Benedict says, “Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us

to arise from sleep (Rom 13:11).”  He concludes the Prologue by stating that his Rule is a way of recovery for people who have been drifting away from God through “the sloth of disobedience” and self-will.  An alcoholic will confess to this same kind of behavior when taking a personal inventory of “defects” and “wrongs.” 

In drawing up his rule of life, St. Benedict hopes to “set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.  The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.  Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.”  Although it may seem difficult at the beginning, St. Benedict predicts that one’s heart will eventually overflow “with the inexpressible delight of love.”  How often one hears a recovering alcoholics admit: “I can’t begin to describe what the program has done for me.”  A.A. promises that by faithfulness to this program a person’s “whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”   The program becomes more than program.  It becomes a way of life.

A.A. members may also feel daunted in the beginning.  “Many of us exclaimed, ‘What an order!  I can’t go through with it.’”  The A.A. Big Book advises the newcomer: “Do not be discouraged.  No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles.  We are not saints.  The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.  The principles we have set down are guides to progress.  We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”  This quote is from chapter 5, “How It Works.”  At the end of his Rule, St. Benedict says something similar.  After telling us in 72 chapters how it works, he concludes, “The reason we have written this rule is that, by observing it in monasteries, we can show that we have some degree of virtue and the beginnings of monastic life.”  In both the A.A.and Benedictine manner of living, making progress is what counts and not the achievement of perfection.  Our conversion and recovery are on going.  “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?” St. Benedict asks, quoting Psalm 33.  “The Lord waits for us daily to translate into action,

as we should, his holy teachings.”  St. Benedict’s emphasis on the day-to-day living of our calling is not unlike A.A.’s “one day at a time.”

There are other parallels.  St. Benedict says the one who wishes to follow his way of life “should speak the truth from his heart…and not practice deceit with his tongue.”  A.A. asks members to develop “a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.”  The Prologue to the Rule: “These people fear the Lord and do not become elated over their good deeds.  They judge it is the Lord’s power, not their own, that brings about the good in them.”  A.A.: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.  We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  The Prologue: “What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”  A.A.: “God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” The Fifth of the Twelve Steps in A.A. is “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” St. Benedict has twelve steps of humility, the fifth being: “that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly.”

In chapter 40 of the Rule, St. Benedict, with “some uneasiness,” addresses the subject of drinking.  Admitting that he has read wine is not a suitable beverage for monks, he realizes the monks of his day can’t be convinced of this.  He urges them “to drink moderately and not to the point of excess.”  And not to grumble if the amount of wine needs to be reduced or if it has to be eliminated altogether.  Furthermore, abstinence has a reward for those monks who don’t drink at all. And so has it for members of Alcoholics Anonymous.




  1. The number of Catholics in AA is quite high.
    I am a practicing Catholic and an ex – AA member.

  2. How come you do not have your website viewable in mobile format? cant view anything in my iPhone.

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