Benedictine tradition and good governance
Monastic governance of a Benedictine kind starts with Benedict of Nursia (San Benedetto) (c. 480-547), honored by the Roman Catholic Church as the patron saint of Europe. Benedict’s main achievement is his “Rule” (Regula Benedicti, 2006), which contains precepts for organizing a monastic life. Therein, his charismatic personality, knowledge of human nature and great foresight become visible.1 Benedict was not the sole composer of the Rule, but adapted the scripts of his predecessors in an exceptional way. He knew the strengths and particularly the weaknesses of his peers; a unique spirit of balance, moderation and fairness characterized this monk (Grabner-Haider, 2007). On an organizational level, the ability to adapt, inherent in this basic constitution, is one of the essential secrets of success of the Benedictine organizations (Jaspert, 1989; Eckert, 2000). As the history of religious orders shows, on the one hand, this ﬂexible system created strongly diverging organizations with local, situational and temporal adaptations; on the other hand, it continued to rely on similar basic principles, which are still alive after more than a thousand years. As a consequence, the Rule of Benedict became one of the most inﬂuential religious constitutions in Western Christendom. In the Rule of Benedict, many pillars of Benedictine governance already make their appearance, as one can notice in the exemplary initial quotation. However, for this article, we are not interested in the saint or his “Rule” itself, but in the effective history it has initiated. This paper brings together our research on Benedictine governance (Inauen and Frey, 2010; Inauen et al., 2010a, 2010b; Rost et al., 2010), and extends the results to include a motivational perspective. We analyze how Benedictine institutions organize their governance. Their approved governance structures may offer new ideas and approaches for good governance beyond the monastic ﬁeld. The paper proceeds as follows. First, we take a closer look into the Benedictine institutions, and particularly into the chronicles of one exemplary abbey, the 900-year-old
monastery of Engelberg in central Switzerland.2 With quantitative data and qualitative descriptions, we illustrate how Benedictine governance works. Second, we explain three pillars of the monastic governance system that we consider relevant today. Third, we compare Benedictine governance with current concepts of corporate governance, in order to gain new insights into improvements.