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"Saint Benedict" redirects here. This article is about the founder of Western monasticism; for other saints named Benedict, see Benedict.
Saint Benedict
Saint Benedict. Detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico
Abbot
Patron of Europe
Born 480 AD, Norcia (Umbria, Italy)
Died 547 AD, Monte Cassino
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Eastern Orthodoxy
Lutheran Church
Canonized 1220, Rome by Pope Honorius III
Major shrine Monte Cassino Abbey, with his burial

Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, near Orléans, France
Sacro Speco, at Subiaco, Italy

Feast July 11 (Roman Catholic calendar of saints)
March 14 (Byzantine Rite)
March 21 (on local calendars and in the General Roman Calendar of 1962)
Attributes -Bell
-Broken cup
-Broken cup and serpent representing poison
-Broken utensil
-Bush
-Crosier
-Man in a Benedictine cowl holding Benedict's rule or a rod of discipline
-Raven
Patronage -Against poison
-Against witchcraft
-Agricultural workers
-Cavers
-Civil engineers
-Coppersmiths
-Dying people
-Erysipelas
-Europe
-Farmers
-Fever
-Gall stones
-Heerdt (Germany)
-Inflammatory diseases
-Italian architects
-Kidney disease
-Monks
-Nettle rash
-Norcia (Italy)
-People in religious orders
-Schoolchildren
-Servants who have broken their master's belongings
-Speliologists
-Spelunkers
-Temptations

Benedict of Nursia (Italian: San Benedetto da Norcia) (480 – 547) Benedict founded twelve communities for monks at Subiaco, about 40 miles to the east of Rome, before moving to Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. There is no evidence that he intended to found a religious order. The Order of St Benedict is of modern origin and, moreover, not an "order" as commonly understood but merely a confederation of autonomous congregations.[1]


Benedict's main achievement is his "Rule", containing precepts for his monks. It is heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian, and shows strong affinity with the Rule of the Master. But it also has a unique spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness (επιεικεια, epieikeia), and this persuaded most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages to adopt it. As a result, the Rule of Benedict became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason Benedict is often called the founder of western Christian monasticism.

Contents

Biography

Apart from a short poem, attributed to Mark of Monte Cassino, the only ancient account of Benedict is found in the second volume of Pope Gregory I's four-book Dialogues, thought to have been written in 593. The authenticity of this work has been hotly disputed, especially by Dr Francis Clarke in his two volume work "The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues". Book Two consists of a prologue and thirty-eight succinct chapters. See Life and Miracles of St. Benedict (Book II, Dialogues), translated by Odo John Zimmerman, O.S.B. and Benedict R. Avery, O.S.B. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), p. iv.</ref>

Gregory’s account of this saint’s life is not, however, a biography in the modern sense of the word. It provides instead a spiritual portrait of the gentle, disciplined abbot. In a letter to Bishop Maximilian of Syracuse, Gregory states his intention for his Dialogues, saying they are a kind of floretum (an anthology, literally, ‘flowers’) of the most striking miracles of Italian holy men.[2]

Gregory did not set out to write a chronological, historically-anchored story of St. Benedict, but he did base his anecdotes on direct testimony. To establish his authority, Gregory explains that his information came from what he considered the best sources: a handful of Benedict’s disciples who lived with the saint and witnessed his various miracles. These followers, he says, are Constantinus, who succeeded Benedict as Abbot of Monte Cassino; Valentinianus; Simplicius; and Honoratus, who was abbot of Subiaco when St Gregory wrote his Dialogues.

In Gregory’s day, history was not recognized as an independent field of study; it was a branch of grammar or rhetoric, and historia (defined as ‘story’) summed up the approach of the learned when they wrote what was, at that time, considered ‘history.’[3] Gregory’s Dialogues Book Two, then, an authentic medieval hagiography cast as a conversation between the Pope and his deacon Peter, is designed to teach spiritual lessons.

Early life

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, the modern Norcia, in Umbria. A tradition which Bede accepts makes him a twin with his sister Scholastica. St Gregory's narrative makes it impossible to suppose him younger than 19 or 20. He was old enough to be in the midst of his literary studies, to understand the real meaning and worth of the dissolute and licentious lives of his companions, and to have been deeply affected himself by the love of a woman (Ibid. II, 2). He was capable of weighing all these things in comparison with the life taught in the Gospels, and chose the latter. He was at the beginning of life, and he had at his disposal the means to a career as a Roman noble; clearly he was not a child. If we accept the date 480 for his birth, we may fix the date of his abandonment of his studies and leaving home at about 500 AD.

Benedict does not seem to have left Rome for the purpose of becoming a hermit, but only to find some place away from the life of the great city. He took his old nurse with him as a servant and they settled down to live in Enfide, near a church to St Peter, in some kind of association with "a company of virtuous men" who were in sympathy with his feelings and his views of life. Enfide, which the tradition of Subiaco identifies with the modern Affile, is in the Simbruini mountains, about forty miles from Rome and two from Subiaco.

St Benedict orders Saint Maurus to the rescue of Saint Placidus, by Fra Filippo Lippi, 1445 A.D. .

A short distance from Enfide is the entrance to a narrow, gloomy valley, penetrating the mountains and leading directly to Subiaco. Crossing the Aniene and turning to the right, the path rises along the left face off the ravine and soon reaches the site of Nero's villa and of the huge mole which formed the lower end of the middle lake; across the valley were ruins of the Roman baths, of which a few great arches and detached masses of wall still stand. Rising from the mole upon 25 low arches, the foundations of which can even yet be traced, was the bridge from the villa to the baths, under which the waters of the middle lake poured in a wide fall into the lake below. The ruins of these vast buildings and the wide sheet of falling water closed up the entrance of the valley to St Benedict as he came from Enfide; to-day the narrow valley lies open before us, closed only by the far-off mountains. The path continues to ascend, and the side of the ravine, on which it runs, becomes steeper, until we reach a cave above which the mountain now rises almost perpendicularly; while on the right, it strikes in a rapid descent down to where, in St Benedict's day, 500 feet below, lay the blue waters of the lake. The cave has a large triangular-shaped opening and is about ten feet deep.

On his way from Enfide, Benedict met a monk, Romanus of Subiaco, whose monastery was on the mountain above the cliff overhanging the cave. Romanus had discussed with Benedict the purpose which had brought him to Subiaco, and had given him the monk's habit. By his advice Benedict became a hermit and for three years, unknown to men, lived in this cave above the lake.

Later life, and veneration

St Gregory tells us little of these years. He now speaks of Benedict no longer as a youth (puer), but as a man (vir) of God. Romanus, he twice tells us, served the saint in every way he could. The monk apparently visited him frequently, and on fixed days brought him food.

During these three years of solitude, broken only by occasional communications with the outer world and by the visits of Romanus, Benedict matured both in mind and character, in knowledge of himself and of his fellow-man, and at the same time he became not merely known to, but secured the respect of, those about him; so much so that on the death of the abbot of a monastery in the neighbourhood (identified by some with Vicovaro), the community came to him and begged him to become its abbot. Benedict was acquainted with the life and discipline of the monastery, and knew that "their manners were diverse from his and therefore that they would never agree together: yet, at length, overcome with their entreaty, he gave his consent" (ibid., 3). The experiment failed; the monks tried to poison him, and he returned to his cave. The legend goes that they first tried to poison his drink. He prayed a blessing over the cup and the cup shattered. Then they tried to poison him with poisoned bread. When he prayed a blessing over the bread, a raven swept in and took the loaf away. From this time his miracles seem to have become frequent, and many people, attracted by his sanctity and character, came to Subiaco to be under his guidance. For them he built in the valley twelve monasteries, in each of which he placed a superior with twelve monks. In a thirteenth he lived with a few, such as he thought would more profit and be better instructed by his own presence (ibid., 3). He remained, however, the father, or abbot, of all. With the establishment of these monasteries began the schools for children; and among the first to be brought were Saint Maurus and Saint Placidus.

St Benedict spent the rest of his life realizing the ideal of monasticism which he had drawn out in his rule. He died at Monte Cassino, Italy,while standing in praying to God. according to tradition, on March 21 547 and was named patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964.[4] In the General Roman Calendar of 1962, his feast is kept on the day of his death, 21 March. The Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints transferred his feast day to 11 July, the date on which some monasteries commemorated the translation of his relics to the monastery of S. Benoit-sur-Loire in Northern France.[5][6]

Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule comprises 73 short chapters. Its wisdom is of two kinds: spiritual (how to live a Christocentric life on earth) and administrative (how to run a monastery efficiently). More than half the chapters describe how to be obedient and humble, and what to do when a member of the community is not. About one-fourth regulate the work of God (the Opus Dei). One-tenth outline how, and by whom, the monastery should be managed. And two chapters specifically describe the abbot’s pastoral duties.

The Saint Benedict Medal

Image of Saint Benedict with a cross and a scroll stating Vade Retro Satana based on the last page of the 1415 book found in the library of Metten Abbey, clarifying the initials on the St. Benedict medal.

This medal originally came from a cross in honor of St Benedict. On one side, the medal has an image of St Benedict, holding the Holy Rule in his left hand and a cross in his right. There is a raven on one side of him, with a cup on the other side of him. Around the medal's outer margin are the words "Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur" ("May we, at our death, be fortified by His presence"). The other side of the medal has a cross with the initials CSSML on the vertical bar which signify "Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux" ("May the Holy Cross be my light") and on the horizontal bar are the initials NDSMD which stand for "Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux" ("Let not the dragon be my overlord"). The initials CSPB stand for "Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti" ("The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict") and are located on the interior angles of the cross. Either the inscription "PAX" (Peace) or the Christogram "IHS" may be found at the top of the cross in most cases. Around the medal's margin on this side are the Vade Retro Satana initials VRSNSMV which stand for "Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana" ("Begone Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities") then a space followed by the initials SMQLIVB which signify "Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas" ("Evil are the things thou profferest, drink thou thy own poison").[7]

This medal was first struck in 1880 to commemorate the fourteenth centenary of St Benedict's birth and is also called the Jubilee Medal; its exact origin, however, is unknown. In 1647, during a witchcraft trial at Natternberg near Metten Abbey in Bavaria, the accused women testified they had no power over Metten, which was under the protection of the cross. An investigation found a number of painted crosses on the walls of the abbey with the letters now found on St Benedict medals, but their meaning had been forgotten. A manuscript written in 1415 was eventually found that had a picture of Saint Benedict holding a scroll in one hand and a staff which ended in a cross in the other. On the scroll and staff were written the full words of the initials contained on the crosses. Medals then began to be struck in Germany, which then spread throughout Europe. This medal was first approved by Pope Benedict XIV in his briefs of December 23, 1741, and March 12, 1742.[7]

Saint Benedict has been also the motive of many collector's coins around the world. One of the most prestigious and recent ones is the Austria 50 euro 'The Christian Religious Orders', issued in March 13, 2002.

The influence of St. Benedict

The early Middle Ages have been called "the Benedictine centuries."[8] In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the influence St Benedict had on Western Europe. The pope said that “with his life and work St Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture” and helped Europe to emerge from the "dark night of history" that followed the fall of the Roman empire.[9]

To this day, The Rule of St. Benedict is the most common and influential Rule used by monasteries and monks, more than 1400 years after its writing.

The leaders of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, when choosing a single figure from each century of Christian History, chose Benedict of Nursia as the most important figure of the 6th Century. [1][2]

The influence of St Benedict produced "a true spiritual ferment" in Europe, and over the coming decades his followers spread across the continent to establish a new cultural unity based on Christian faith.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI named St Benedict as patron saint of Europe.[10]

See also

References

  1. ^ Called into existence by Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Brief "Summum semper", 12 July 1893, see OSB-International website
  2. ^ See Ildephonso Schuster, Saint Benedict and His Times, Gregory J. Roettger, trans. (London: B. Herder, 1951), p. 2.
  3. ^ See Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis, editor, Historiography in the Middle Ages (Boston: Brill, 2003), pp. 1–2.
  4. ^ "St. Bendict of Nursia". Catholic Online. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=556. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  5. ^ The July 11th date was chosen as March 21st coincided with the observance of Lent, during which there are no obligatory Memorials
  6. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana), pp. 97 and 119
  7. ^ a b "The Life of St Benedict," by St. Gregory the Great, Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, pp 60–62
  8. ^ "Western Europe in the Middle Ages". http://www.northern.edu/marmorsa/medievallec1.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  9. ^ Benedict XVI, "Saint Benedict of Norcia" Homily given to a general audience at St Peter's Square on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20080409_en.html
  10. ^ Catholic World News: St. Benedict and the key to European unity

This article incorporates text from the entry St. Benedict of Nursia in the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

  • "The Life of St Benedict," by St. Gregory the Great, Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, ISBN 0-89555-512-3

Gallery of pictures related to St Benedict

External links

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Benedict of Nursia (480? - 547?) was the founder of the Benedictine Order and hence of mediaeval monasticism.

Sourced

  • Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience
    • Rule of St. Benedict: opening words
  • Every age and degree of understanding should have its proper measure of discipline. With regard to boys and adolescents, therefore, or those who cannot understand the seriousness of the penalty of excommunication, whenever such as these are delinquent let them be subjected to severe fasts or brought to terms by harsh beatings, that they may be cured.
    • Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 30: How Boys Are to Be Corrected

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