Monday, December 30, 2013

Saint Benedict

Benedict holding his Rule;
you can see the raven that
saved him from poisoned bread.
In the discussion of time I mentioned Benedict of Nursia, who created a rule for monks to follow. This blog has also mentioned Benedictines frequently. Let us look a little more closely at the man who founded the Benedictines.

Much of our (dubious) information on his early life comes from Pope Gregory I's book Dialogues. If we are to believe Gregory, Benedict was born about 480 in Nursia in Umbria and was sent to Rome at an early age to be educated, where the licentiousness of that city made him flee to a deserted area 40 miles from Rome. There, in Sublacum (Italian Subiaco), he met a monk, Romanus. Romanus gave him a habit, led him to a deep grotto, and introduced him to the life of a hermit.

Benedict lived as a hermit for three years, leaving it when the residents of a local monastery came to him and begged him to take the position of their deceased abbot. This was not a good idea. The monks and Benedict had such divergent opinions on how to conduct their lives that they ultimately decided to kill their new abbot. His prayers before meals foiled their attempts to poison him; in one instance, a raven carried away poisoned bread before Benedict could eat it. He eventually returned to his solitary life in Subiaco, founding 12 monasteries in that area.

In order to ensure harmony among monks and consistency among those observing the religious life, he devised what we call the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule consists of 73 short chapters covering how to run a monastery, how monks should conduct themselves, and how to maintain discipline. Among other things, the Rule expects that all brothers are called to participate in discussions of subjects that affect the whole community, expects monks to be sparing of speech (although it doesn't expect complete silence), wants monks to sleep in their habits so that they can rise ready to do the day's work, and expects that all monks take turns in the kitchen.

He died 21 March 543.

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