Benedict of Nursia
Benedict of Nursia the great organizer of Western monasticism, was born at Nursia (or Norcia), in Spoleto, of wealthy parents, about A.D. 480. He was educated at Rome, but at 17 years of age he determined to devote himself to a monastic life. He fled secretly from Rome, and retired to the desert of Subiaco, about forty miles distant, where he shut himself up in a dismal cave. There he continued for three years, unknown to any person save a monk (Romanus), who let down bread to him by a rope. By that time his fame had become spread abroad, and he was chosen by the monks of a neighboring monastery for their abbot; but he shortly returned to his solitude, whither multitudes flocked to see him and hear him preach. His hearers soon became his disciples, and, with his consent, continued with him. So great were the numbers who did so, that in a short time there were no less than twelve monasteries formed on the spot. Benedict occupied now too exalted a position to escape attacks; he was menaced and persecuted, and his life even threatened by poison. This, after a time, compelled him to remove, and he led his little army of followers to Monte Cassino, where he converted the temple of Apollo into an oratory, and laid the foundation of an order which, in an incredibly short time, spread itself over Europe. See MONTE CASSINO. Benedict died, as Mabillon thinks, March 21st, 543, though others place his death in the year 542, or as late as 547. His body remained at Monte Cassino until the irruption of the Lombards, who burned and destroyed the monastery, when, in all probability, his relics were lost, although the possession of them has been made a subject of great dispute between the Italian and Gallican monks. His Life, written by Gregory (Dialog. lib. 2), is full of extraordinary and absurd accounts of miracles. According to Dupin, the "Rule of St. Benedict," Regula Monachorum, is the only work extant which is truly his. This Rule is divided into seventy-seven chapters, and is distinguished from others which preceded it by its mildness. A summary of it is given by Dupin (v. 45); — see also Martene, Comm. in Regulam S. P. Benedicti (Paris, 1690, 4to). It required no extraordinary macerations and mortifications, and contained such principles of conduct as were most likely to lead to the peace, happiness, and well-being of a community of men living like monks. "Three virtues constituted the sum of the Benedictine discipline: silence (with solitude and seclusion), humility, and obedience, which, in the strong language of its laws, extended to impossibilities. All is thus concentrated on self. It was the man isolated from his kind who was to rise to a lonely perfection. All the social, all patriotic virtues were excluded; the mere mechanical observance of the rules of the brotherhood, or even the corporate spirit, are hardly worthy of notice, though they are the only substitutes for the rejected and proscribed pursuits of active life. The three occupations of life were the worship of God, reading, and manual labor. The adventitious advantages, and great they were, of these industrious agricultural settlements were not contemplated by the founder; the object of the monks was not to make the wilderness blossom with fertility, to extend the arts and husbandry of civilized life into barbarous regions, but solely to employ in engrossing occupation that portion of time which could not be devoted to worship and to study." "In the Rule, Benedict distinguishes four sorts of monks: (1) Caenobites, living under an abbot in a monastery; (2) Anchorites, who retire into the desert; (3) Sarabaites, dwelling two and three in the same cell. (4) Gyrovagi, who wander from monastery to monastery: the last two kinds he condemns. His Rule is composed for the Caenobites. First, he speaks of the qualifications of abbots. Then he notes the hours for divine service, day and night, and the order of it. After this he treats of the different punishments, i.e. separation from the brethren, chastisement, or expulsion. He directs that a penitent shall be received, after expulsion, as far as the third time; that the monks shall have all things in common, and that every thing shall be at the disposal of the abbot. The monks are to work by turns in the refectory and kitchen; to attend and be kind to the sick; to perform manual labors at stated hours, and to all wear the same dress." — Cave, Hist. Lit. anno 530; Milman, Latin Christianity, 1, 414426; Neander, Ch. Hist. 2, 262; Dupin, Eccl. Writers, 5, 45; Lechler, Leben des heil. Benedict (Regensb. 1857); Montalembert, Moines d'Occident (Paris, 1860, tom. 2:1-73); Journal of Sac. Lit. July, 1862, art. 4; Landon, Eccl. Dict. 2, 152. SEE BENEDICTINES.