a monastic order of the Roman Catholic Church, founded by Benedict of Nursia in 515 (according to others, 529) in Monte Cassino. The leading ideas in the monastic rule of St. Benedict were, SEE BENEDICT OF NURSIA, that the monks should live in common a retired life, remain poor, and render unlimited obedience to their superiors. Benedict states explicitly (ch. 73) that his rule can lead only to the beginning of a holy life, while he refers his monks for perfectness to the Scriptures and the fathers. His aim was to give to repentant and religious men of the world a house of refuge, but he had no projects for a universal mission in the Church such as those entertained by the later mendicant orders. He received children into his convents, who, under the common superintendence of all the monks, and clothed in the monastic habit, were educated for the monastic life.
The spread of the order was very rapid. As early as 541 it was introduced into Sicily, and in 543 into France. The order began to take extraordinary dimensions through the exertions of Pope Gregory the Great, who lent the whole weight of his vast influence to its diffusion. Augustine introduced it into England and Ireland, and the followers of Cassian and Columban in large number exchanged their former rules for those of Benedict. When, in the eighth century, the bulk of the Germanic world entered into connection with the Roman Catholic Church, the prominent influence of Boniface, himself a Benedictine, secured for the principles of his order almost general adoption by the rising monastic institutions of Germany. As its wealth and power advanced, the Benedictine order by degrees almost monopolized the science and learning in the Christian Church, and established a large number of distinguished schools. Their many Irish teachers (known under the name of Scots) were the first to lay the foundation of the scholastic theology. As many of the convents amassed great riches, the strict rule and primitive purity of morals disappeared, and attempts at reform were called forth. The most remarkable among these were that of Benedict of Aniane (q.v.) in the eighth century, of Abbot Berno at Clugny 910, at Hirschau 1069, at Vallombrosa in the eleventh century, at Bursfield in 1425. These reforms introduced among the followers of Benedict the congregational system, combining several convents into a congregation, with a common government. The congregation of English Benedictines founded by Augustine was reformed by St. Dunstan in 900, again by Lanfranc in 1072, and finally suppressed by Henry VIII. The congregational government has since remained that of the Benedictines, who have never had a general and central government like the other orders. The efforts to introduce a greater centralization led, from the end of the tenth century, to the establishment of new orders. Thus arose, on the basis of the rule of St. Benedict, but with many alterations, the orders of Camaldoli, SEE CAMALDULES, Fontevrault (q.v.), Chartreux (q.v.), Citeaux, SEE CISTERCIANS, Humiliates, Olivetans, Tironeneans, SEE BERNARD OF TIRON, and others.
Benedict XII, in 1336, divided the Benedictines into 36 provinces, and decreed the regular holding of triennial provincial chapters and annual general chapters, but this Constitution could never be carried through. The rise of the mendicant orders (q.v.) deprived the Benedictines of a great deal of their influence, and their subsequent distinction lay almost wholly in the field of literary production. The Reformation reduced the number of their convents from 15,000 to 5000. After the Reformation, piety and discipline continued to be generally at a very low ebb throughout the Benedictine community, where it was more difficult than with other orders to find a remedy, as frequently laymen were made abbots (commendatory abbots), on account of the rich revenues of the monasteries. Still, it put forth some flourishing new branches, among which the congregation of St. Vanne and St. Hidulph, established by Didier de la Caeur (15501623), and the congregation of St. Maur [see MAUR, St.], the most learned of all monastic confraternities in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, are the most remarkable.
The reign of Joseph II in Austria, the French Revolution, and the suppression of monasticism generally in Spain, Portugal, and Sardinia, reduced also the number of Benedictine convents greatly. In Austria, however, the order was restored in 1802, and at present more than one half of its members are living in Austrian convents. In Bavaria, the order received, by a rescript of 1834, the charge of several state colleges. In France an attempt at reviving the congregation of St. Maur was made in 1833 by the establishment of a Benedictine community at Solesme. These new St. Maurines have already developed a great literary activity, but have as yet neither been able to extend themselves nor to attain the celebrity of their predecessors. In Switzerland the order has, besides several other convents, the convent of Einsiedeln, one of the most famous places of pilgrimages in the Roman Catholic Church. The order has also been re- established in England and Belgium. In the United States they have St. Vincent's Abbey, in the diocese of Pittsburg, which in 1858 elected for the first time an abbot for lifetime. Most of the Austrian abbeys followed, until very recently, a mitigated rule; and the endeavors of papal delegates, aided by the state government, to force a stricter rule upon them, led in 1858 to protracted and serious disturbances. At the general chapter of the congregation of Monte Cassino in 1858, to which also the convent of St. Paul's in Rome belongs, it was resolved to re-establish, for the benefit of all the monks of the Benedictine family who wish to study in Rome, the college of St. Anselm, such as it had been under the foundation of Pope Innocent XI.
According to the calculation of Fessler, the Benedictines count among their members 15,700 authors, 4000 bishops, 1600 archbishops, 200 cardinals, 24 popes, and 1560 canonized saints. Among the great literary names that adorn the order are those of D'Achery, Mabillon, and Montfaucon, all St. Maurines. The principal sources of information on the Benedictines are, Mabillon, Annales Ord. S. Benedicti (Paris, 1703-39, 6 vols. [carries the history up to 1157]); Ziegelbauer, Historia rei literariae Ord. S. Bened.,
(Aug. Vind. 1754, 4 vols. fol.). See also Helyot, Ordres Religieux, 1, 425 sq.; Montalembert, Les Moines d' Occident (Paris, 1860).