St. Benedict of Nursia: Founder of Western Monasticism
By Jean M. Heimann
July 11 is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, the twin brother of St. Scholastica, the founder of Western monasticism. In 1964, Pope Paul VI declared him patron of Europe and in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose Benedict as patron of his papacy. St. Benedict of Nursia is the patron saint of: monks, cave explorers, agricultural workers, civil engineers, kidney disease, gall stones, and dying people.
St. Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy, a mountainous village northeast of Rome, around the year 480. His parents sent him to Rome to be educated, but he found the life of the eternal city too decadent for his tastes. Therefore, he fled to a place southeast of Rome called Subiaco, where he lived as a hermit in a cave for three years. A monk named Romanus, who also lived in Subiaco, fed him.
Benedict’s solitude was interrupted when a group of monks convinced him to become their abbot. His austere regime quickly became too much for the lukewarm monks and they plotted to poison him. However, when Benedict blessed the pitcher of poisoned wine, it shattered into many pieces. Soon thereafter, Benedict abandoned the undisciplined monks and founded twelve monasteries in the area south of Rome.
Later, he moved to Monte Cassino, near Naples, where he destroyed the pagan temple dedicated to Apollo and brought the people of the area back to Christianity. Around 530, he began to build the monastery that was to be the birthplace of Western monasticism. Followers once again flocked to him as his reputation for holiness, wisdom, and miracles spread. It was at Monte Casino that he composed the Rule to “establish a school for the Lord’s service.” The Rule prescribed common sense, a life of moderate self-denial, prayer, study, and work, and community life under one superior. It stressed obedience, stability, zeal, and had the Divine Office as the center of monastic life.
Benedict not only served as superior to the monks, but he counseled rulers and popes, ministered to the poor and destitute, and attempted to repair the ravages of the Lombard Totila’s invasion. He died at Monte Cassino on March 21, 543.
St. Benedict of Nursia Quotes
Prayer ought to be short and pure, unless it be prolonged by the inspiration of Divine grace.
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
Prayer to St. Benedict for a Happy Death
V. Intercede for us, O holy Father Benedict.
R. And obtain for us the grace of a happy death.
O holy Father Benedict, whose very name signifies your blessedness, you most joyfully offered your angelic soul to God while you stood in prayer with your arms raised to heaven.
You have promised to defend us from the devil’s attacks at the hour of death if we daily recall to you your own glorious death and heavenly joys.
Protect me, therefore, O glorious Father, today and every day by your holy blessing, so that I may never be separated from our blessed Jesus, nor from the company of you and all the saints. Amen.
O God, who adorned the precious death of our most holy Father, Saint Benedict, with so many and so great privileges, grant, we beseech You, that our departure hence, we may be defended from the snares of the enemy by the blessed presence of him whose memory we celebrate. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.