Benedict of Nursia

Abbot of Monte Cassino

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Benedict of Nursia
Abbot of Monte Cassino

Picture courtesy of Monastery Icons

Benedict was educated in Nursia and later in Rome. Benedict was not pleased with what he saw there. It was only a few years before the Roman Empire was to fall, and society had become very corrupt. Benedict found the alternative life-style of a monk attractive, and he withdrew to a solitary life at Subiaco, about 60 kilometres east of Rome. For 3 years he lived in a cave at Subiaco, spending his time in prayer and contemplation. His eventual reputation for balance and moderation was won by self-discipline and experience.

Benedict, although he had cut himself off from the world, became known. Eventually disciples gathered around him, and his hermitage became a monastery. Monastic life at Subiaco continued peacefully for about 25 years, and Benedict began developing the rule for which he became famous. Then a series of local incidents, possibly involving jealousy, began a persecution aimed at getting rid of Benedict. Benedict’s reaction was to leave Subiaco with some of his monks and move to Monte Cassino, midway between Rome and Naples. He did not intend to found an order, and was not ordained.

But at Monte Cassino he established a monastery and wrote "The Rule." This simple set of guidelines for how the life of a monk should be lived has become one of the most influential works in all of Western Christendom. The Benedictine Rule demonstrates a remarkable balance of work and rest, prayer and study. It offered a complete compendium for the management of a monestry, giving order in a framework that was flexible, considerate and workable. Benedict was himself the perfect example of an abbot: wise, discreet, flexible, knowledgeable in God’s law, a spiritual father to the community. The intention of the rule was that by living in humility and obedience monks would learn to love God.

Benedict’s rule became a pattern for monastery life in Europe for many centuries and is still observed in Benedictine monasteries today. Its flexibility enabled the rule to be adapted to the needs of different monasteries. For hundreds of years Benedictine monasteries were the libraries and chief cultural centres of Europe. They preserved history, promoted learning, and became centres of hospitality, medicine and agriculture.

Although Benedict intended his rule for his monastery, its influence has spread beyond that. The Daily Offices in the Book of Common Prayer are essentially the offices of the Benedictine Rule adapted and simplified for use by the ‘secular’ (i.e. non-monastic) worshippers in England. Because the rule is deeply rooted in Scripture, many clergy and lay people have found it a helpful guide to follow.

Benedict was abbot of Monte Cassino for 17 years.

BORN: 480 in Nursia, North of Rome.

DIED:c. 547 A.D., Monte Cassino, Kingdom of the Ostrogoths