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July 11 – Benedict of Nursia

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 Peter 3:8-9

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.

benedict-icon-full1More thoughts for meditation about Benedict of Nursia

Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547?) was born in North Central Italy (the Umbria province) when the Asian hordes were pulling much of the region back into violence with their war and pillaging. His biographer, St. Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604), does not record the dates of his birth and death, but he certainly refers to the famous Rule he wrote to organize the communities he founded.

According to Gregory’s Dialogues, Benedict’s parents sent him to Rome for classical studies but he found the life of the city too degenerate for his tastes. He fled to a place southeast of Rome called Subiaco where he lived as a hermit. There he was discovered by a group of seekers who prevailed upon him to become their spiritual leader. His rule soon became too much for his lukewarm followers so they plotted to poison him. Gregory recounts the tale of Benedict’s rescue; when he blessed the pitcher of poisoned wine, it broke into many pieces.

Benedict left these wayward men and established twelve monasteries with twelve monks each in the area south of Rome. Later, perhaps in 529, he moved to Monte Cassino, about eighty miles southeast of Rome; there he destroyed the pagan temple dedicated to Apollo and built his premier monastery. It was there that he wrote the Rule for the monastery of Monte Cassino, though he envisioned that it could be used elsewhere. Gregory presents Benedict as the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through a balanced pattern of action and contemplation, Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.

Gregory recounts a vision that Benedict received toward the end of his life: In the dead of night he was enveloped by a flood of light shining down from above more brilliant than the sun; it chased away every trace of darkness. According to his own description, the whole world was gathered up before his eyes “in what appeared to be a single ray of light” (ch. 34). St. Benedict, the monk par excellence, led a monastic life that reached the vision of God.

Benedict is considered to be the father of Western Monasticism—coming a few centuries after Monasticism began in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Palestine. His genius was to put the forms of the East into an accessible format that was warm and flexible. He was mostly the leader of a community, not a scholar. The Rule is the sole known example of Benedict’s writing, but it shows his genius to crystallize the best of the monastic tradition and to pass it on to Europe. The Benedictine vows are basically “obedience, stability, and conversion of life.” He helped formalize a movement of the Spirit into “a school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to order nothing harsh or rigorous.” These “schools” that soon dotted Europe were centers of light and stability for centuries. Benedict, and the subsequent monks in his tradition, are known for both prayer and labor (ora et labora).

Some of the stories about Benedict told by Gregory can be found here [link].

Quotes from the rule of St. Benedict:

  • The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.
  • Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.
  • Prayer ought to be short and pure, unless it be prolonged by the inspiration of Divine grace.
  • He should first show them in deeds rather than words all that is good and holy.
  • Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from that every day calls out…What dear brothers, is more delightful than the voice of the Lord calling to us?
  • We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction,not our many words. 
  • [About the abbot] He must show forethought and consideration in his orders, and whether the task he assigns concerns God or the world, he should be discerning and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said: If I drive my flocks too hard, they will all die in a single day (Gen 33:13). 19 Therefore, drawing on this and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, he must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.

More on Benedict of Nursia:

Catholic Encyclopedia bio [link]

Christianity Today bio [link]

Order of St. Benedict bio [link]

Monastery of Christ in the Desert  bio [link]

The Benedict Option: Circle of Hope Daily prayer entries

Italian high schoolers made a nice bio:

Suggestions for action

Benedict lived in a violent society. His solution was to trust God and act out his faith in a radical way. This inevitably resulted in a community he needed to lead. Spiritual depth and community go together. We never escape the duties of love to seek our own connection with God. Benedict challenges us to go deeper and go wider, to flee the world but also to save it. If you look at your own life, what vision does it appear to follow?