Benedict (detail of Crucifixion)
Convento di San Marco, Florence
"Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.
“To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.
“In the first place, beg of Him by most earnest prayer, that He perfect whatever good thou dost begin, in order that He who hath been pleased to count us in the number of His children, need never be grieved at our evil deeds."
- The Rule of St. Benedict - Prologue
Saint Benedict, who revitalized monastic life, was born c. 480, in Norcia (near Spoleto, Italy), during the declining years of the Roman Empire. He was sent to be educated in Rome, but he left his studies for a solitary life in a mountain cave at Subiaco, where he remained for three years living life of prayer and aceticism. After this formation, he organized a form of monastic life in twelve monasteries. Those monks who joined Benedict devoted themselves to prayer and work (ora et labora, the motto of the Benedictine order). In the abbey of Monte Cassino, which he founded, Benedict wrote his Rule that became a guide for monastic life. Benedict died at Monte Cassino c. 547, where he is buried with his sister, Scholastica.
Only thirty-three years after the death of St. Benedict, and almost exactly one century after the date of his birth, the Monastery of Monte Cassino was razed by the invading Lombards. According to tradition the resident monks fled to Rome and found refuge near the Lateran Basilica. It may have been there that the future pope Gregory I (the Great) was first introduced to the Rule of St. Benedict which he adopted as his own way of life, and later served as abbot. Gregory, the last of the Latin Fathers of the Western Church, reigned from 590 to 604, at a time when the Western world was in great turmoil.
In 1964 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Benedict “patron of Europe”, because of his influence in the formation of Christendom in the Middle Ages. The Pope’s letter, Pacis Nuntius (‘Messenger of Peace), issued October 24, 1964 during the reconsecration of the rebuilt monastery of Monte Cassino. Pacis Nuntius declares:
“Messenger of peace, creator of unity, master of civilization and above all, herald of the religion of Christ and founder of monastic life in the West: these are the proper titles with which to acclaim St Benedict Abbott. On the fall of the Roman Empire, by then exhausted, Europe seemed to fall into darkness ... bereft of civilization and spiritual values”.
Benedict, the Pope’s letter said, “gave birth to the dawn of a new era ... bonded the spiritual unity of Europe ... this unity is an exemplary type of absolute beauty ...”. The Pope hailed St Benedict as the Father of Europe: “Through the merits of this great Saint Our same Predecessor desired God to support the efforts of those trying to unite the European nations ... John XXIII also fervently desired that this would come about”.
On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, and chose the name Benedict (Latin: the Blessed). In his first general audience on April 27, Pope Benedict XVI explained why he chose the name:
“Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall Saint Benedict of Norcia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!"
O God, who made the Abbot Saint Benedict
an outstanding master in the school of divine service,
grant, we pray,
that putting nothing before love of you,
we may hasten with a loving heart
in the way of your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you cry out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures;
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path.
Then Peter said in reply, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
Related Links on the Vatican Website:
Fulgens Radiatur, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on St. Benedict, March 21, 1947
Benedict XVI, General Audience, St Peter's Square, Wednesday, April 9, 2008, Saint Benedict of Norcia
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