By Larry Peterson
Pope St. Gregory the Great, considered one of the greatest popes, is famous for writing the books known as the Dialogues of St. Gregory. The Dialogues are presented in four volumes where everything from the lives of the saints, to miracles, and even discussion on the eternity of the soul take place.
But Volume Two of the Dialogues is dedicated to just one person. That man is none other than Benedict of Nursia. Volume Two is spread out into thirty-eight chapters. It is the only recognized authority on Benedict’s life, a life that has left an indelible mark on the Catholic faith. Included in his legacy is what is known as the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule is used in convents and monasteries around the world to this very day. Let’s meet St. Benedict.
St. Gregory details many signs and wonders in his Dialogues. However, when it comes to Benedict, and without using dates, his writing becomes historical. It begins with Benedict being born sometime around the year 480 A.D and having a twin sister, named Scholastica. They were born of good parents, and their father was a Roman noble of Nursia. Benedict was sent to Roman schools while Scholastica, being a woman, would stay at home until ready for marriage.
Gregory writes that Benedict left school sometime around the year 500. He had mastered a solid background of moral principle and decency. Combined with a solid understanding of what it meant for those who chose to lead corrupt and immoral lives, he knew his life would always point toward godliness. It was during this time frame when Benedict fell deeply in love with a woman. The couple did break up, and this deeply affected him. It was after this part of his life that he left Rome. His purpose was to become a hermit.
Benedict settled down about forty miles from Rome, finding a suitable cave in the Simbruini Mountains. After a short while, Benedict met a monk named Romanus of Subiaco. Romanus wanted to know why Benedict had come to the area. Upon explanation by Benedict, Romanus, who had a monastery on the top of the mountain, gave Benedict the monk’s habit and then approved of him being a hermit for the next three years.
During this period, Romanus would bring Benedict food, which he lowered down by rope. At the same time, Benedict matured both in mind and character. His life of discipline and solitude also won him the respect of local Christians. When the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the monks came to him and asked him to be their new abbot.
Benedict knew of their lax discipline and rejected their offer. They pleaded with him, and he finally agreed. But Benedict’s strict rules angered the insubordinate monks, and they tried to poison him. He prayed over the cup holding the poison, and it shattered. Benedict promptly returned to his cave.
During his years of solitude, Benedict grew in wisdom and understanding, especially of people in general. He became highly respected and began the construction of thirteen monasteries. In the first twelve, he placed a superior with twelve monks. Benedict moved into the thirteenth monastery and lived with a smaller number of monks. He was their abbot as well as head abbot for the other twelve. It was from this time that miracles attributed to Benedict became more and more frequent.
Benedict’s prophetic powers became legendary. He predicted the death of the King of the Goths and foretold that the Lombards would close one of his monasteries. He also was given knowledge of the sins of the monks and nuns under his care. Legend has it that when a child was crushed to death by a collapsing wall, Benedict raised him from the dead, healed his body, and sent him back to work.
Benedict spent the last years of his life putting together his famous Rule, known as the Rule of St. Benedict. His primary purpose was to create unity and formalize discipline. The Rule is comprised of 73 short chapters and presents both spiritual guidance on how to live a life on earth centered on Jesus Christ and also has directives on administrative guidelines on how to run a monastery.
The Rule of St. Benedict was adopted by the majority of monasteries in western Christendom, and The Middle Ages became known as the Benedictine Centuries. Pope Benedict XVI said, “With his life and work, St. Benedict—–helped Europe emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.
St. Benedict died on March 21, 547, 40 days after his twin sister Scholastica. The brother and sister are buried together at Monte Cassino, south of Rome. This is the site of the first Benedictine Abbey.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2020