The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict (Latin: Ordo Sancti Benedicti, abbreviated as OSB), are a monastic religious order of the Catholic Church following the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also sometimes called the Black Monks, in reference to the colour of their religious habits. They were founded in 529 by Benedict of Nursia, a 6th-century monk who laid the foundations of Benedictine monasticism through the formulation of his Rule.

Order of Saint Benedict
Ordo Sancti Benedicti
Formation529; 1494 years ago (529)
FounderBenedict of Nursia
Founded atSubiaco Abbey
TypeCatholic religious order
HeadquartersSant'Anselmo all'Aventino
6,802 (3,419 priests) as of 2020
Gregory Polan, OSB
Main organ
Benedictine Confederation
Parent organization
Catholic Church

Despite being called an order, the Benedictines do not operate under a single hierarchy but are instead organized as a collection of autonomous monasteries. The order is represented internationally by the Benedictine Confederation, an organization set up in 1893 to represent the order's shared interests. They do not have a superior general or motherhouse with universal jurisdiction but elect an Abbot Primate to represent themselves to the Vatican and to the world.

Historical development Edit

Saint Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–543). Detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico (c. 1400–1455) in the Friary of San Marco Florence.

The monastery at Subiaco in Italy, established by Benedict of Nursia c. 529, was the first of the dozen monasteries he founded. He later founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino. There is no evidence, however, that he intended to found an order and the Rule of Saint Benedict presupposes the autonomy of each community. When Monte Cassino was sacked by the Lombards about the year 580, the monks fled to Rome, and it seems probable that this constituted an important factor in the diffusion of a knowledge of Benedictine monasticism.[1]

Copies of Benedict's Rule survived; around 594 Pope Gregory I spoke favorably of it. The rule is subsequently found in some monasteries in southern Gaul along with other rules used by abbots.[2] Gregory of Tours says that at Ainay Abbey, in the sixth century, the monks "followed the rules of Basil, Cassian, Caesarius, and other fathers, taking and using whatever seemed proper to the conditions of time and place", and doubtless the same liberty was taken with the Benedictine Rule when it reached them. In Gaul and Switzerland, it gradually supplemented the much stricter Irish or Celtic Rule introduced by Columbanus and others. In many monasteries it eventually entirely displaced the earlier codes.[1]

Benedict of Aniane (747–821)

By the ninth century, however, the Benedictine had become the standard form of monastic life throughout the whole of Western Europe, excepting Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where the Celtic observance still prevailed for another century or two.[1] Largely through the work of Benedict of Aniane, it became the rule of choice for monasteries throughout the Carolingian empire.[3]

Monastic scriptoria flourished from the ninth through the twelfth centuries. Sacred Scripture was always at the heart of every monastic scriptorium. As a general rule those of the monks who possessed skill as writers made this their chief, if not their sole active work. An anonymous writer of the ninth or tenth century speaks of six hours a day as the usual task of a scribe, which would absorb almost all the time available for active work in the day of a medieval monk.[4]

In the Middle Ages monasteries were often founded by the nobility. Cluny Abbey was founded by William I, Duke of Aquitaine in 910. The abbey was noted for its strict adherence to the Rule of Saint Benedict. The abbot of Cluny was the superior of all the daughter houses, through appointed priors.[3]

One of the earliest reforms of Benedictine practice was that initiated in 980 by Romuald, who founded the Camaldolese community.[5] The Cistercians branched off from the Benedictines in 1098; they are often called the "White monks".[6]

The dominance of the Benedictine monastic way of life began to decline towards the end of the twelfth century, which saw the rise of the Franciscans and Dominicans.[3] Benedictines took a fourth vow of "stability", which professed loyalty to a particular foundation. Not being bound by location, the mendicants were better able to respond to an increasingly "urban" environment. This decline was further exacerbated by the practice of appointing a commendatory abbot, a lay person, appointed by a noble to oversee and to protect the goods of the monastery. Often, however, this resulted in the appropriation of the assets of monasteries at the expense of the community which they were intended to support.[7]

England Edit

The English Benedictine Congregation is the oldest of the nineteen Benedictine congregations. Through the influence of Wilfrid, Benedict Biscop, and Dunstan,[8] the Benedictine Rule spread rapidly, and in the North it was adopted in most of the monasteries that had been founded by the Celtic missionaries from Iona. Many of the episcopal sees of England were founded and governed by the Benedictines, and no fewer than nine of the old cathedrals were served by the black monks of the priories attached to them.[1] Monasteries served as hospitals and places of refuge for the weak and homeless. The monks studied the healing properties of plants and minerals to alleviate the sufferings of the sick.[9]

During the English Reformation, all monasteries were dissolved and their lands confiscated by the Crown, forcing those who wished to continue in the monastic life to flee into exile on the Continent. During the 19th century English members of these communities were able to return to England.

The two sides of a Saint Benedict medal

St. Mildred's Priory, on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, was built in 1027 on the site of an abbey founded in 670 by the daughter of the first Christian King of Kent. Currently the priory is home to a community of Benedictine nuns. Five of the most notable English abbeys are the Basilica of St Gregory the Great at Downside, commonly known as Downside Abbey, The Abbey of St Edmund, King and Martyr commonly known as Douai Abbey in Upper Woolhampton, Reading, Berkshire, Ealing Abbey in Ealing, West London, and Worth Abbey.[10][11] Prinknash Abbey, used by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge, was officially returned to the Benedictines four hundred years later, in 1928. During the next few years, so-called Prinknash Park was used as a home until it was returned to the order.[12]

St. Lawrence's Abbey in Ampleforth, Yorkshire was founded in 1802. In 1955, Ampleforth set up a daughter house, a priory at St. Louis, Missouri which became independent in 1973 and became Saint Louis Abbey in its own right in 1989.[13]

As of 2015, the English Congregation consists of three abbeys of nuns and ten abbeys of monks. Members of the congregation are found in England, Wales, the United States of America, Peru and Zimbabwe.[14]

In England there are also houses of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation: Farnborough, Prinknash, and Chilworth: the Solesmes Congregation, Quarr and St Cecilia's on the Isle of Wight, as well as a diocesan monastery following the Rule of Saint Benedict: The Community of Our Lady of Glastonbury.[15]

Since the Oxford Movement, there has also been a modest flourishing of Benedictine monasticism in the Anglican Church and Protestant Churches. Anglican Benedictine Abbots are invited guests of the Benedictine Abbot Primate in Rome at Abbatial gatherings at Sant'Anselmo.[16]

In 1168 local Benedictine monks instigated the anti-semitic blood libel of Harold of Gloucester as a template for explaining later deaths. According to historian Joe Hillaby, the blood libel of Harold was crucially important because for the first time an unexplained child death occurring near the Easter festival was arbitrarily linked to Jews in the vicinity by local Christian churchmen: "they established a pattern quickly taken up elsewhere. Within three years the first ritual murder charge was made in France."[17]

Monastic libraries in England Edit

The forty-eighth Rule of Saint Benedict prescribes extensive and habitual "holy reading" for the brethren.[18] Three primary types of reading were done by the monks during this time. Monks would read privately during their personal time, as well as publicly during services and at mealtimes. In addition to these three mentioned in the Rule, monks would also read in the infirmary. Monasteries were thriving centers of education, with monks and nuns actively encouraged to learn and pray according to the Benedictine Rule. Section 38 states that 'these brothers' meals should usually be accompanied by reading, and that they were to eat and drink in silence while one read out loud.

Benedictine monks were not allowed worldly possessions, thus necessitating the preservation and collection of sacred texts in monastic libraries for communal use.[19] For the sake of convenience, the books in the monastery were housed in a few different places, namely the sacristy, which contained books for the choir and other liturgical books, the rectory, which housed books for public reading such as sermons and lives of the saints, and the library, which contained the largest collection of books and was typically in the cloister.

The first record of a monastic library in England is in Canterbury. To assist with Augustine of Canterbury's English mission, Pope Gregory the Great gave him nine books which included the Gregorian Bible in two volumes, the Psalter of Augustine, two copies of the Gospels, two martyrologies, an Exposition of the Gospels and Epistles, and a Psalter.[20]: 23–25  Theodore of Tarsus brought Greek books to Canterbury more than seventy years later, when he founded a school for the study of Greek.[20]: 26 

France Edit

Monasteries were among the institutions of the Catholic Church swept away during the French Revolution. Monasteries were again allowed to form in the 19th century under the Bourbon Restoration. Later that century, under the Third French Republic, laws were enacted preventing religious teaching. The original intent was to allow secular schools. Thus in 1880 and 1882, Benedictine teaching monks were effectively exiled; this was not completed until 1901.[21][22][23][24]

Germany Edit

Saint Blaise Abbey in the Black Forest of Baden-Württemberg is believed to have been founded around the latter part of the tenth century. Between 1070 and 1073 there seem to have been contacts between St. Blaise and the Cluniac Abbey of Fruttuaria in Italy, which led to St. Blaise following the Fruttuarian reforms. The Empress Agnes was a patron of Fruttuaria, and retired there in 1065 before moving to Rome. The Empress was instrumental in introducing Fruttuaria's Benedictine customs, as practiced at Cluny, to Saint Blaise Abbey in Baden-Württemberg.[25] Other houses either reformed by, or founded as priories of, St. Blasien were Muri Abbey (1082), Ochsenhausen Abbey (1093), Göttweig Abbey (1094), Stein am Rhein Abbey (before 1123) and Prüm Abbey (1132). It also had significant influence on the abbeys of Alpirsbach (1099), Ettenheimmünster (1124) and Sulzburg (c. 1125), and the priories of Weitenau (now part of Steinen, c. 1100), Bürgel (before 1130) and Sitzenkirch (c. 1130).

Switzerland Edit

Kloster Rheinau was a Benedictine monastery in Rheinau in the Canton of Zürich, Switzerland, founded in about 778.[26] The abbey of Our Lady of the Angels was founded in 1120.[27]

United States Edit

The monks of Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery, in Hulbert, Oklahoma

The first Benedictine to live in the United States was Pierre-Joseph Didier. He came to the United States in 1790 from Paris and served in the Ohio and St. Louis areas until his death. The first actual Benedictine monastery founded was Saint Vincent Archabbey, located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1832 by Boniface Wimmer, a German monk, who sought to serve German immigrants in America. In 1856, Wimmer started to lay the foundations for St. John's Abbey in Minnesota. In 1876, Herman Wolfe, of Saint Vincent Archabbey established Belmont Abbey in North Carolina.[28] By the time of his death in 1887, Wimmer had sent Benedictine monks to Kansas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Illinois, and Colorado.[29]

Wimmer also asked for Benedictine sisters to be sent to America by St. Walburg Convent in Eichstätt, Bavaria. In 1852, Sister Benedicta Riepp and two other sisters founded St. Marys, Pennsylvania. Soon they would send sisters to Michigan, New Jersey, and Minnesota.[29]

By 1854, Swiss monks began to arrive and founded St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana, and they soon spread to Arkansas and Louisiana. They were soon followed by Swiss sisters.[29]

There are now over 100 Benedictine houses across America. Most Benedictine houses are part of one of four large Congregations: American-Cassinese, Swiss-American, St. Scholastica, and St. Benedict. The congregations mostly are made up of monasteries that share the same lineage. For instance the American-Cassinese congregation included the 22 monasteries that descended from Boniface Wimmer.[30]

Benedictine vow and life Edit

Benedictine nuns make their first profession of vows.

The sense of community was a defining characteristic of the order since the beginning.[31] Section 17 in chapter 58 of the Rule of Saint Benedict states the solemn promise candidates for reception into a Benedictine community are required to make: a promise of stability (i.e. to remain in the same community), conversatio morum (an idiomatic Latin phrase suggesting "conversion of manners"; see below) and obedience to the community's superior.[32] This solemn commitment tends to be referred to as the "Benedictine vow" and is the Benedictine antecedent and equivalent of the evangelical counsels professed by candidates for reception into a religious order.

Much scholarship over the last fifty years[when?] has been dedicated to the translation and interpretation of "conversatio morum". The older translation "conversion of life" has generally been replaced with phrases such as "[conversion to] a monastic manner of life", drawing from the Vulgate's use of conversatio as a translation of "citizenship" or "homeland" in Philippians 3:20. Some scholars have claimed that the vow formula of the Rule is best translated as "to live in this place as a monk, in obedience to its rule and abbot."

Benedictine abbots and abbesses have full jurisdiction of their abbey and thus absolute authority over the monks or nuns who are resident. This authority includes the power to assign duties, to decide which books may or may not be read, to regulate comings and goings, and to punish and to excommunicate, in the sense of an enforced isolation from the monastic community.

A tight communal timetable – the horarium – is meant to ensure that the time given by God is not wasted but used in God's service, whether for prayer, work, meals, spiritual reading or sleep. The order's motto Ora et Labora ("pray and work") may be said to summarize its way of life.

Although Benedictines do not take a vow of silence, hours of strict silence are set, and at other times silence is maintained as much as is practically possible. Social conversations tend to be limited to communal recreation times. But such details, like the many other details of the daily routine of a Benedictine house that the Rule of Saint Benedict leaves to the discretion of the superior, are set out in its 'customary'. A ' customary' is the code adopted by a particular Benedictine house, adapting the Rule to local conditions.[33]

In the Catholic Church, according to the norms of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a Benedictine abbey is a "religious institute" and its members are therefore members of the consecrated life. While Canon Law 588 §1 explains that Benedictine monks are "neither clerical nor lay", they can, however, be ordained.

Some monasteries adopt a more active ministry in living the monastic life, running schools or parishes; others are more focused on contemplation, with more of an emphasis on prayer and work within the confines of the cloister.

Benedictines' rules contained ritual purification,[34] and inspired by Benedict of Nursia encouragement for the practice of therapeutic bathing; Benedictine monks played a role in the development and promotion of spas.[35]

Organization Edit

Benedictine monasticism is fundamentally different from other Western religious orders insofar as its individual communities are not part of a religious order with "Generalates" and "Superiors General". Each Benedictine house is independent and governed by an abbot.[36]

In modern times, the various groups of autonomous houses (national, reform, etc.) have formed themselves loosely into congregations (for example, Cassinese, English, Solesmes, Subiaco, Camaldolese, Sylvestrines). These, in turn, are represented in the Benedictine Confederation that came into existence through Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Brief "Summum semper" on 12 July 1893. Additionally, Pope Leo established the office of Abbot Primate as the abbot elected to represent this Confederation to the Vatican and to the world. The headquarters for the Benedictine Confederation and the Abbot Primate is the Primatial Abbey of Sant'Anselmo built by Pope Leo XIII and located in Rome, Italy.[37][38]

In 1313 Bernardo Tolomei established the Order of Our Lady of Mount Olivet. The community adopted the Rule of Saint Benedict and received canonical approval in 1344. The Olivetans are part of the Benedictine Confederation.[39]

Other orders Edit

The Rule of Saint Benedict is also used by a number of religious orders that began as reforms of the Benedictine tradition such as the Cistercians and Trappists. These groups are separate congregations and not members of the Benedictine Confederation.

Although Benedictines are traditionally Catholic, there are also other communities that follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. For example, of an estimated 2,400 celibate Anglican religious (1,080 men and 1,320 women) in the Anglican Communion as a whole, some have adopted the Rule of Benedict. Likewise, such communities can be found in Eastern Orthodox Church,[40][41] and Lutheran Church.[42]

Notable Benedictines Edit

Saint Boniface (c. 680 – 750), Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 604, pope 590–604), Adalbert of Egmond (8th century) and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk, depicted in a 1529 painting by Jan Joostsz van Hillegom currently on display at the Frans Hals Museum
Late Gothic sculpture of Rupert of Salzburg (c. 660 – 710)
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) featured in a 13th-century illuminated manuscript
A Carolingian manuscript, c. 840, depicting Rabanus Maurus (left), supported by Alcuin (middle), presenting his work to Otgar of Mainz
Self portrait of Matthew Paris (c. 1200 – 59)
Abbot Suger (c. 1081 – 1135) in a medieval stained-glass window
Dom Pérignon

Saints and Blesseds Edit

Popes Edit

Founders of abbeys and congregations and prominent reformers Edit

St Erkenwald, Saxon Prince, bishop and saint known as the "Light of London"

Scholars, historians, and spiritual writers Edit

Maurists Edit

Members of the Congregation of Saint Maur, a prerevolutionary French congregation of Benedictines known for their scholarship:

Bishops and martyrs Edit

Twentieth century Edit

Cardinal Schuster

Nuns Edit

Abbot of Montserrat

Oblates Edit

Bonifatius Becker

Benedictine Oblates endeavor to embrace the spirit of the Benedictine vow in their own life in the world.[44] Oblates are affiliated with a particular monastery.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Alston, Cyprian (1907). "Benedictine Order" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ Oliver OSB, Richard . "A Brief History of the Benedictine Order",
  3. ^ a b c "The Benedictines: An Introduction by Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen OSB. Liturgical Press".
  4. ^ Huddleston, Gilbert Roger (1912). "Scriptorium" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainButler, Edward Cuthbert (1911). "Camaldulians". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 79–80.
  6. ^   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainButler, Edward Cuthbert (1911). "Cistercians". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 393–395.
  7. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainOtt, Michael (1908). "Commendatory Abbot". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  8. ^ Cross, F. L.; Livingstone, E. A., eds. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 514
  9. ^ Dom Bruno Hicks (2009). "The Benedictines". Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  10. ^ Colin Battell, OSB (2 December 2006). "Spirituality on the beach". The Tablet. pp. 18–19. The late Cardinal Basil Hume was Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey before being appointed Archbishop of Westminster.
  11. ^ Martin, Christopher (2007). A Glimpse of Heaven: Catholic Churches in England and Wales. London: English Heritage. Examines the abbeys rebuilt after 1850 (by benefactors among the Catholic aristocracy and recusant squirearchy), mainly Benedictine but including a Cistercian Abbey at Mount St. Bernard (by Pugin) and a Carthusian Charterhouse in Sussex. There is a review of book by Richard Lethbridge "Monuments to Catholic confidence," The Tablet 10 February 2007, 27.
  12. ^ Mian Ridge (12 November 2005). "Prinknash monks downsize". The Tablet. p. 34.
  13. ^ "History". Saint Louis Abbey.
  14. ^ "History - The English Benedictine Congregation". Archived from the original on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  15. ^ "HOME | Glastonbury Monastery | Somerset". Mysite.
  16. ^ Rees, Daniel (2000). "Anglican Monasticism". In Johnston, William (ed.). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn Publisher. p. 29. ISBN 1-57958-090-4.
  17. ^ Hillaby, Joe (1994–1996). "The ritual-child-murder accusation: its dissemination and Harold of Gloucester". Jewish Historical Studies. 34: 69–109. JSTOR 29779954.
  18. ^ Kaur, Nirmal (2005). History of Education. Mittal Publications. p. 44. ISBN 81-7099-984-7.
  19. ^ Wormald, Francis; Wright, C.E. (1958). The English Library before 1700. London: The Athlone Press. p. 15 – via University of London.
  20. ^ a b Savage, Ernest (1912). Old English Libraries. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.
  21. ^ "History I". Archived from the original on 30 March 2009.
  22. ^ Chadwick, Owen (1998). A History of the Popes, 1830-1914. Clarendon Press. pp. 495–. ISBN 978-0-19-826922-9.
  23. ^ Wootton and Fishbourne. (4 August 2013). Retrieved on 7 September 2013.
  24. ^ RGM 2005 OCSO. (28 February 1947). Retrieved on 7 September 2013.
  25. ^ Robinson, I. S., Henry IV of Germany 1056-1106, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 126ISBN 9780521545907
  26. ^ Clark, James Midgley. The Abbey of St. Gall as a Centre of Literature & Art, Chapter XII, CUP Archive, 1926, 1926
  27. ^ Christen, Beat (April 2020). "Auf den Tag genau vor 900 Jahren wurde das Kloster Engelberg gegründet". Luzerner Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  28. ^ ""History of Belmont Abbey", Belmont Abbey, North Carolina". Archived from the original on 16 April 2018. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  29. ^ a b c St Benedict (1981). RB 1980: the rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with notes. Translated by Fry, Timothy. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. pp. 136–141. ISBN 0-8146-1211-3. OL 4255653M.
  30. ^ "The Benedictine Congregations and Federations of North America in the Benedictine Confederation". Archived from the original on 3 September 2017. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  31. ^ "The Defining Features of the Benedictine Order". Durham World Heritage Site.
  32. ^ "Order of Saint Benedict". Saint John's Abbey.
  33. ^ "Customary: Mount Michael Abbey" (PDF). 1 September 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 March 2016. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  34. ^ Hembry, Phyllis (1990). The English Spa, 1560–1815: A Social History. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. ISBN 9780838633915.
  35. ^ Bradley, Ian (2012). Water: A Spiritual History. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781441167675.
  36. ^ "Benedictine Abbeys and Priories in the U.S. |". Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  37. ^ "The Benedictine Confederation". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  38. ^ "St Benedict & The Order | Benedictine Monks".
  39. ^ "Directory of OSB Congregations". OSB DOT ORG. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  40. ^ Simpson, Fr. Benedict (2016). "Directory of Parishes". The Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  41. ^ "Holy Monasteries of Our Lady and Saint Laurence Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Western Rite Vicariate". The Benedictine Fellowship of Saint Laurence. Archived from the original on 4 April 2018. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  42. ^ "Who we are…". Saint Augustine's House. 2018. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  43. ^ "Bishop Gervas Placidus Nkalanga, OSB, of Hanga Abbey Celebrates 50 Years as a Bishop". Hanga News. 9 June 2011.
  44. ^ "928: Secular institutes". Catechism of the Catholic Church – Part 1 Section 2 Chapter 3 Article 9 Paragraph 4. Retrieved 26 August 2019.

Further reading Edit

  • Dom Columba Marmion, Christ the Ideal of the Monk – Spiritual Conferences on the Monastic and Religious Life (Engl. edition London 1926, trsl. from the French by a nun of Tyburn Convent).
  • Mariano Dell'Omo, Storia del monachesimo occidentale dal medioevo all'età contemporanea. Il carisma di san Benedetto tra VI e XX secolo. Jaca Book, Milano 2011. ISBN 978-88-16-30493-2
  • "Abbey: Benedictine" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). 1911. pp. 12–14.

External links Edit