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ST. BENEDICT, AND THE BENEDICTINE ORDER.
ST. BENEDICT. About the year 480 of the Christian Era, in the Sabine town of Nursia, sixty miles northwest of Rome, was born in the wealthy and illustrious family of Anicius, a child, whose baptismal name was Benedictns (the Blessed), and who is known in the annals of Christian civilization as St. Benedict. At an early age, before his studies were completed, this future founder of the monastic institution of the West, that he might escape from the contagion of evil example, and enjoy the benefits of solitary meditation and devotion, retired from Rome and his family to a deserted cavern in the rude district of Subiacum, among the Appenines. To this spot resorted after a time many others, in the contagion of an example which the anchorites and monks of Egypt and Syria had set, and which had already, in an isolated and upregulated fashion, got established in Italy. After thirty-five years sojourn in this district, during which time he had built two oratories, one to St. John the Baptist, the first solitary of the new faith; and the other to St. Martin, the great monk-bishop, whose ascetic and priestly virtues had edified Gaul; after preaching the Christian doctrine to the pagan peasants who still sacrificed to the gods and demons of the ancient worship; after a trial in the establishment of several religious communities, of the dangers and temptations of a life at once solitary and associated, unregulated by some received authority, and permanent and uniform rule, and unrelieved by timely and suitable labor,-taking with him a small number of disciples, Benedict left his cavern in the wild gorges of Subiaco, and, directing his steps south along the Abruzzi, penetrated into what was known as the Land of Labor, which name foreshadowed the career of the most laborious body of men the world has known. “He ended his journey," says Montalembert, in his chapter on St. Benedict, in the Monks of the West, “in a scene very different from that of Subiaco, but of incomparable grandeur and majesty. There, upon the boundaries of Samnium and Campagnia, in the center of a
large basin, half surrounded by abrupt and picturesque heights, rises a scarfed and isolated hill, the vast and rounded summit of which overlooks the course of the Liris near its fountain head, and the undulating plain which extends south towards the shore of the Mediterranean, and the narrow valleys which, towards the north, the east and the west, lost themselves in the lines of the mountainous horizon. This is Monte Cassino. At the foot of this rock, he found an amphitheater of the time of the Cæsars, amidst the ruins of the town of Cassinium, which the most learned and pious of the Romans (sanctissimus et integerrimus, are the words of Cicero applied to) Varro, that Pagan Benedictine, whose memory and knowledge the sons of Benedict took pleasure in honoring, had rendered illustrious. From the summit the prospect extended towards Arpinum, where the prince of Roman orators was born, and on the other towards Aquinum, already celebrated as the birthplace of Juvenal before it was known as the country of the Doctor Angelico. It was amidst those noble recollections, this solemn nature, and upon that predestinated height, that the patriarch of the monks of the West founded the capitol of the monastic order. He found paganism still surviving there. Two hundred years after Constantine, in the heart of Christendom, and so near Rome, there still existed a very ancient temple of Apollo, and a sacred wood, where a multitude of peasants sacrificed to the gods and demons. Benedict preached the faith of Christ to those forgotten people; he persuaded them to cut down the wood, and to overthrow the temple of the idol.” Upon their remains he erected places of prayer and of Christian worsbip, and round them rose the monastery which was to become the most celebrated in the Catholic world-celebrated not only for the virtues which were nurtured within its walls, but because here Benedict wrote his Rule, and formed the type, of the communities which submitted to that sovereign code.t
Benedict ended his life at Monte Cassino, where he lived for fourteen years, occupied, in the first place, in extirpating from the surrounding country the remnants of paganism, in building his mon. astery, in cultivating the arid sides of his mountains, and the arid plains around; and, above all, in the practice of the devotions by which his own soul was trained to the highest obedience to the divine will, and in directing the studies and labors of candidates and monks who gathered into his community. To the poor, in all the neighboring country, he was an adviser, and in various ways a helper and protector. To the young patricians, who resorted to his institution the more readily because he was of their rank, he was the loving guide in the ways of willing obedience and labor.
* The first monastery of Monte Cassino, built by Benedict and his monks, was destroyed by the Lombards in 583, and restored by the Abbot Petronax, under Gregory II., in 731, and consecrated by Pope Zacharias, in 748. It was a second time destroyed by the Saracens, who massacred a greater part of the monks in 587; and was rebuilt by Abbot Aligern about 950, and consecrated by Alexander II. in 1071. After many other calamities, it was rebuilt in 1649, and consecrated a third time by Benedict XIII., in 1727. In the height of its splendor, the Abbut was first baron of the kingdom of Naples, and administrator of a special diocese established in 1321, and composed of 37 parishes.
† The most recent and correct edition of the Rule is that of Brandes, Benedictine of Einsiedela, with a commentary and life of the patriarch, in three volumes. Einsiedeln and New York, 1857.
Scholastica, the twin-sister of Benedictus, had consecrated herself to God even earlier than did her brother. She became a nun, and established herself, after the monastery at Monte Cassino was begun, in a convent in the depth of a valley in the neighborhood, which accepted the code of her brother as its rule. The convent was afterwards enlarged and rebuilt by a wife and daughter of a king of the Lombards, who became a monk of Monte Cassino. The sister died only forty days before Benedict. They had been in the babit of meeting once a year, and they met for the last time, three days before the death of the sister, and with that interview is associated in the minds of devout Catholics the occurrence of a miracle, wrought by the passionate urgency of her prayers and tears, by which that last interview was prolonged in devotional exercises and sweet communion through the night. Her death he received as the signal of his own departure. He was seized with a violent fever, but on the sixth day, he caused himself to be carried into the chapel, and after receiving the holy viaticum, he was placed at the side of the open grave, near the foot of the altar, and with his arms extended towards heaven, died murmuring a last prayer, on the 31st of March, 543. Both were buried side by side, in a sepulchre made on the spot where stood the altar of Apollo, and over which now stands the high altar of the present church of Monte Cassino.
We give, mainly from Montalembert's chapter on St. Benedict, the chief points in the Rule drawn up by him for the government of the religions communities which he established.
The Church recognizes four principal rules, under which might be classed almost all the religious orders: 1st, Thnt of St. Basil, which prevailed by degrees over all the others in the East, and which is retained by all the Oriental monks : 24. That of St. Augustine, adopted by the regular canons, the order of Premontré, the order of the Prenching brothers or Dominicans, and several military orders: 3d, That of St. Benedict, which, adopted successively by all the monks of the West, still remnined the common rule of the monnstic order, properly so called, up to the thirteenth century; the orders of the Camaldules, of Vallombrosa, of the Carthusians, and of Citeaux, recognize this role as the basis of their special constitutions, although the name of monk of St. Benedict or Benedictine monk may still be specially assigned to others: 4th and last, The rule of St. Francis, which signalized the advent of the Mendicant Orders at the thirteenth century. We shall further remark, that the denomination of monks is not generally attributed to the Religious who follow the rule of St. Augustine, nor to the mendicant orders.
RULE OF ST. BENEDICT. The Rule of St. Benedict opens with a preamble, in which the spirit and aim of his reform is set forth in a style peculiar to himself. The first words, Ausculta, o fili! generally appear on the book which the Italian painters put in the hands of the saint.
Listen, oh son! to the precepts of the Master, and incline to him the ear of thy heart; do not fear to receive the counsel of a good father and to fulfill it fully, that thy laborious obedience may lead thee back to Him from whom disobedience and weakness have alienated thee. To thee, whoever thou art, who renouncest thine own will to fight under the true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, and takest in hand the valiant and glorious weapons of obedience, are my words at this moment addressed.
And in the first place, in all the good thou undertakest, ask of him, in ear. nest prayer, that he would bring it to a good end ; that having condescended to reckon us among his children, he may never be grieved by our evil actions. Obey him always, by the help of his grace, in such a way that the irritated Father may not one day disinherit his children, and that also the terrible Mas. ter, enraged by our perverse deeds, may not give up his guilty servants to unending punishment because they would not follow him into glory.
Then, let us rise up in answer to that exhortation of Scripture which says to us, 'It is time for us to awake out of sleep.' And with eyes open to the light of God and attentive ears, let us listen to the daily cry of the Divine voice : 'Come, my son, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Work while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work.'
Now, the Lord, who seeks his servant in the midst of the people, still says to him, 'What man is he that desireth life and loveth many days, that he may see good? When if, at that word, thou answerest, 'it is 1,' the Lord will say to the,.If thou wouldest have life, keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good: seek peace, and pursue it.' And that being done, *Then shall my eyes be upon you, and my ears shall be open to your cry. And, even before thou callest me, I shall say to thee, Here am I!
What can be more sweet, O beloved brethren, than the voice of the Lord urging us thus? By this means the Lord, in his paternal love, shows us the way of life. Let us then gird our loins with faith and good works; and with our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel, let us follow upon his footsteps, that we may be worthy of seeing him who has called us to the kingdom, If we would find a place in the tabernacle of that kingdom, we must seek it by good works, without which noue can enter there.
For let us inquire at the Lord with the prophet ... then listen to the answer he gives: ... He who shall rest in the holy mountain of God is he who, being tempted by the devil, casts him and his council far from his heart, sets him at detiance, and, seizing the first offshoots of sin, like new-born children, breaks them to pieces at the feet of Christ. It shall be those who, faithful in the fear of the Lord, shall not exalt themselves because of their services, but who, remembering that they can do nothing of themselves, and that all the good that is in them is wrought by God, glorify the Lord and his works ...
The Lord waits continually to see us answer by our actions to his holy precepts. It is for the amendment of our sins that the days of our life are prolonged like a dream, since the Apostle says: 'Art thou ignorant that the patience of God leads thee to repentance ?' And it is in his mercy that the Lord himself says: 'I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn to me and live.
Having thus, my brethren, asked of the Lord who shall dwell in his tabernacle, we have heard the precepts prescribed to such a one. If we fulfill these conditions, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Let us then prepare our hearts and bodies to fight under a holy obedience to these precepts; and if it is not always possible for nature to obey, let us ask the Lord that he would