BENEDICT
of NURSIA
(c.480 c.550)
  

 


BENEDICT (c. 480–c. 550), of Nursia, the ‘Patriarch of Western monasticism’.  Little is known of his life. Born at Nursia, he was educated at Rome, where the licentiousness of contemporary society led him to withdraw from the world and retire c.500 to a cave at Subiaco. Here he lived as a hermit for some years. A community gradually grew up round him and he is said to have established a group of monasteries in the area. Local jealousy prompted him to leave Subiaco, and c.529, he moved with a small band of monks to Monte Cassino, where he remained till his death. It was here that he elaborated his plans for the reform of monasticism and composed his Rule . He does not appear to have been ordained or to have contemplated founding an order. He was buried at Monte Cassino in the same grave as his sister, St Scholastica. Feast day, in West, 11 July (formerly 21 March.; within the Benedictine Order, both feasts have long been and still are observed); in East, 14 Mar.

THE monastic Rule drawn up by St Benedict of Nursia c.540 for his monks, mostly laymen, of Monte Cassino. Drawing freely from the earlier Rule of St Basil, in the version of Rufinus, and from John Cassian, as well as from the Fathers of the Desert, St Augustine, and St Caesarius of Arles, but probably predominantly from the Regula Magistri, Benedict created a taut, inclusive, and individual directory of the spiritual as well as of the administrative life of a monastery. The Rule is marked by prudence and humanity, and leads by observance and obedience to the perfect following of Christ. It is safeguarded and applied by a patriarchal abbot, chosen by his monks, with full authority, who is directed to take counsel and to care for the individual. The chief task and central act of the community is the Divine Office (opus Dei) which with private prayer, spiritual reading, and work fills the day. All monks must renounce private ownership, though the monastery may own property; the regime is austere but not exacting.

Practically the sole source for Benedict's life is St Gregory I, Dialogues, Bk. 2 (ed. A. de Vogüé, OSB, with Fr. tr. by P. Antin, OSB, SC 260, 1979, pp. 120–249). Modern biographical studies by J. Chapman, OSB (London, 1929), F. Cabrol, OSB (Paris, 1933; Eng. tr., 1934), J. McCann, OSB (London, 1937; repr. 1979), I. Schuster, OSB (Milan, 1943; Eng. tr., St Louis, 1951; London, 1953). Atti del 7° Congresso Internazionale di Studi sull’ Alto Medioevo … 29 settembre—5 ottobre 1980 [devoted to ‘San Benedetto nel suo Tempo’] (Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2 vols., Spoleto, 1982); Monastica: Scritti Raccolti in Memoria del XV Centenario della Nascita di S. Benedetto (480–1980) (Miscellanea Cassinese, 44, 46–8; Montecassino, 1981–4). Il Sepolcro di San Benedetto (ibid. 27 and 45; 1951–82). O. L. Kapsner, OSB, A Benedictine Bibliography (2nd edn., 2 vols.; Collegeville, Minn., 1962), esp. 2, pp. 15–30 (for works on Benedict himself), with suppl. (ibid., 1982), esp. pp. 439–47. A Bulletin d’Histoire Bénédictine, containing full bibl. information on the saint, his Rule and the history of the Benedictine order, has appeared at intervals in R. Bén. since 1895 and as separate suppl. since 1912.

There is an immense literature. Crit. edns. of the Rule include those by R. Hanslik (CSEL 75; 1960; 2nd edn., 1977), and, with Fr. tr. and comm. by J. Neufville, OSB, and A. de Vogüé, OSB, (SC 181–6; 1971–2; with additional vol. of doctrinal and spiritual comm. by A. de Vogüé, 1977; Eng. tr. of this vol., Cistercian Studies Series, 54; Kalamazoo, Mich., 1983). Text and Eng. tr. by J. McCann, OSB (London, 1952) and RB 1980, ed. T. Fry, OSB (Collegeville, Minn. [1981]), with good introd. and notes. Facsimile of text in Bodleian MS Hatton 48 (Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, 15; Copenhagen, 1968), with introd. by D. H. Farmer, pp. 11–29. Comm. by P. Delatte, OSB (Paris, 1913; Eng. tr., 1921), G. Herwegen, OSB (Einsiedeln, 1944), and B. Steidle, OSB (Beuron, 1952). Id. (ed.), Commentationes in Regulam S. Benedicti (Studia Anselmiana, 42; Rome, 1957). P. Meyvaert, OSB, ‘Problems concerning the “Autograph” manuscript of Saint Benedict’s Rule’, R. Bén. 69 (1959), pp. 3–21; repr. in id., Benedict, Gregory, Bede and Others (1977), no. 3. The modern history of the text of the Rule is documented, by J. D. Broekaert, Bibliographie de la Règle de Saint Benoît: Éditions latines et traductions imprimées de 1489 à 1929 (Studia Anselmiana, 77–8; Rome, 1980; 1213 items) and B. Jaspert, Bibliographie der Regula Benedicti 1930–1980: Ausgaben und Übersetzungen (Regula Benedicti Studia, suppl. 5; Hildesheim, 1983; 424 items). The annual Regula Benedicti Studia (ibid., 1972 ff.) provides a bibliography of secondary works on the Rule. See also works cited, s.v. benedict, st, benedictine order, and regula magistri.

 

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