St. Benedict (Benedict of Nursia, 480-547 A.D.) is a tremendously important, but almost unknown figure in the history of the Western Church and society. "Authentic" personal details are principally found in the Second Dialogue, written by Pope Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604 A.D.), but these are so mixed in with the fantastic and mythological as to make any statement of fact hazardous. Gregory, needless to say, did not know Benedict, though there was a group of his followers living in Rome in a monastery on the Caelian Hill by his time.

It seems that Benedict was the son of a local prominent family at Nursia. He was sent to Rome for an education, where he was distressed by easy living and lack of serious purpose among his fellow students. He removed himself from his studies and became a solitary, at Subiaco, where he soon began to attract favorable attention from like-minded penitents and serious Christians. Even his sister (St.) Scholastic eventually joined him there, and Benedict became abbot of a community. He died of fever in 547.

The autograph manuscript of the Rule of Saint Benedict was destroyed in a fire at the monastery of Trano in 896 A.D. Luckily copies had been made, though these are very corrupt. The most important, in the Library of the Monastery of St. Gallien near Konstanz in Switzerland, claims to be a copy of a copy of the original, done by two monks, Grimault and Tatto, from a text which Charlemagne had commissioned for his Court Library at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle, in Germany near the Dutch border).

Read the Rule of St. Benedict.

  1. In what ways is the monastery a democratically governed institution?
  2. Who has a vote in affairs, and who decides who does not get a vote?
  3. In what ways is the monastery not a democratically governed institution?
  4. In what ways is the Abbot of a monastery a `monarch'? Is his monarchy an absolute or a limited one? Is it arbitrary or constitutional in nature? Is it divine-right monarchy, or common-consent monarchy?
  5. What is the importance of the Chapter Meeting in governing a monastic community?
  6. In what ways can the monastery be seen as a special kind of ancient Greek polis, as, for example in Aristotle's definition of a polis? Consider (a) size of population; (b) size and nature of territory; (c) quality of citizenry.
  7. What are the special virtues of a monk? How is humility important in the governance of the monastic life?
  8. What is the importance of the idea of obedience for the ordering of a monk's life?
  9. What are the penalties and sanctions against monkly irregularities of living?
  10. What is the ideal or goal of the monastic inhabitant?
  11. Can anyone choose to become a monk? Open enrollment? Elitist enrollment?
  12. What can be seen of the Biblical influence in the virtues of a monk (Chapter 4 of the Rule)?
  13. What does the regulation of space and time do for/to the inhabitants of the monastic community?
  14. Is education (book learning) important to monks?

© 07/23/2003

January 26, 2010 12:50 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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