St. Benedict, Abbot

This Thursday at our service of Holy Communion (12:10 p.m., directions and parking info here) we commemorate St. Benedict of Nursia. In the life of this great Saint, we see an exemplar that can inspire us to live with devotion and holiness, and shine the light of Christ in the world.

St. Benedict (A.D. 480-547) is considered the founder of Western monasticism and the preserver of Western Civilization after the fall of Rome. Benedict, at a young age, fled his studies in Rome to pursue a solitary life of contemplation in the wilderness. Soon, word of his holiness and devotion spread and followers started to seek him out. St. Benedict eventually wrote a monastic Rule for the community he led: outlining the pattern of life in the monastery and daily rhythms of prayer. He was renowned for his holiness of life, prophetic gifts, and many miracles.

St. Benedict is a patron saint of Europe. During the early Middle Ages, it was monks following his Rule that preserved classical learning throughout Europe. Reflecting on our own times, and the disintegration of a coherent ethos in Western culture, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre reflected that we stand in need “of another St. Benedict.” This assertion has led to the rise of the “Benedict Option,” a way of living in Christian community that goes beyond weekly worship in church to include a greater depth of life together, including starting schools, and sharing communal forms of life, inspired by St. Benedict’s example. Anglican priest Martin Thornton, in his book English Spirituality also notes the influence of St. Benedict’s three-fold rule of spirituality (praying the Daily Office, private prayer, and receiving Holy Communion) on The Book of Common Prayer and Anglican Christianity.

In conclusion, some words from the preface to The Rule of St. Benedict to bring with us this week:

Therefore, we are going to establish a school of the Lord’s service. In founding this we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if for some good reason, to amend evil habits or preserve charity, there be some strictness of discipline, to not immediately be dismayed and seek to flee from the way of salvation, whose entrance must necessarily be narrow. But, as we progress in this way of life and in faith, our hearts will expand and we will run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable delights of love. In this way, never quitting this rule but persevering in his teaching in the monastery until death, we will here share by patience in the sufferings of Christ, and deserve to be partakers also of his kingdom. Amen.

(From RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes. Edited by Timothy Fry, 165, 167.)

The artwork at the top of this post is of Saint Benedict, by the Master of the Saint Alexis Roundels, ca. 1535, displayed in the Detroit Institute of Arts.