Monastic Reform of Benedict of Nursia
The impact Benedict of Nursia had on the monastic tradition of Western Europe is difficult to underestimate. He wrote a set of precepts for the faithful who decided to separate from the secular vanity and become monks, named Rule of Saint Benedict. This code for monks has many similarities with the Rule of the Master and the works of John Cassian (St. Gregory the Great 1995, 15-16).
However, it is due to the reasonable content and balance the Rule of Saint Benedict managed to reform the monastic tradition in the Middle Ages. In the current paper an attempt to research the key characteristics of the Rule of Saint Benedict in order to understand the essence of the monastic reforms of Benedict of Nursia will be made.
The Rule of Saint Benedict belongs to the 6th century and sets the new unified order of praising the Lord, which was important in the times that followed the fall of the Roman Empire (Derrick 2002, 46-47). The Christian monasteries existed in the form of separate communities with their own rules, and that is why were easy to attack due to their comparative isolation. The appearance of the Rule made the existence of the monastic orders possible, which played an important role in the European history for many centuries (Barry 1995, 12-14).
The main ideas of the saint Benedict’s Rule are the combination of pray and work, which is translated as ora et labora, and peace, which is translated as pax. It offers the moderate way to combine praying with work, which explains the popularity of the Rule of Saint Benedict for fifteen centuries. This monastic code supposes that the spiritual father has powers to support the attempts of monks to grow spiritually, live an ascetic life and let the divine enter their souls.
The Rule of Saint Benedict consists of seventy three chapters and a prologue that contain the lessons on such monastic virtues as obedience, silence, humility (Holder 2009, 33-35). It also features the rules for daily life in the monastery, that consist of manual work, meditative reading of spiritual texts and prayers. Benedict of Nursia also wrote about such details of the every day life like food and drinks, clothes, way to take care of the ill people and to receive guests (Zarnecki 1985, 32).
The Rule of Saint Benedict filled the monastic life with discretion, measure and rhythm (Lawrence 2001, 89). The monks do not kill their health during all-night vigils. They have enough food and cloths they produce themselves, and at the same time they do not own anything. Their work time is regulated and they have time for their soul. Those members of the monastery community who required help received it (Southern 1970, 52). It is possible to conclude that the Rule of Saint Benedict proposed by Benedict of Nursia made the life in the monastery balanced, humane and corresponding to the Holy Scripture.
The beginning of the Middle Ages is often called the Benedictine centuries. The influence of Benedict of Nursia on the reformation of the monastic tradition is really great. Perhaps, he did not discover something extraordinary that people did not know before his Rule of Saint Benedict. However, the way he managed to organize the life of monks and to mention every minor detail that might happen delights me. I think that the appearance of the unified code of conduct was one of the reasons that made the appearance of the monastic orders like the Templar order or order of Benedictines possible. It helped to regulate the life and cease conflicts of thousands of people who lived in one place, which is a difficult task to do.
Barry, Patrick. St. Benedict and Christianity in England. Herefordshire: Gracewing Publishing, 1995.
Derrick, Christopher. The Rule of Peace: St. Benedict and the European Future. Still River, Mass.: St. Bede’s Publications, 2002.
Holder, Arthur G. Christian Spirituality: The Classics. Taylor & Francis, 2009.
St. Gregory the Great. The Life of St Benedict. Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1995.
Lawrence, Hugh. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. New York: Longmans, 2001.
Southern, Richard W. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. Yale University Press, 1970.
Zarnecki, George. The Monastic World: The Contributions of the Orders. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1985.