Friday, June 28, 2013

Benedict of Nursia (ca 480-543)

Benedict was born around 480 into an upper-middle-class family living in Nursia (today’s Norcia), Latinia, about 150 miles (180 km) northeast of Rome.

By the time he was 20, he had received a good education in Rome and had met a woman who had fallen in love with him.  Even so he tired of the devotion of his friends to Venus goddess of sex and Bacchus god of consumption. He left them in Rome to develop a more meaningful way of living.

Close to village of Subiaco, about 47 miles (75 km) east of Rome, he found a small cave above a lake and lived in it for three years. He received food and spiritual counsel from a monk named Romanus who lived nearby. Ironically this cave, incubator for a Latin Christian monasticism that would replace a collapsed Roman Empire, was located close to an abandoned summer palace of the emperor Nero.

Benedict’s commitment to Jesus, the one odd god, led him to develop an unconventional way of living. This difference inspired monks, living nearby and looking for a new abbot, to beg Benedict to live with them and serve as their leader. At first he declined but, when they insisted, he agreed. He’d been right to hesitate: they soon came to resent his leadership and tried to poison him. He returned to his cave in Subiaco.

Years went by. Tradition tells us that Benedict started 12 monasteries with 12 monks and an abbot each in Subiaco. In 529 some of these monks moved with him to Monte Cassino and lived in monastic community there with him as abbot. Monte Cassino lies about 88 miles (140 km) southeast of Rome and about halfway between Rome and Naples.

While at Monte Cassino Benedict wrote what we now call the Rule of St. Benedict. In 73 short chapters, he shares with us his understanding of living in a Christian way both personally and communally. His advice combines insight and sensitivity with pragmatism.

He died of a high fever on March 21, 543. The Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion remember him each year on July 11.

At first Benedict’s Rule was just one of several that a group of men or women might choose to use as a guide for their own community. Eventually it proved so helpful that it became the standard for monasticism in Latin Christendom for centuries. In the early 800s even the ruler Charlemagne and his son Louis “the Pious” admired it.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.