Saint Benedict


Order of Saint Benedict

St Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-543), detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico, San Marco, Florence (c. 1400-1455).
St Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-543), detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico, San Marco, Florence (c. 1400-1455).

The Order of Saint Benedict – full Latin name: Ordo Sancti Benedicti (Ordo, nominative 'Order', Sancti Benedicti, genitive 'of Saint Benedict', initials: OSB – sometimes referred to as the Benedictine Order, is a name used for the Roman Catholic confederation of congregations into which, in modern times, the traditionally independent monastic communities ("abbeys", "Houses") that observe the Rule of St Benedict have affiliated themselves for the purpose of representing their mutual interests, without the individual abbeys however ceasing any of their autonomy

Today the terms "Order of St Benedict" and "Benedictine Order" are also used frequently to refer to the total of the independent Roman Catholic Benedictine abbeys, thereby giving the wrong impression of a "generalate" or "motherhouse" with jurisdiction over dependent communities.


Historical development

The monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy established by Saint Benedict of Nursia ca 529 was the first of a dozen monasteries founded by him. Even so, there is no evidence to suggest that he intended to found an order. Quite the contrary – his Rule presupposes the autonomy of each community. But despite the absence of a Benedictine order, since most monasteries founded during the Middle Ages adopted the Rule of St Benedict – initially only communities of monks but soon also communities of nuns –, it became the standard for Western Monasticism.

The Benedictine monasteries went on to make considerable contributions not only to the monastic and the spiritual life of the West, but also to economics, education, and government, so that the years from 550 to 1150 may be called the "Benedictine centuries".

Even today Benedictine monasticism is fundamentally different from other Western religious orders insofar as its individual communities are not part of a religious order with "Generalates" and "Superiors General". Rather, in modern times, the various autonomous Houses (that is, communities) have formed themselves loosely into Congregations (for example, Cassinese, English, Solesmes, Subiaco, Camaldolese, Sylvestrines) that in turn are represented in the Benedictine Confederation that came into existence through Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Brief "Summum semper" (12 July 1893). This organization facilitates convenient dialogue of likeminded communites with e.g. religious orders and attending efficiently to certain other mutual interests.

Other religious that use the Rule of Saint Benedict and are generally considered to be of the Benedictine tradition are the Cistercians, Bernardines, and Benedictine Sisters of Grace and Compassion, although these are not part of the Benedictine Confederation.

The largest number of Benedictines are Roman Catholics or members of one of the churches of the Anglican Communion, although they are occasionally found in other Christian denominations as well, e.g. the Lutheran church.

Benedictine Vow and life

The original purpose of monasteries is not to contribute to culture, or even save it perhaps, but to ensure salvation for its members. Therefore, the Rule of St Benedict (ch. 58.17) requires candidates for reception into a Benedictine community to promise solemnly stability (to remain in the same monastery), conversatione morum (an idiomatic Latin phrase suggesticonversion of manners"), and obedience (to the superior, because the superior holds the place of Christ in their community). This solemn commitment tends to be referred to as the "Benedictine vow" and is the Benedictine antecedent and equivalent of the evangelical counsels professed by candidates for reception into a religious order.

Benedictine abbots and abbesses have full jurisdiction of their abbey ("House") and thus absolute authority over the monks, or nuns resp., of their own House, e.g. to assign them duties, to decide their choice of books, to take charge of their comings and goings, and if necessary to punish and even to excommunicate them.

A tight communal timetable ("horarium") is meant to ensure that the time given by the God is not wasted but in whichever way necessary used in his service, whether for prayer, work, meals, spiritual reading, sleep.

The Benedictines make no vow of silence, nevertheless the hours of stricter silence are fixed, and even at other times, out of fraternal love, silence is maintained as much as is practically possible. Social conversations tend to be limited to communal recreation times. But such details, like many others details of the daily routine of a Benedictine House that the Rule of St Benedict leaves to the discretion of the superior, are set out in its customary.

In the Roman Catholic Church according to the norms of the Code of Canon Law 1983 a Benedictine abbey is a "Religious Institute", and its professed members are therefore members of the "Consecrated Life", commonly referred to as "Religious". All Benedictine monks and nuns are members of the Laity among the Christian Faithful; only those Benedictine monks who have been ordained priests are also members of the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Benedictines who are not members of the Consecrated Life (i.e., Oblates) nevertheless endeavour to embrace the spirit of the Benedictine Vow in their own life in the world.


The Benedictine motto is: pax (Latin: "peace"), traditionally also ora et labora (Latin: "pray and work").

Since the Middle Ages those Benedictine monks that traditionally wear a black habit have been nicknamed "Black Monks".

See also

  • Benedictine
  • Abbey of Cluny, an abbey, reformed during the Middle Ages, strictly adhering to the Rule.
  • Camaldolese
  • Sylvestrines
  • Cistercian
  • Trappists
  • Mont Saint-Michel
  • Autpert Ambrose
  • Henry Wansbrough

Further reading

  • Dom Columba Marmion OSB, Christ the Ideal of the Monk – Spiritual Conferences on the Monastic and Religious Life (Engl. edition London 1926, trsl. from the French by a nun of Tyburn Convent).

Benedictines in popular culture and fiction

(The following list is not limited to titles that traditionally would have been approved monastic reading.)

  • A stage play based on a book by Hugh Whitemore, The Best of Friends, provides a window on the friendships of Dame Laurentia McLachlan, OSB (late Abbess of Stanbrook) with Sir Sydney Cockerell and George Bernard Shaw through adaptations from their letters and writings.
  • The 1975 TV film In This House of Brede, with Dame Diana Rigg in the lead role, presents a portrayal of the progress of a fictitious postulant. The film was inspired by the 1969 novel of the same name written by Rumer Godden.
  • Perhaps the most famous Benedictine monk in all fictiondom is Brother Cadfael. (Friar Tuck does not qualify for this distinction, as he was a Franciscan.) Edith Pargeter, writing under the pen name Ellis Peters, created the character of Brother Cadfael as the detective hero of her series of medieval murder mysteries known as The Cadfael Chronicles.
  • Although the protagonist is a Franciscan, the Umberto Eco novel The Name of the Rose is set in a fictional Benedictine monastery in Italy.
  • Samples of chanting Benedictine monks were used in the song I'm Dying by V.A.S.T., from their album Visual Audio Sensory Theater.
  • Joseph Knecht, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game, is sent as an ambassador of sorts to a Benedictine abbey for his first assignment.
  • Benedectine warrior-monks are featured in the Legacy of the Aldenata series by John Ringo.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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