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