Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino Father of Western Monasticism, c.550
Benedict was born in Nursia, central Italy, around the year 480. As a young man he was sent to study in Rome, but was soon appalled by the corruption in society and withdrew to live as a hermit at Subiaco. He quickly attracted disciples and began to establish small monasteries in the neighbourhood. Around the year 525, a disaffected faction tried to poison him so Benedict moved to Monte Cassino with a band of loyal monks. Later in life Benedict wrote his Rule for Monks, based on his own experience of fallible people striving to live out the gospel. He never intended to found an ‘order’ but his Rule was so good that it was disseminated and widely followed, becoming the model for all western monasticism. Benedict died at Monte Cassino in about the year 550.
1 Corinthians 3. 10-11
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
No one would be more surprised than Benedict to find his name still revered 1500 years after his death. His modesty, quiet wisdom and occasional good humour were the personal foundations on which he developed his Rule” – a concise management textbook on how to run a good monastery. “Like a skilled master builder” Benedict laid the foundations for the monastic life of Western Europe at a time when his world was in danger of descending into chaos – physical and spiritual. We don’t have many URC monasteries, and even fewer URC monks, so why bother with Benedict? Two reasons: his Rule helped to build a community of prayer, learning and spirituality housed in buildings of such beauty that many of them still remain to move our spirits to this day. Without Benedict it would have been chaos which ruled, rather than the order and discipline he brought to Christian experience, which also survives to this day. From this foundation springs the commitment to “prayer and work” which was his recipe for the Christian life, whether it was in a monastery or not. He was a skilled master builder indeed, and one who never sought to make his mark a matter of personal prestige, because he understood by whom the foundations had been laid on which we are all called to build our lives.
Gracious and Holy Father, give us wisdom to perceive you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate upon you and a life to proclaim you; Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
A prayer of St Benedict
The Rev’d Peter Moth is a retired minister in the Northern Synod and a member of Kenton URC, Newcastle