Remembering Saint Benedict

Feast Day Today Celebrates Patron of Europe

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, JUNE 11, 2012 ( Nearly half a century has passed since the father of western monasticism, Saint Benedict, was declared patron protector of Europe.

Throughout the Dark Ages of Europe following the fall of Rome, Scripture, patristic writings, classical literature, and scientific works that otherwise might have been forgotten or destroyed were kept safe behind monastery walls, where they were meticulously studied and preserved. The monastic tradition of the West was based upon the Benedictine Rule, a work which outlines precepts for living in community under the guidance of an abbot. For 1,500 years, Benedictines and other religious communities throughout the world have based their monastic structure upon this rule.

Benedict was born the son of a Roman noble in the town of Nursia in 480 AD, and spent much of his youth in the city of Rome. He would eventually leave Rome to live the life of a hermit in the mountains of Subiaco, a small town in the province of Rome. After receiving the call to live in community in a monastic setting, Saint Benedict left Subiaco and set off for the southern town of Monte Cassino, where he would remain, with his sister Saint Scholastica, until his death in 543.

In 1964, Paul VI, in his apostolic letter Pacis Nuntius, made the proclamation declaring Saint Benedict the patron protector of Europe. «Messenger of peace,» the late Pontiff said describing the saint, «molder of union, magister of civilization, and above all herald of the religion of Christ and founder of monastic life in the West: these are the proper titles of exaltation given to St. Benedict, Abbot.»

«It was principally he and his sons, who with the cross, the book and the plow, carried Christian progress to scattered peoples from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, from Ireland to the plains of Poland (Cf. AAS 39 (1947), p. 453). With the cross,» he continued, «that is, with the law of Christ, he lent consistency and growth to the ordering of public and private life.»

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western culture was kept safe within the confines of monasteries. «With the book, then, i.e. with culture, the same St. Benedict, — from whom so many monasteries derive their name and vigor — with providential care, saved the classical tradition of the ancients at a time when the humanistic patrimony was being lost, by transmitting it intact to its descendants, and by restoring the cult of knowledge.»

The value which European society places upon its Benedictine roots was seen in recent decades when, after Monte Cassino was destroyed in WWII, it was completely restored.  “This we do most willingly, repeating the actions of several of Our Predecessors, who personally took steps throughout the centuries towards the dedication of this center of monastic spirituality, which was made famous by the sepulcher of St. Benedict.”

«May so remarkable a saint,» Pope Paul VI continued, «receive our vow and, as he once dispelled the darkness by the light of Christian civilization and radiated the gift of peace, may he now preside over all of European life and by his intercession develop and increase it all the more.»

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