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BENEDICT


437


BENEDICT


A sufficiently good inanual edition was published by Dom Edmund Schmidt, of Metten, at Ratisbon in '.892, presenting in substance the text of the St. Gall MS., with the Low Latin element eliminated.

The number of commentators on the Rule is legion. Calmet gives a list of over one hundred and thirty such WTiters, and Ziegelbauer gives a similar list. The earliest commentary, in point of date, is that which has been variously ascribed to PaulWarnefrid (a monk of Monte Cassino about 780-799), Hildemar, Ruthard of Hirsau, and others. Hildemar, a Gallic monk, brought to Italy by Angelbert, Archbishop of Milan, reformed the monastery of Sts. Faustinus and Jovita at Brescia and died in 840. Martene, who considered this commentary to be the best ever produced, maintained that Hildemar was its real author, but modern critics attribute it to Paul Warnefrid. Amongst other commentators the following deserve mention: St. Hildegarde (d. 117S), the foundress and first Abbess of Mount St. Rupert, near Bingen on the Rhine, who held that St. Benedict's prohi- bition of fiesh-meat did not include that of birds; Bernard, Abbot of Monte Cassino, formerly of Lerins and afterwards a cardinal (d. 1282); Turrecremata (Torquemada) a Dominican (1468); Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim (1516); Perez, Archbishop of Tarragona and Superior-General of the congregation of Valladolid; Haeften, Prior of Afflighem (1648); Stengel, Abbot of Anhausen (1663); Mege (1691) and Martene (1739), Maurists; Calmet, Abbot of Senones (1757); and Mabillon (1707), who discusses at length several portions of the Rule in his Prefaces to the different volumes of the "Acta Sanctorum O. S. B."

It is impossible to gauge the comparative value of these and other commentaries, because the dif- ferent authors treat the Rule from different points of view. That of Calmet is perhaps the most literal and is exhaustive on many important points; those of Martene and Haeften are mines of information regarding monastic tradition; Perez and Mege are practical and pious, though the latter has been considered lax in many of the views maintained; that of Turrecremata is useful as treating the Rule from the standpoint of moral theology; and others give mystical interpretations of its contents. It may here be pointed out that in studying the Rule as a practical code of monastic legislation, it is nec- essary to remember that in order to facilitate uni- formity of observance, each congregation of the order has also its own Constitutions, approved by the Holy See, by which are regulated many matters of detail not touched upon in the Rule itself.

Before proceeding to analyze St. Benedict's Rule and to discuss its leading characteristics, something must be said about the monasticism that preceded his times, and out of which his system grew, in order that some idea may be gained as to how much of the Rule was borrowed from his precursors and how much was due to his own initiative. Such considera- tions are important because there is no doubt what- ever that the introduction and propagation of St. Benedict's Rule was the turning-point which changed the whole trend of monasticism in the West.

The earliest forms of Christian nionachism were characterized by their extreme austerity and by their more or less eremitical nature. In Egypt the followers of St. Anthony were purely eremitical, whilst those who followed the Rule of St. Pachoniius, though they more nearly approached the ceno- bitical ideal, were yet without that element of stability insisted upon by St. Benedict, viz: the "common life" and family spirit. Under the An- tonian system the austerities of the monks were left entirely to their own discretion; under the Pachomian, though there was an obligatory rule of limited severity, the monks were free to add to it II.— 28


what other ascetical practices they chose. And, in- both, the prevailing idea was that they were spiritual athletes, and as such they rivalled each other in austerity. Syrian and strictly Oriental monasticism need not be considered here, as it had no direct in- fluence on that of Europe. When St. Basil (fourth century) organized Greek monasticism, he set himself against the eremitical life and insisted upon a com- munity life, with meals, work, and prayer, all in common. With him the practice of austerity, unlike that of the Eg>-ptians, was to be subject to the control of the superior, for he considered that to wear out the body by austerities so as to make it unfit for work, was a misconception of the Scriptural precept of penance and mortification. His idea of the monastic life was the result of the contact of primitive ideas, as existing in Egj'pt and the East,, with European culture and modes of thought.

Monasticism came into Western Europe from. Egj'pt. In Italy, as also in Gaul, it was chiefly Antonian in character, though both the rules of St. Basil and St. Pachomius were translated into Latin and doubtless made their influence felt. As- far as we know, each monastery had practically its own rule, and we have examples of this irresponsible form of monastic life in the community which St. Benedict was called from his cave to govern, and in the Gyrovagi and Sarahaila; whom he mentions in. terms of condemnation in the first chapter of his Rule. A proof that the pervading spirit of Italian nionach- ism was Egj'ptian lies in the fact that when St. Bene- dict determined to forsake the world and become a, monk, he adopted, almost as a matter of course, the life of a solitary in a cave. His familiarity with the rules and other documents bearing upon the life of the Egj^ptian monks is shown by his legislating for the daily reading of the "Conferences" of Cassian, and by his recommendation (c. Ixxiii) of the "In- stitutes" and "Lives" of the Fathers and the Rule of St. Basil.

When, therefore, St. Benedict came to write his ovm Rule for the monasteries he had founded, he embodied in it the result of his own mature ex- perience and observation. He had himself lived the life of a solitary after the most extreme Egyptian pattern, and in his first communities he had no doubt thoroughly tested the prevailing type of monastic rule. Being fully cognizant, therefore, of the unsuitability of much in the Egyptian systems to the times and circumstances in which he lived, he now struck out on a new line, and instead of at- tempting to revivify the old forms of asceticism, he consolidated the cenobitical life, emphasized the family spirit, and discouraged all private venture in austerities. His Rule thus consists of a carefully considered combination of old and new ideas; rivalry in austerity was eliminated, and there was to be henceforth a sinking of the individual in the com- munity. In adapting a system essentially Eastern, to Western conditions, St. Benedict gave it coherence, stability, and organization, and the verdict of history- is unanimous in applauding the results of such adaptation.

II. An.\lysis of the Rule. — Of the seventy-three chapters comprising the Rule, nine treat of the duties of the abbot, thirteen regulate the worship of God, twenty-nine are concerned with discipline and the penal code, ten refer to the internal admin- istration of the monastery, and the remaining twelve con-sist of miscellaneous regulations.

The Rule opens with a prologue or hortatory preface, in which St. Benedict sets forth the main principles of the religious life, viz.: the renunciation of one's own will and the taking up of arms under the banner of Christ. He proposes to establish a "school" in which the science of salvation shall be taught, so that by persevering in the monastery till