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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/535

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BENEDICT


471


BENEDICT


Gentiles, worshipped the god Apollo. Round about it likewise upon all sides there were woods for the service of devils, in which, even to that very time, the mad multitudes of infidels did offer most wicked sacrifice. The man of God, coming hither, beat in pieces the idol, overthrew the altar, set fire on the woods, and in the temple of Apollo built the oratory of St. Martin: and where the altar of the same .A.pollo was, he made an oratory of St. John: and by his con- tinual preaching he brought the people dwelling in those parts to embrace the faith of Christ" (Rule, viii). On this spot the saint built his monastery. His experience at Subiaco had led him to alter his plans, and now, instead of building several houses with a small community in each, he kept all his monks in one monastery and provided for its gov- ernment by appointing a prior and deans (Rule, Ixv. xxi). We find no trace in his Rule, which was most probably written at Monte Cassino, of the \-iew which guided him when he built the twelve small monasteries at Subiaco. The life which we have witnessed at Subiaco was renewed at Monte Cassino, but the change in the situation and local conditions brought a corresponding modification in the work untlertaken by the monks. Subiaco was a retired valley away in the mountains and difficult of access; Cassino was on one of the great highways to the south of Italy, and at no great distance from Capua. This brought the new monastery into more frequent communication with the outside world. It soon became a centre of influence in a district in which there was a large population, with several dioceses and other monasteries. .A.bbots came to see and advise with Benedict. Men of all classes were fre- quent visitors, and he numbered nobles and bishops among his intimate friends. There were nuns in the neighbourhood whom the monks went to preach to and to teach. There was a village nearby in which St. Benedict preached and made many converts (Dial. St. Greg., xix). The monastery became the protector of the poor, their trustee (ibid., xxxi), their refuge in sickness, in trial, in accidents, in want.

Thus during the life of the saint we find what has ever since remained a characteristic feature of Bene- dictine houses, i. e. the members take up any work which is adapted to their peculiar circumstances, any work which may be dictated by their necessities. Thus we find Benedictines teaching in poor schools and in the universities, practising the arts and follow- ing agriculture, undertaking the care of souls, or devoting themselves wholly to study. No work is foreign to the Benedictine, provided only it is com- patible with living in community and with the per- formance of the Divine Office. This freedom in the choice of work was necessary in a Rule which was to be suited to all times and places, but it was primarily the natural result of the end which St. Benedict had in view, and in which he differs from the founders of later orders. These latter had in view some special work to which they wished their disciples to devote themselves; St. Benedict's pur- pose was only to provide a Rule by which anyone might follow the Gospel counsels, and live, and work, and pray, and save his soul. St. Gregorj^'s narrative of the establisliment of Monte Cassino does little more for us than supply disconnected incidents which illustrate the daily life of the mon- astery. We gain only a few biographical facts. From Monte Cassino St. Benedict founded another monastery near Terracina, on the coast, about forty miles distant (ibid,, xxii). To the wisdom of long experience and to the mature virtues of the saint, was now added the gift of prophecy, of which St. Gregory gives many examples. Celebrated among these is the storj' of the visit of Totila, King of the Goths, in the year 543, when the saint "rebuked him for his wicked deeds, and in few words told him all


that should befall him, saying: 'Much wickedness do you daily commit, and many great sins have you done; now at length give over your sinful hfe. Into the city of Rome shall you enter, and over the sea shall you pass: nine years shall you reign, and in the tenth shall you leave this mortal life.' The king, hearing these things was wonderfully afraid, and de- siring the holy man to commend him to God in his prayers he departed: and from that time forward he %vas nothing so cruel as before he had been. Not long after he went to Rome, sailed over into Sicily, and in the tenth year of his reign he lost his king- dom together with his hfe." (ibid., xv).

Totila's visit to Monte Cassino in 543 is the only certain date we have in the saint's hfe. It must have occurred when Benedict was advanced in age. Abbot Tosti, following others, puts the saint's death in the same year. Just before his death we hear


for the first time of his sister Scholastica. "She had been dedicated from her infancy to Our Lord, and used to come once a year to visit her brother. To whom the man of God went not far from the gate to a place that did belong to the abbey, there to give her entertainment" (ibid., xxxiii). They met for the last time three days before Scholastica's death, on a day "when the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen". The sister begged her brother to stay the night, " but by no persuasion would he agree unto tliat, saying that he might not by any means tarry all night out of his abbey. . . . The nun receiving this denial of her brother, joining her hands together, laid them upon the table; and so, bowing down her head upon them, she made her prayers to Almighty God, and lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thunder- ing, and such abundance of rain, that neither ven- erable Bennet nor his monks that were with him, could put their head out of door" (ibid., xxxiii). "Three days later, " Benedict beheld the soul of his sister, which was departed from her body, in the like- ness of a dove, to ascend into heaven: who rejoicing much to see her great glo^J^ with hjonns and lauds gave thanks to .Almighty God, and did impart the news of this her death to his monks whom also he sent presently to bring her corpse to his abbey, to have it buried in that grave which he had provided for himself" (ibid., xxxiv).

It would seem to have been about this time that St. Benedict had that wonderful vision in which he came as near to seeing God as is po.ssible for man in this life. St. Gregory and St. Bonaventure say that Benedict saw God and in that vision of God saw the whole world. St. Thomas will not allow that this could have been. Urban VIII, however, does not hesitate to say that "the saint merited, whilst