Saint Benedict's Biography (Books)

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Benedict of Nursia (Italian: San Benedetto da Norcia) (c. 480 - 543 or 547) is a Christian saint, who is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion and Old Catholic Churches. St. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe and students.

Benedict founded twelve communities for monks at Subiaco, Italy (about 40 miles (64 km) to the east of Rome), before moving to Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. The Order of St Benedict is of later origin and, moreover, not an "order" as commonly understood but merely a confederation of autonomous congregations.

Benedict's main achievement is his "Rule of Saint Benedict", containing precepts for his monks. It is heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian, and shows strong affinity with the Rule of the Master. But it also has a unique spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness (epieikeia), and this persuaded most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages to adopt it. As a result, his Rule became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism.

Apart from a short poem attributed to Mark of Monte Cassino, the only ancient account of Benedict is found in the second volume of Pope Gregory I's four-book Dialogues, thought to have been written in 593. The authenticity of this work has been hotly disputed, especially by Dr Francis Clarke in his two volume work The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues. Book Two consists of a prologue and thirty-eight succinct chapters.

Gregory's account of this saint's life is not, however, a biography in the modern sense of the word. It provides instead a spiritual portrait of the gentle, disciplined abbot.
In a letter to Bishop Maximilian of Syracuse, Gregory states his intention for his Dialogues, saying they are a kind of floretum (an anthology, literally, 'flowers') of the most striking miracles of Italian holy men.

Gregory did not set out to write a chronological, historically anchored story of St. Benedict, but he did base his anecdotes on direct testimony. To establish his authority, Gregory explains that his information came from what he considered the best sources: a handful of Benedict's disciples who lived with the saint and witnessed his various miracles. These followers, he says, are Constantinus, who succeeded Benedict as Abbot of Monte Cassino; Valentinianus; Simplicius; and Honoratus, who was abbot of Subiaco when St Gregory wrote his Dialogues.

In Gregory's day, history was not recognised as an independent field of study; it was a branch of grammar or rhetoric, and historia (defined as 'story') summed up the approach of the learned when they wrote what was, at that time, considered 'history.' Gregory's Dialogues Book Two, then, an authentic medieval hagiography cast as a conversation between the Pope and his deacon Peter, is designed to teach spiritual lessons.

The early Middle Ages have been called "the Benedictine centuries." In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the influence St Benedict had on Western Europe. The pope said that "with his life and work St Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture" and helped Europe to emerge from the "dark night of history" that followed the fall of the Roman empire.

St. Benedict contributed more than anyone else to the rise of monasticism in the West. His Rule was the foundational document for thousands of religious communities in the Middle Ages. To this day, The Rule of St. Benedict is the most common and influential Rule used by monasteries and monks, more than 1,400 years after its writing. Today the Benedictine family is represented by two branches: the Benedictine Federation and the Cistercians.

The influence of St Benedict produced "a true spiritual ferment" in Europe, and over the coming decades his followers spread across the continent to establish a new cultural unity based on Christian faith.

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