The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict (Latin: Ordo Sancti Benedicti, abbreviated as OSB), are a monastic Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also sometimes called the Black Monks, in reference to the colour of the members' religious habits.
Despite being called an order, the Benedictines do not operate under a single hierarchy but are instead organised as a collection of independent monastic communities, with each community (monastery, priory or abbey) within the order maintaining its autonomy. Unlike other religious orders, the Benedictines do not have a superior general or motherhouse with universal jurisdiction. Instead, the order is represented internationally by the Benedictine Confederation, an organisation that was set up in 1893 to represent the order's shared interests.
The monastery at Subiaco in Italy, established by Saint Benedict of Nursia c. 529, was the first of the dozen monasteries he founded. He later founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino. There is no evidence, however, that he intended to found an order and the Rule of Saint Benedict presupposes the autonomy of each community. When Monte Cassino was sacked by the Lombards about the year 580, the monks fled to Rome, and it seems probable that this constituted an important factor in the diffusion of a knowledge of Benedictine monasticism.
It was from the monastery of St. Andrew in Rome that Augustine, the prior, and his forty companions set forth in 595 on their mission for the evangelization of England. At various stopping places during the journey, the monks left behind them traditions concerning their rule and form of life, and probably also some copies of the Rule. Lérins Abbey, for instance, founded by Honoratus in 375, probably received its first knowledge of the Benedictine Rule from the visit of St. Augustine and his companions in 596.
Gregory of Tours says that at Ainay Abbey, in the sixth century, the monks "followed the rules of Basil, Cassian, Caesarius, and other fathers, taking and using whatever seemed proper to the conditions of time and place", and doubtless the same liberty was taken with the Benedictine Rule when it reached them. In Gaul and Switzerland, it supplemented the much stricter Irish or Celtic Rule introduced by Columbanus and others. In many monasteries it eventually entirely displaced the earlier codes.
By the ninth century, however, the Benedictine had become the standard form of monastic life throughout the whole of Western Europe, excepting Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where the Celtic observance still prevailed for another century or two. Largely through the work of Benedict of Aniane, it became the rule of choice for monasteries throughout the Carolingian empire.
Monastic scriptoria flourished from the ninth through the twelfth centuries.
In the Middle Ages monasteries were often founded by the nobility.
One of the earliest reforms of Benedictine practice was that initiated in 980 by Romuald, who founded the Camaldolese community.
The dominance of the Benedictine monastic way of life began to decline towards the end of the twelfth century, which saw the rise of the Franciscans and Dominicans. Benedictines took a fourth vow of "stability", which professed loyalty to a particular foundation.
The English Benedictine Congregation is the oldest of the nineteen Benedictine congregations.
Germany was evangelized by English Benedictines.
In the English Reformation, all monasteries were dissolved and their lands confiscated by the Crown, forcing their Catholic members to flee into exile on the Continent. During the 19th century they were able to return to England, including to Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, one of the few great monastic churches to survive the Dissolution.
St. Mildred's Priory, on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, was built in 1027 on the site of an abbey founded in 670 by the daughter of the first Christian King of Kent. Currently the priory is home to a community of Benedictine nuns. Five of the most notable English abbeys are the Basilica of St Gregory the Great at Downside, commonly known as Downside Abbey, The Abbey of St Edmund, King and Martyr commonly known as Douai Abbey in Upper Woolhampton, Reading, Berkshire, Ealing Abbey in Ealing, West London, and Worth Abbey. Prinknash Abbey, used by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge, was officially returned to the Benedictines four hundred years later, in 1928. During the next few years, so-called Prinknash Park was used as a home until it was returned to the order.
St. Lawrence's Abbey in Ampleforth, Yorkshire was founded in 1802. In 1955, Ampleforth set up a daughter house, a priory at St. Louis, Missouri which became independent in 1973 and became Saint Louis Abbey in its own right in 1989.
As of 2015, the English Congregation consists of three abbeys of nuns and ten abbeys of monks.
Since the Oxford Movement, there has also been a modest flourishing of Benedictine monasticism in the Anglican Church and Protestant Churches. Anglican Benedictine Abbots are invited guests of the Benedictine Abbot Primate in Rome at Abbatial gatherings at Sant'Anselmo. There are an estimated 2,400 celibate Anglican Religious (1,080 men and 1,320 women) in the Anglican Communion as a whole, some of whom have adopted the Rule of St. Benedict.
The forty-eighth rule of Saint Benedict prescribes extensive and habitual "holy reading" for the brethren. Three primary types of reading were done by the monks during this time.
However, Benedictine monks were disallowed worldly possessions, thus necessitating the preservation and collection of sacred texts in monastic libraries for communal use. For the sake of convenience, the books in the monastery were housed in a few different places, namely the sacristy, which contained books for the choir and other liturgical books, the rectory, which housed books for public reading such as sermons and lives of the saints, and the library, which contained the largest collection of books and was typically in the cloister.
The first record of a monastic library in England is in Canterbury. To assist with Augustine of Canterbury's English mission, Pope Gregory the Great gave him nine books which included the Gregorian Bible in two volumes, the Psalter of Augustine, two copies of the Gospels, two martyrologies, an Exposition of the Gospels and Epistles, and a Psalter. Theodore of Tarsus brought Greek books to Canterbury more than seventy years later, when he founded a school for the study of Greek.
Monasteries were among the institutions of the Catholic Church swept away during the French Revolution. Monasteries were again allowed to form in the 19th century under the Bourbon Restoration. Later that century, under the Third French Republic, laws were enacted preventing religious teaching. The original intent was to allow secular schools. Thus in 1880 and 1882, Benedictine teaching monks were effectively exiled; this was not completed until 1901.
Saint Blaise Abbey in the Black Forest of Baden-Württemberg is believed to have been founded around the latter part of the tenth century. Other houses either reformed by, or founded as priories of, St Blasien were: Muri Abbey (1082), Ochsenhausen Abbey (1093), Göttweig Abbey (1094), Stein am Rhein Abbey (before 1123) and Prüm Abbey (1132). It also had significant influence on the abbeys of Alpirsbach (1099), Ettenheimmünster (1124) and Sulzburg (ca 1125), and the priories of Weitenau (ca 1100), Bürgeln (before 1130) and Sitzenkirch (ca 1130).
The abbey of Our Lady of the Angels was founded in 1120.
The first Benedictine to live in the United States was Pierre-Joseph Didier.
Wimmer also asked for Benedictine sisters to be sent to America by St. Walburg Convent in Eichstätt, Bavaria. In 1852, Sister Benedicta Riepp and two other sisters founded St. Marys, Pennsylvania. Soon they would send sisters to Michigan, New Jersey, and Minnesota.
By 1854, Swiss monks began to arrive and founded St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana, and they soon spread to Arkansas and Louisiana. They were soon followed by Swiss sisters.
There are now over 100 Benedictine houses across America.
Benedictine vow and life
The sense of community was a defining characteristic of the order since the beginning. Section 17 in chapter 58 of the Rule of Saint Benedict states the solemn promise candidates for reception into a Benedictine community are required to make: a promise of stability (i.e. to remain in the same community), conversatio morum (an idiomatic Latin phrase suggesting "conversion of manners"; see below) and obedience to the community's superior. This solemn commitment tends to be referred to as the "Benedictine vow" and is the Benedictine antecedent and equivalent of the evangelical counsels professed by candidates for reception into a religious order.
Much scholarship over the last fifty years has been dedicated to the translation and interpretation of "conversatio morum". The older translation "conversion of life" has generally been replaced with phrases such as "[conversion to] a monastic manner of life", drawing from the Vulgate's use of conversatio as a translation of "citizenship" or "homeland" in Philippians 3:20. Some scholars have claimed that the vow formula of the Rule is best translated as "to live in this place as a monk, in obedience to its rule and abbot."
Benedictine abbots and abbesses have full jurisdiction of their abbey and thus absolute authority over the monks or nuns who are resident. This authority includes the power to assign duties, to decide which books may or may not be read, to regulate comings and goings, and to punish and to excommunicate, in the sense of an enforced isolation from the monastic community.
A tight communal timetable – the horarium – is meant to ensure that the time given by God is not wasted but used in God's service, whether for prayer, work, meals, spiritual reading or sleep.
Although Benedictines do not take a vow of silence, hours of strict silence are set, and at other times silence is maintained as much as is practically possible.
In the Roman Catholic Church, according to the norms of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a Benedictine abbey is a "religious institute" and its members are therefore members of the consecrated life. While Canon Law 588 §1 explains that Benedictine monks are "neither clerical nor lay", they can, however, be ordained.
Some monasteries adopt a more active ministry in living the monastic life, running schools or parishes; others are more focused on contemplation, with more of an emphasis on prayer and work within the confines of the cloister.
Benedictine monasticism is fundamentally different from other Western religious orders insofar as its individual communities are not part of a religious order with "Generalates" and "Superiors General".
In modern times, the various groups of autonomous houses (national, reform, etc.) have formed themselves loosely into congregations (for example, Cassinese, English, Solesmes, Subiaco, Camaldolese, Sylvestrines).
In 1313 Bernardo Tolomei established the Order of Our Lady of Mount Olivet. The community adopted the Rule of St. Benedict and received canonical approval in 1344. The Olivetans are part of the Benedictine Confederation.
The Rule of Saint Benedict is also used by a number of religious orders that began as reforms of the Benedictine tradition such as the Cistercians and Trappists. These groups are separate congregations and not members of the Benedictine Confederation.
Although Benedictines traditionally refer to Catholics, there are also some within the Anglican Communion and occasionally within other Christian denominations as well, for example, within the Lutheran Church, that claim adherence to the Rule of Saint Benedict. There are also some Eastern Orthodox Benedictines.
- Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604, r. 590–604)
- Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604)
- Saint Boniface (c. 680–755)
- Willibrord (c. 658–739)
- Rupert of Salzburg (c. 660–710)
- Suitbert of Kaiserwerdt (d. 713)
- Saint Sturm (c. 705–79)
- Ansgar (801–65)
- Wolfgang of Regensburg (934–994)
- Adalbert of Prague (c. 956–97)
- Gerard of Csanád (c. 980–1046)
- Pope Gregory VII (c. 1020–85, r. 1073–85)
- Pope Victor III (c. 1026–87, r. 1086–87)
- Pope Celestine V (1215–96, r. 1294)
- Pope Urban V (1310–70, r. 1362–70)
- Pope Pius VII (1742–1823, r. 1800–23); Servant of God
- Pope Sylvester II (c. 946–1003, r. 999–1003)
- Pope Paschal II (d. 1118, r. 1099–1118)
- Pope Gelasius II (d. 1119, r. 1118–19)
- Pope Clement VI (1291–1352, r. 1342–52)
- Pope Gregory XVI (1765–1846, r. 1831–46)
- Earconwald (c. 630–93)
- Benedict Biscop (c. 628–90)
- Leudwinus (c. 665–713)
- Benedict of Aniane (747–821)
- Dunstan (909–88)
- Berno of Cluny (c. 850–927)
- Odo of Cluny (c. 878–942)
- Majolus of Cluny (c. 906–94)
- Odilo of Cluny (c. 962–c. 1048)
- Bernard of Cluny (d. 1109)
- Peter the Venerable (c. 1092–1156)
- Romuald (c. 956–c. 1026)
- Robert of Molesme (c. 1028–1111)
- Alberic of Cîteaux (d. 1109)
- Stephen Harding (d. 1134)
- Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)
- William of Hirsau (c. 1030–91)
- John Gualbert (995–1073)
- Stephen of Obazine (1084–1154)
- Robert of Arbrissel (c. 1045–1116)
- William of Montevergine (1085–1142)
- Nicholas Justiniani (fl.1153-1179)
- Sylvester Gozzolini (1177–1267)
- Bernardo Tolomei (1272–1348)
- Laurent Bénard (1573–1620)
- Prosper Guéranger (1805–1875)
- Jean-Baptiste Muard (1809–1854)
- Boniface Wimmer (1809–1887)
- Maurus Wolter (1825–1890)
- Martin Marty (1834–1896)
- Andreas Amrhein (1844–1927)
- Lambert Beauduin (1873–1960)
- Margit Slachta (or Schlachta, 1884–1974)
- Jonas of Bobbio (600-659)
- Bede (673–735)
- Aldhelm (c. 639–709)
- Alcuin (d. 804)
- Rabanus Maurus (c. 780–856)
- Paschasius Radbertus (785–865)
- Ratramnus (d. 866)
- Walafrid Strabo (c. 808–49)
- Notker Labeo (c. 950–1022)
- Guido of Arezzo (991–1050)
- Hermann of Reichenau (1013–54)
- Paul the Deacon (c. 720–99)
- Hincmar (806–82)
- Saint Maurus of Pécs (c. 1000–c. 1075)
- Peter Damian (c. 1007–72)
- Lanfranc (c 1005–89)
- Anselm of Canterbury (c 1033–1109)
- Eadmer (c 1060–c1126)
- Florence of Worcester (d. 1118)
- Symeon of Durham (d. 1130)
- Jocelyn de Brakelond (d. 1211)
- Matthew Paris (c. 1200–59)
- William of Malmesbury (c. 1095–c. 1143)
- Gervase of Canterbury (c. 1141–c. 1210)
- Roger of Wendover (d. 1236)
- Peter the Deacon (d. 1140)
- Adam Easton (d. 1397)
- Honoré Bonet (c. 1340–c1410)
- John Lydgate (c. 1370–c. 1451)
- John Whethamstede (d. 1465)
- Johannes Trithemius (1462–1516)
- Louis de Blois (1506–66)
- Benedict van Haeften (1588–1648)
- Augustine Baker (1575–1641)
- Jean Mabillon (1632-1707)
- Mariano Armellino (1657–1737)
- Antoine Augustin Calmet (1672–1757)
- Magnoald Ziegelbauer (1689–1750)
- Marquard Herrgott (1694–1762)
- Luigi Tosti (1811–97)
- Jean Baptiste François Pitra (1812–89)
- Suitbert Bäumer (1845–94)
- Francis Aidan Gasquet (1846–1929)
- Fernand Cabrol (1855–1937)
- Germain Morin (1861–1946)
- John Chapman (1865–1933)
- Cuthbert Butler (1858–1934)
- Nicolas-Hugues Ménard (1585–1644)
- Luc d'Achery (1609–85)
- Antoine-Joseph Mège (1625–91)
- Thierry Ruinart (1657–1709)
- François Lamy (1636–1711)
- Pierre Coustant (1654–1721)
- Edmond Martène (1654–1739)
- Ursin Durand (1682–1771)
- Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741)
- René-Prosper Tassin (1697–1777)
- Saint Ernest (d. 1148)
- Laurence of Canterbury (d. 619)
- Mellitus (d. 624)
- Justus (d. 627)
- Paulinus of York (d. 644)
- Leudwinus (c. 665–713)
- Oda of Canterbury (d. 958)
- Bertin (c. 615–c. 709)
- Wilfrid (c. 633–c. 709)
- Cuthbert (c. 634–87)
- John of Beverley (d. 721)
- Swithun (d. 862)
- Æthelwold of Winchester (d. 984)
- Edmund Rich (1175–1240)
- Abbot Suger (c. 1081–1151)
- John Beche (d. 1539)
- Richard Whiting (d. 1539)
- Hugh Cook Faringdon (d. 1539)
- Sigebert Buckley (c. 1520–c. 1610)
- John Roberts (1577-1610)
- Gabriel Gifford (1554–1629)
- Alban Roe (1583-1642)
- Philip Michael Ellis (1652–1726)
- Charles Walmesley (1722–97)
- William Placid Morris (1794–1872)
- John Polding (1794–1877)
- William Bernard Ullathorne (1806–89)
- Roger Vaughan (1834–83)
- Guglielmo Sanfelice d'Acquavilla (1834–1897)
- Joseph Pothier (1835–1923)
- John Cuthbert Hedley (1837–1915)
- Domenico Serafini (1852–1918)
- Placidus Nkalanga (1918 - 2015)
- Lambert Beauduin (1873–1960)
- Bl. Alfredo Schuster (1880–1954)
- Bede Griffiths (1906–1993)
- Paul Augustin Mayer (1911–2010)
- Hans Hermann Groër (1919–2003)
- Basil Hume (1923–1999)
- Rembert Weakland (1927–)
- Daniel M. Buechlein (1938-2018)
- Jerome Hanus (1940-)
- Anselm Grün (1945–)
- Scholastica (c. 480–547)
- Æthelthryth (c. 636–79)
- Hilda of Whitby (c. 614–80)
- Werburh (d. 699)
- Mildrith (d. early 7th century)
- Saint Walpurga (c. 710–79)
- Wulfthryth of Wilton (c. 937–1000)
- Saint Edith of Wilton (c. 961–984)
- Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)
- Gertrude the Great (1256–c. 1302)
- Joan Chittister (1936-)
- Noella Marcellino (1951-)
- Teresa Forcades (1966–)
Benedictine Oblates endeavor to embrace the spirit of the Benedictine vow in their own life in the world. Oblates are affiliated with a particular monastery.
- Emperor Henry II (972–1024)
- Frances of Rome (1384–1440)
- Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907)
- Jacques Maritain (1882–1973)
- Romano Guardini (1885–1968)
- Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
- Walker Percy (1916–1990)
- Kathleen Norris (1947– )