St Benedict, Co-Patron of Europe

For many Benedictines the 21 March feast of St Benedict is the big one. It occurs during Lent and is celebrated with a kind of spartan splendour which seems very apt for the father of western monasticism. The 11 July feast, by contrast, is a rather truncated affair (no I Vespers, for example) and overlaid by other concerns. When Paul VI declared St Benedict Patron of Europe, however, he touched upon something important: the role of Benedictine monasticism in giving shape to what we now call ‘Europe’.

It is scarcely possible to mention Europe nowadays without hearing a groan or mutterings about economic collapse; but Europe as an idea, as a political and cultural entity, as a source of both intellectual and material creativity, is not to be dismissed so summarily. What, I wonder, is the contribution that Benedictines make to the Europe of today? Medievalists tend to talk in terms of learning and literature, art and agriculture, acknowledging the diversity of monastic endeavours in the past. We cannot see the present so clearly, but I have a hunch that the monastic contribution is by no means spent. Maybe the large monasteries of the past, with their great estates and highly regulated way of life, will be seen no more, but it is the genius of St Benedict to be interpreted afresh in every generation. ‘Behold I am doing a new thing.’ These are exciting times in which to be a disciple of St Benedict.

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15 thoughts on “St Benedict, Co-Patron of Europe”

  1. I didn’t know much about Benedict until i-church ran a series online of the rule. Which is inspirational, but a hard rule to follow.

    Translating it into secular, everyday life seems that it has to be observed in the spirit, rather than the letter of the rule.

    But I can see how living a communal life within a monastic environment, it would make real sense. Providing a framework for a life of work, prayer and recreation.

    Will pray that your community enjoys it’s celebration of this Great Saint’s life and rule.

  2. By NO MEANS spent ! Today’s another occasion for thankful celebration of Benedictine witness : yours, and that of your sisters and brothers, now and down the centuries, keeping alive a creative, realistic, sense of what is possible in terms of Christian life.

  3. Happy feast day to you all! I thank God for the enriching of the spiritual life that has flowed from Benedict’s spiritual children. As a couple of small examples, on my desk today are books by three great Benedictine teachers; Bede Griffiths, John Main and Laurence Freeman and our chaplaincy team regularly benefits from the hospitality and spirituality of the community at Worth Abbey. There can be few greater vocations than that of giving constant, faithful witness to the truth that we cannot live without prayer. Blessings on your online expression of that witness!

  4. Happy Feast Day; truncated or otherwise you are in my prayers. This is a great post to reflect on. You along with Dom Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey in Ireland and Laurence Freeman are Benedictines that inspire me with fresh wisdom, inspiration to imagine and sometimes ask questions that challenge the way to respond to the world, to have dialogue with it but not be subject to its whims.
    Rich blessings for today and always

  5. I’ve spent a period of discernment using the Anglican Benedictine Abbey at Alton as a place of peace in what has been an exciting and stressful phase of my ministry. I was blessed yesterday to agree with one of the monks there that he will be my spiritual companion on the next leg of my journey.

    I know almost nothing about the Benedictine’s except for the hospitality of that place, and little about St Benedict. Initially from your post I find myself wondering why St Benedict is celebrated twice in the church’s calendar with a ‘feast’, when most saints I’ve come across only get one? I’m quite sure he’s worth it, but wondered if you could explain please?

    • March 21st is celebrated as the ‘Transitus’ or Passing of St Benedict – The day on which he died, and as Sister has said is the day Many Benedictines keep as the Solemnity or Major Feast. July 11th is the feast of the translation of the relics from Monte Cassino to Fleury (St Benoit-sur-Loire)

      • Thank you cyberobate. I’ve learnt something. Interestingly my Diocesan Cathedral (Winchester) has strong links with Fleury because of the Benedictine background, that much I did know.

  6. Having spent the day in Norwich, a city centred around the Anglican Cathedral which was formerly a Benedictine monastery, I’m pondering on the impact of monasticism on landscape. Not only on the form of many of our cities today, but on our rural landscape. Without monasteries my own cottage would not be here, but on the other side of the track that marked the extent of monastic and then estate owned land. As I travelled home across land owned and shaped by many different religious houses, I wondered whether I could spot patterns of paths, boundaries, streets extending across Europe.

  7. Patricia makes an interesting point as to the effect on the landscape by former religious houses and monasteries. I often wonder what would happen if Rome were to demand restitution for the actions of Henry VIII? Just the other day I read of another piece of valuable artwork, plundered by the Nazis, returned to the descendents of a Jewish family. What would the landscape look like if property formerly owned by the Catholic Church and Religious orders were to be returned to them, their rightful owners?

    • Jean, I am not sure that this is a helpful analogy. I imagine that an ordinary parish, for example, before and after the English Reformation would be composed of the same people with the same building, the same priest, the same bishop and, until a little later in the process, even the same mass. I don’t think the massive socio-religious changes of the sixteenth century are best viewed as the plundering of one group’s assets by another, separate group (though the case of the religious foundations is more complex). For the sake of our current ecumenical concerns, is it not best to see how we can share the spiritual (and physical) resources we have for the sake of our common calling?

      • Yes, some went along to get along, either out of apathy or ignorance, or to avoid the harsh penalties for refusing to participate in the new religion. For those who remained true to the faith, there was imprisonment and/or death, the making of a martyr. Whatever your views on the return of lands and crumbling buildings, let’s not sacrifice truth for ecumenism. My response was a query as to how much more effectively the Benedictine order would function had they the resources they once had, because along with other orders were promoting the Gospel in addition to providing hospital and medical care, such as it was in the time. I’m not certain which physical resources you envision sharing – perhaps worship spaces?

  8. Thank you for all your comments, good wishes and prayers, and my apologies for not responding earlier. Special thanks to Fr Alex for explaining the two feasts of St Benedict in my absence!

    The impact of monasticism on the landscape is indeed a fruitful theme to explore. When I have more time, I’d like to devote an extended post to the subject.

    If the monastic buildings taken by Henry VIII and his Commissioners were returned to Catholics, there would be huge bills for maintenance during the intervening centuries, not to mention some very arcane disputes about entitlement in the law courts!

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