- Born: 480 in Nursia, Umbria, Italy
- Died: March 21, 547 in Monte Cassino, Italy
- Feast Day: July 11
- Patronage: Monks, a happy death, against temptations, against poison, against witchcraft, against erysipelas, against fever, against gall stones, against inflammatory diseases, against kidney disease, against nettle rash, Farmers, Agricultural Workers, Cavers, Civil Engineers, Coppersmiths, Europe, Farm Workers, Heerdt, Germany, Italian Architects
While growing up, I had never heard about St. Benedict or his Rule. My first introduction to both happened back in September of 1999. That’s when I rode my father’s motorcycle down to Mount Angel, Oregon, for the sake of pursuing studies in philosophy in preparation for the priesthood. Little did I know the profound impact that Benedictine spirituality would prove to have upon my soul over the course of the next five years – and beyond.
What personally drew me to the Saint himself was the fact that as a young man, he faced the same challenges young people face in today’s society – loose morals and ethics combined with the pursuit of pleasure as though it was some kind of Virtue to obtain. I’m sure that 1500 years ago, when Benedict penned his Holy Rule for those seeking to commune with God rather than the world, he had no idea that his work was destined to stand the test of time and prove to be a treasure of untold proportions for all who seek to meet their Maker in the desert of the human heart.
The Historical Context of the Time
At the turn of the fourth century, Christian persecutions drew to a close as Church and state united under the influence of Constantine. Many viewed this newfound relationship to be a corruption of what was once a ‘pure faith’. In response, men and women sought refuge in the desert to escape the influence of Church authorities who now had new power and prestige. This marked the beginnings of what has been coined the ‘monastic movement’. Now that Christians were no longer given the opportunity to bear witness to Christ by means of shedding their blood as a testimony to their faith, they bore witness to Him by dying to self in the desert so as to be perfectly united with God.
“He who sits in solitude and is quiet hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continue battle: that is, his own heart.”
The Life of St. Benedict
By the time St. Benedict was born in 480, monasticism was flourishing throughout the land. From an early age, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s been written that, “from his infancy, he carried the heart of an old man.” During his teenage years, Benedict went to Rome in order to further his studies in literature. However, Rome was not the heavenly paradise he had hoped it would be. Rather, he found the city filled with violence, licentiousness, and loose morals. Repulsed by the practices and activities of those who surrounded him, he made up his mind to pursue a vocation to the religious life.
At twenty years of age, Benedict turned his back on all that Rome had to offer and devoted himself to seeking God in solitude. He made his way into the wilderness and came upon a monk by the name of Romanus. Romanus led the young Benedict to a cave, which is now known as Subiaco. There, braving the elements along with temptations, Benedict remained alone, in solitude with God for three years. Access to the cave was next to impossible for it was situated within a cliff. Therefore, Romanus brought Benedict bread and water whenever he could by way of lowering the provisions in a basket tied to the end of a rope. It was here that St. Benedict, now “separated from all human intercourse communed alone with his Creator.” The cave, which would have given him less then 30 feet of room, now finds itself within the structure of the Subiaco Monastery.
During the Easter season of his third year in Subiaco, God decided it was time to make his servant known to the world. “For I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” By way of the Holy Spirit, the existence of St. Benedict was revealed to a nearby priest. Inspired by the Spirit, the priest made his way into the wilderness and came upon the cave where Benedict resided. Not long following this incident, Benedict’s presence came to be known throughout the neighbouring towns. Soon, local folk began gathering at the bottom of his cave seeking guidance and spiritual counsel.
While all this was happening, the Abbot of a neighbouring monastery suddenly passed away. The monks sought out Benedict, begging him to join their community and lead them as Abbot. Initially, he ardently refused and pointed out that their ways differed greatly from his. But in the end, he “generously embraced his new mission, and devoted himself to the spiritual needs of those who came to him.”
His stay as Abbot of this religious community was short lived, however. Soon after his arrival, the monks realized that our Saint would not tolerate their old ways of life. In an attempt to get rid of him, they poisoned his drink. Much to their dismay, when Benedict prayed and made the sign of the cross before the cup, it shattered. He immediately became conscious of their evil plot against him. Raising his eyes from the table, he said to them, “May Almighty God have mercy upon you and forgive you.” Afterwards, he departed from their midst and returned to his beloved cave so as to once again dwell in solitude and be fully united to God.
It was not in God’s plans that Benedict should remain a hermit for the remainder of his life, for more and more people were gathering around his cave. Benefactors came forward with land, which led to the rise of twelve monasteries between the years 510 and 519, all situated within two miles of Subiaco. Clearly, Benedict could see the hand of God at work all around him. Therefore he placed an Abbot and twelve monks in each of the monasteries and gave them a Rule, which he had been composing. After the twelve monasteries were self sufficient, he left the area with twelve of his closest followers so as to go and build their very own monastery on top of a mountain near Monte Casino. This is where St. Benedict put his final touches upon his famous rule before leaving this world in the year 547.
The Rule of St. Benedict (Click for Link)
The goal behind the Rule of St. Benedict is to provide monks – those who seek to be completely united with God – a structured way of life that will enable their souls to fly into the desert of solitude deep within where union with Christ takes place. At the same time, the Rule has gems within it that are applicable to every Vocation in life. Personally, I continue to draw much direction and guidance in the pursuit of my own conversion from Chapter 4; “The Instruments of Good Works.”
Communal prayer, especially in the form of the Liturgy of the Hours, makes up the central core of all work performed by monastic communities throughout the world on behalf of humanity. “Nothing is to be preferred to the work of God.” Their work is their prayer, as such; it is their duty to unceasingly pray for the conversion of the world. A monk’s day is divided up with specific times for communal gathering in order to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours. For “the Divine Office and the Hours are but the splendid accompaniment, the preparation for or radiance from the Eucharist.” The high point of the day is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
Thus monastic communities can be described as those who have been called out by God to serve Him consciously and actively by participating and sharing in the sacrificial life of Christ, for the glory of the Father. Ultimately, their sacrificial presence provides channels of pure grace for the world that never shut down, but continually pour forth, by way of the Holy Spirit, in and throughout all of creation. However, monks are not expected to be on their knees twenty-four hours each day. They are simply expected to continually be in communion with God internally, and this can be accomplished while partaking in a wide range of activities. In order to establish balance and moderation between the spiritual and physical aspect of a monk’s existence, St. Benedict clearly states that there are to be times throughout the day when the monk is to be involved in some type of physical labour, thereby maintaining health of body and mind, for “idleness is the enemy of the soul.” Ultimately, a successful monk is one that has learned the art of harmony between prayer, rest, and work; “all things are to be done with moderation.”
The Medal of St. Benedict – A Prayer of Exorcism Against Satan
The Cross of Eternal Salvation – On the face of the medal is the image of Saint Benedict. In his right hand he holds the ross, the Christian’s symbol of salvation. The ross reminds us of the zealous work of evangelizing and civilizing England and Europe carried out mainly by the Benedictine monks and nuns, especially during the sixth to the ninth/tenth centuries.
Rule and Raven – In St. Benedict’s left hand is his Rule for Monasteries that could well be summed up in the words of the Prologue exhorting us to “walk in God’s ways, with the Gospel as our guide.” On a pedestal to the right of St. Benedict is the poisoned cup that shattered when he made the sign of the Cross over it. On a pedestal to the left is a raven about to carry away a loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy had sent to St. Benedict.
C. S. P. B. – Above the cup and the raven are the Latin words: Crux s. patris Benedicti (The Cross of our holy father Benedict). On the margin of the medal, encircling the figure of Benedict, are the Latin words: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!) Benedictines have always regarded St. Benedict as a special patron of a happy death. He himself died in the Monastery Chapel of Monte Cassino while standing with his arms raised up to heaven, supported by the brothers of the monastery, shortly after St. Benedict had received Holy Communion.
Monte Cassino – Below Benedict we read: ex SM Casino MDCCCLXXX (from holy Monte Cassino, 1880). This is the medal struck to commemorate the 1400th anniversary of the birth of Saint Benedict.
Reverse Side of the Medal
On the back of the medal, the cross is dominant. On the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a rhythmic Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the Holy Cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!).
In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The ross of our oly ather Benedict).
Above the cross is the word pax (peace), a Benedictine motto for centuries. Around the margin of the back of the medal, the letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B are the initial letters of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)
Use of the Medal
There is no special way prescribed for carrying or wearing the Medal of St. Benedict. It can be worn on a chain around the neck, attached to one’s rosary, kept in one’s pocket or purse, or placed in one’s car or home. The medal is often put into the foundations of houses and building, on the walls of barns and sheds, or in one’s place of business. The purpose of using the medal in any of the above ways is to call down God’s blessing and protection upon us, wherever we are, and upon our homes and possessions, especially through the intercession of St. Benedict. By the conscious and devout use of the medal, it becomes, as it were, a constant silent prayer and reminder to us of our dignity as followers of Christ.
The medal is a prayer of exorcism against Satan, a prayer for strength in time of temptation, a prayer for peace among ourselves and among the nations of the world, a prayer that the Cross of Christ be our light and guide, a prayer of firm rejection of all that is evil, a prayer of petition that we may with Christian courage “walk in God’s ways, with the Gospel as our guide,” as St. Benedict urges us.
– Fr. Jerome Lavigne
Approved Blessing of the Medal of St. Benedict
Medals of Saint Benedict are sacramentals that may be blessed legitimately by any priest or deacon — not necessarily a Benedictine (Instr., 26 Sept. 1964; Can. 1168). The following English form may be used.
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord. R. Who made heaven and earth.
In the name of God the Father + almighty, who made heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, I exorcise these medals against the power and attacks of the evil one. May all who use these medals devoutly be blessed with health of soul and body. In the name of the Father + almighty, of the Son + Jesus Christ our Lord, and of the Holy + Spirit the Paraclete, and in the love of the same Lord Jesus Christ who will come on the last day to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire. Amen.
Let us pray. Almighty God, the boundless source of all good things, we humbly ask that, through the intercession of Saint Benedict, you pour out your blessings + upon these medals. May those who use them devoutly and earnestly strive to perform good works be blessed by you with health of soul and body, the grace of a holy life, and remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.
May they also with the help of your merciful love, resist the temptation of the evil one and strive to exercise true charity and justice toward all, so that one day they may appear sinless and holy in your sight. This we ask though Christ our Lord. Amen.
The medals are then sprinkled with holy water.
Nihil obstat and Imprimatur, 24 April 1980.
 Theodore Maynard, St. Benedict and His Monks (London, England: Staples Press Limited, 1956), 65.
 Herbert Workman, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (Boston: Beacon Press,1962), 140.
 Peter Lechner, O.S.B., The Life and Times of St. Benedict (New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: Burns & Oates Ltd., 1900), 37.
 Isaiah 43:20-21.
 Lechner, The Life and Times of St. Benedict, 41.
 Ibid., 53.
 Timothy Fry, The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1981), RB43:3.
 Paul Delatte, O.S.B., Commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict (London: Burns Oates &
Washbourne Ltd., 1921), 133.
 Lumen Gentium, 11. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,1324.
 Fry, The Rule of St. Benedict, RB48:1.
 Ibid., 48:9.