St Benedict: the Father of Europe

There are many things to be thankful for in the present age and the Order of St Benedict is one of them!

Saint Benedict
Saint Benedict

The Black Monks brought to England a Rule of Life that has continued to flourish throughout individuals and communities – lay and religious. The Rule of St. Benedict is saturated in scripture and tradition; it is truly a rule that both challenges the soul and allows the soul to fluctuate and transform – so that we may eventually become the person we truly are.

Although St. Benedict was a meticulous and well-disciplined man, the Rule is not so much a set of “do’s and don’ts” as it is a measurement tool, a set of instructions that measures how far a person is willing to go for God in their pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. Whilst it is not the first of Christian Rules, it has been successful throughout Europe and serves as a holy instrument that breathes life into the West through the Word of God.

Here are some of my favourite things that we can thank/learn from St. Benedict and the Order of St Benedict:

1. Music!

Guido d’Arezzo was an Italian Benedictine Monk and Musical Theorist; he lived around 931 to about 1033 and is known as the inventor of modern musical notation. He devised a system for teaching others how to chant the psalms using a hymn called ‘Sancte Iohannes’ (St John the Baptist). The notes are composed using the first syllable on each line – so the first stanza is as follows:

1 Ut queant laxis

2 Resonare fibris,

3 Mira gestorum

4 famuli tuorum,

5 Solve polluti

6 labii reatum,

7 Sancte Iohannes.

In the 17th century “ut” and “si” was changed and so for all Sound of Music lovers we get “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti”.

2. The Opus Dei

I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone! For Benedict, everything a person does should be done in a prayerful manner in order to prevent one falling into temptation. The great Benedictine tradition “ora et labora” (prayer and work) demonstrates the theme throughout the rule – the Opus Dei, otherwise known as the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, assists one to sanctify the hours of the day to God as a constant reminder that we are but pilgrims, sowing seeds and reaping what we sow.

Participating in the Ceaseless Song of Praise that is the Opus Dei allows one to be in perfect tune with the bride in dialogue with the bridegroom (SC 86), thus being commissioned out to live simply but always drawing one back in, as invitation to the Holy Mass.

3. InFORMATION, FORMATION & transformation

The Rule of St. Benedict is for anyone seeking unity with God. Like most patristic writings, the Rule is saturated in Sacred Scripture – this I believe is one of the reasons that Rule has been successful in the lives of the people who strive to live it. Benedict encourages all to read the scriptures and holy texts because it is through the information given in those writings that an individual is able to be “formed” into a profound witness and transformed into a holy one.

4. The Sweet Sound of Silence

At the very beginning of the Rule we read this beautiful phrase that says, “What dear brethren is sweeter than the voice of God calling to us?” God’s voice in day-to-day life can sometimes seem somewhat inaudible; however, through silence, God’s voice can also be quite rich.

The first line of the Rule of St. Benedict urges one to “Listen, carefully to the master’s instruction and attend to them with the ear of the heart.” One simply cannot “listen” if they are ‘waiting to be heard’ or if they aren’t immersed in the sweet sound of silence, where God dwells. “This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice!”