Thursday, March 21, 2019

Saint Benedict, Abbot

White
Greater Double

Forty days after the white dove of Cassino had mounted to heaven, Benedict, her glorious Brother, ascended by a bright path to the blissful abode where they were to be united forever. Both of them reached the heavenly country during that portion of the year which corresponds with the holy Season of Lent. It frequently happens, however, that St. Scholastica’s feast is kept before Lent has begun; whereas St. Benedict’s day, the twenty-first of March, always comes during the Season of Penance. God, who is the Sovereign Master of time, willed that the Faithful, while practicing their exercises of penance, should always have before their eyes a Saint whose example and intercession should inspire them with courage.

With what profound veneration ought we not to celebrate the Festival of this wonderful Saint who, as St. Gregory says, “was filled with the spirit of all the Just!” If we consider his virtues, we find nothing superior in the annals of perfection presented to our admiration by the Church. Love of God and man, humility, the gift of prayer, dominion over the passions—form him into a masterpiece of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Miracles seem to constitute his life: he cures the sick, commands the elements, casts out devils, and raises the dead to life. The spirit of prophecy unfolds futurity to him; and the most intimate thoughts of men are not too distant for the eye of his mind to scan. These superhuman qualifications are heightened by a sweet majesty, a serene gravity, and a tender charity while shine in every page of his wonderful life; and it is one of his holiest children who wrote it, St. Gregory the Great. It is this holy Pope and Doctor who had the honor of telling posterity all the wonders which God vouchsafed to work in his servant Benedict.

Yes, posterity had a right to know the life and virtues of a man whose salutary influence upon the Church and society has been so observable during the ages of the Christian era. To describe he influence exercised by the spirit of St. Benedict, we should have to transcribe the annals of all the nations of the Western Church, from the 7th century down to our own times. Benedict is the Father of Europe. By his Benedictines, numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sands of the seashore, he rescued the last remnants of Roman vigor from the total annihilation threatened by the invasion of Barbarians; he presided over the establishment of the public and private laws of those nations which grew out of the ruins of the Roman Empire; he carried the Gospel and civilization into England, Germany, and the Northern countries, including Sclavonia; he taught agriculture; he put an end to slavery; and to conclude, he saved the precious deposit of the arts and sciences from the tempest which would have swept them from the world, and would have left mankind a prey to a gloomy and fatal ignorance.

And Benedict did all this by that little book which we call his “Rule.” This admirable code of Christian perfection and prudence disciplined the countless legions of Religious, by whom the Holy Patriarch achieved all these prodigies. During the ages which preceded the promulgation of this “Rule,”—so wonderful in its simple eloquence—the Monastic Life in the Western Church had produced some few saintly men; but there was nothing to justify the hope that this kind of life would become, even more than it had been in the East, the principal means of the Christian regeneration and civilization of so many nations. This “Rule” once written—and all others gradually give place to it, as the stars are eclipsed when the sun has risen. The West was peopled with Monasteries; and from these Monasteries flowed upon Europe all those blessing which have made it the privileged quarter of the globe.

An incredible number of Saints, both men and women, who look up to Benedict as their Father, purify and sanctify the world, which had not yet emerged from the state of semi-barbarism. A long series of Popes, who had once been Novices in the Benedictine Cloister, preside over the destinies of this new world, and form for it a new legislation which, being based exclusively on the moral law, is to avert the threatening prevalence of brutal despotism. Bishops innumerable, trained in the same School of Benedict, consolidate this moral legislation in the provinces and cities over which they are appointed. The Apostles of twenty barbarous nations confront their fierce and savage tribes and, with the Gospel in one hand and the “Rule” of their Holy Father in the other, lead them into the fold of Christ. For many centuries, the learned men, the Doctors of the Church and the instructors of you, belong almost exclusively to the Order of the great Patriarch, who by the labors of his children pours forth on the people the purest beauty of light and truth. This choir of heroes in every virtue, of Popes, of Bishops, of Apostles, of holy Doctors, proclaiming themselves as his Disciples, and joining with the universal Church in glorifying that God whose holiness and power shine forth so brightly in the life and actions of Benedict—what a corona, what an aureola of glory for one Saint to have!

Let us now read the sketch of his life, as given us in the Liturgy.

Benedictus, Nursiæ nobili genere ortus, Romæ liberalibus disciplinis eruditus, ut totum se Jesu Christo daret, ad eum locum qui Sublacus dicitur, in altissimam speluncam penetravit: in qua sic per triennium delituit, ut unus id sciret Romanus monachus, quo ad vitæ necessitatem ministro utebatur. Dum igitur ei quadam die ardentes ad libidinem faces a diabolo subjicerentur, se in vepribus tamdiu volutavit, dum lacerato corpore, voluptatis sensus dolore opprimeretur. Sed jam erumpente ex illis latebris fama ejus sanctitatis, quidam monachi se illi instituendos tradiderunt: quorum vivendi licentia cum ejus objurgationes ferre non posset, venenum in potione ei dare constituunt. Verum poculum ei præbentibus, crucis signo vas confregit, ac relicto monasterio in solitudinem se recepit.

Benedict was born of a noble family at Nursia. He was sent to Rome, that he might receive a liberal education; but not long after, he withdrew to a place called Subiaco, and there his himself in a very deep cave, that he might give himself entirely to Jesus Christ. He passed three years in that retirement, unknown to all save to a Monk, by name Romanus, who supplied him with the necessaries of life. The devil having one day excited him to a violent temptation of impurity, he rolled himself amidst prickly brambles, and extinguished within himself the desire of carnal pleasure by the pain he thus endured. The fame of his sanctity, however, became known beyond the limits of his hiding place, and certain monks put themselves under his guidance. He sharply rebuked them for their wicked lives; which rebuke so irritated them, that they resolved to put poison in his drink. Having made the sign of the Cross over the cup as they proffered it to him, it broke, and he, leaving that monastery, returned to his solitude.

Sed cum multi ad eum quotidie discipluli convenirent, duodecim monasteria ædificavit, eaque sanctissimis legibus communivit. Postea Cassinum migravit, ubi simulacrum Apollinis, qui adhuc ibi colebatur, comminuit, aram evertit, et lucis succendit: ibique sancti Martini sacellum et sancti Joannis ædiculam exstruxit: oppidanos autem et incolas christianis præceptis imbuit. Quare augebatur in dies magis divina gratia Benedictus, ut etiam prophetico spiritu ventura prædiceret. Quod ubi accepit Totila Gothorum rex, exploraturus an res ita esset, spatharium suum regio ornatu et comitatu præmittit, qui se regem simularet. Quem ut ille vidit: Depone, inquit, fili, depone quod geris; nam tuum non est. Totilæ vero prædixit adventum ejus in Urbem, maris transmissionem, et post novem annos mortem.

But whereas many daily came to him, beseeching him to take them as his disciples, he built twelve monasteries, and drew up the most admirable rules for their government. He afterwards went to Monte Cassino, where he destroyed an image of Apollo, which was still adored in those parts; and having pulled down the altar and burnt the groves, he built a chapel, in that same place, in honor of St. Martin, and another in honor of St. John. He instructed the inhabitants in the Christian religion. Day by day did Benedict advance in the grace of God, and he also foretold, in a spirit of prophecy, what was to take place. Totila, the King of the Goths, having heard of this, and being anxious to know if it were the truth, went to visit him; but first sent his sword-bearer, who was to pretend that he was the king, and who, for this end, was dressed in royal robes and accompanied by attendants. As soon as Benedict saw him, he said: “Put off, my son, put off this dress, for it is not thine.” But he foretold to Totila, that he would reach Rome, cross the sea, and die at the end of nine years.

Qui aliquot mensibus antequam e vita migraret, præmonuit discipulos quo die esset moriturus: ac sepulchrum, in quo suum corpus condi vellet, sex diebus antequam eo inferretur, aperiri jussit: sextoque die deferri voluit in ecclesiam: ubi sumpta Eucharistia, sublatis in cœlum oculis orans, inter manus discipulorum efflavit animam: quam duo monachi euntem in cœlum viderunt pallio ornatam pretiossimo, circum eam fulgentibus lampadibus, et clarissima et gravissima specie virum stantem supra caput ipsius dicentem audierunt: Hæc est via, qua dilectus Domini Benedictus in cœlum ascendit.

Several months before he departed from this life, he foretold to his disciples the day on which he should die. Six days previous to his death, he ordered the to open the sepulchre wherein he wished to be buried. On the sixth day, he desired to be carried to the Church, and there having received the Eucharist, with his eyes raised in prayer towards heaven, and held up by his disciples, he breathed forth his soul. Two monks saw it ascending to heaven, adorned with a most precious robe, and surrounded by shining lights. They also saw a most beautiful and venerable man, who stood above the saint’s head, and they heard him thus speak: “This is the way, whereby Benedict, the beloved of the Lord, ascended to heaven.”

The Benedictine Order celebrates the praises of its illustrious Patriarch in these three Hymns:

1st Hymn

Laudibus cives resonent canoris,
Tampla solemnes modulentur hymnos;
Hac die summi Benedictus arcem
Scandit Olympi.

Let the Faithful give forth their songs of praise; let our Temples echo with solemn hymns: for on this day, Benedict ascended to the highest heavens.

Ille florentes peragebat annos,
Cum puer dulcis patriæ penates
Liquit, et solus latuit silenti
Contidus antro.

When a boy, and in the flower of youth, he left his sweet home, and hid himself from the sight of all in a lonely cave.

Inter urticas rigidosque sentes
Vicit altricem scelerum juventam:
Inde conscripsit documenta vitæ
Pulchra beatæ.

He conquered the passions of youth by rolling amidst nettles and prickly thorns. After this, he wrote a beautiful Rule of a holy life.

Æream turpis Clarii figuram,
Et nemus stravit Veneri dicatum,
Atque Baptistæ posuit sacrato
Monte sacellum.

He destroyed a brazen statue of the vile Apollo, and a grave that was sacred to Venus: and on the holy mount, he built an oratory in honor of the Baptist.

Jamque felici residens Olympo,
Inter ardentes Seraphim catervas,
Spectat, et dulci reficit clientum
Corda liquore.

Now he dwells in the happy land above, amidst the burning Seraphim: he looks down on those that invoke him, and refreshes their hearts with a nectar of sweetness.

Gloria Patri, genitæque Proli,
Et tibi, compar utriusque semper
Spiritus alme, Deus unus, omni
Tempore sæcli. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son that is Begotten of him! To thee, also, O Spirit of Love, co-equal with them, One God, be glory for endless ages. Amen.

2nd Hymn

Quidquid antique cecinere Vates,
Quidquia æternæ monimenta legis,
Continet nobis celebranda summi
Vita Monarchæ.

All that the ancient Prophets preached, and all that the books of the Divine Law tell us of holiness, is contained in the life of the great Patriarch, which we are now extolling.

Extulit Mosen pietas benignum,
Inclytum proles Abraham decorat,
Isaac sponsæ decus, et severi
Jussa parentis.

Moses was celebrated for his meekness; Abraham, for his being Father of all believers; Isaac for the beauty of his Spouse, and his obedience to the trying commands of his father.

Ipse virtutum cumulis onustus,
Celsior nostri Patriarcha cœtus
Isaac, Mosen, Abraham sub uno
Pectore clausit.

The sublime Patriarch of our Family was richly laden with every virtue; and in his single self, represented Isaac, Moses, and Abraham.

Ipse, quos mundi rapuit procellis,
Hic pius flatu statuat secundo,
Pax ubi nullo, requiesque gliscit
Mista pavore.

May he have a loving care of those whom he has delivered from this stormy world, and lead them with prosperous gales to the port, where there is no fear that can ruffle Peace and repose.

Gloria Patri, genitæque Proli,
Et tibi compar utiusque semper
Spiritus alme, Deus unus, omni
Tempore sæcli. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son that is Begotten of him! To thee, also, O Spirit of Love, co-equal with them, One God, be glory for endless ages. Amen.

The third Hymn was composed by the celebrated Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, and friend of St. Bernard.

3rd Hymn

Inter æternas Superum coronas,
Quas sacro patras retinent agone,
Emicas celsis meritis coruscus,
O Benedicte.

Amidst the Saints that glitter with the crowns they have won in thy holy contest, thou, O Benedict, shinest resplendent with thy sublime merits.

Sancta te compsit puerum senectus,
Nil sibi de te rapuit voluptas,
Aruit mundi tibi flos ad alta
Mente levato.

Thy boyhood was graced with the holy gravity of old age; the pleasures of the world had no hold on thee, and its flowers seemed but as withered weeds to a soul like thine, that was fixed on heavenly things.

Hinc fuga lapsus, patriam, parentes
Deseris, fervens nemorum colonus,
Edomas carnem, subigisque Christo
Tortor acerbus.

Therefore didst thou flee from the world, leaving thy country and thy parents, and becamest a fervent solitary. Thou didst tame the rebellion of the flesh, and by sharp mortification, thou didst bring it into subjection to Christ.

Ne diu tutus latebras foveres,
Signa te produnt operum piorum,
Spargitur felix celeri per orbem
Fama volatu.

But thy fond hope of concealment was to be cut short; thy holy miracles betrayed thee, and the glorious fame of thy sanctity swiftly spread through the world.

Gloria Patri, genitæque Proli,
Et tibi, compar utriusque semper
Spiritus alme, Deus unus, omni
Tempore sæcli. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son that is Begotten of him! To thee, also, O Spirit of Love, co-equal with them, One God, be glory for endless ages. Amen.

The Monastic Missal contains the following Sequence in honor of St. Benedict.

Sequence

Læta quies magni ducis,
Dona ferens novæ lucis,
Hodie recolitur.

We celebrate, this day, the happy death of our great Leader, which brings us the blessings of new light.

Charis datur piæ menti,
Corde sonet in ardenti
Quidquid foris promitur.

On this day, grace is given to the souls of his loving children. Oh! may the fervent heart re-echo what the voice sings forth!

Hunc per callem Orientis
Admiremur ascendentis
Patriarchæ speciem.

Let us admire the beauty of our Patriarch, as he ascends to heaven by the path of the East.

Amplum semen magnæ prolis
Illum fecit instar solis,
Abrahæ persimilem.

He shines as a sun in the world, he is most like to Abraham, for he is the rich seed from which a countless race hath sprung.

Corvum cernis ministrantem;
Hinc Eliam latitantem
Specu nosce parvulo.

When thou seest him fed by the crow, thou thinkest of Elias, that hid himself in the little cave.

Eliseus dignoscatur,
Cum securis revocatur
De torrentis alveo.

He reminds us of Eliseus, when he makes the head of the axe return from the bed of the stream.

Illum Joseph candor morum,
Illum Jacob futuororum
Mens effecit conscia.

He is like Joseph by the purity of his life, and like Jacob by the spirit of prophecy.

Ipse memor suæ gentis,
Nos perducat in manentis
Semper Christi gaudia. Amen.

May he be mindful of his children, and lead us safe to the joys of our Lord Jesus Christ, who abideth forever. Amen.

The Greek Church has not forgotten, in her Liturgy, the praise of the great Patriarch of the Monks of the West. We take from the Menæa some of the stanzas in which she celebrates the name of St. Benedict.

Hymn
(Die XXI. Martii)

Mihi laudabilem memoriam tuam, o sancte, hymnis celebrare aggresso gratiam ac peccatorum omnium remissionem tribui, Benedicte, Sancto deprecare.

O holy Benedict! pray to the holy God for me, who now begin to sing a hymn to thy praiseworthy name. Obtain for me, that I may receive grace and the forgiveness of all my sins.

In eremo tuam a pueritia crucem tollens, Omnipotentem insecutus es, atque carne mortificata vitam, o beatissime, promeruisti.

From thy childhood, O most Blessed one, thou didst carry thy cross in the desert, walking in the footsteps of the Omnipotent. Thou didst merit life, by putting thy flesh to death.

Angusta semita calcata pedem in Paradisi latitudine fixisti, o prorsus beate, ac dæmonum calliditates et insidias elusisti.

Treading the narrow path, O truly Blessed, thou didst take thy stand in the spaciousness of Paradise, and didst elude the craft and snares of the devils.

Lacrymarum tuarum profluviis fructiferi ligni instar irrigatus, o Benedicte, divinos virtutum ac miraculorum fructus, Dei virtute, ubertim attulisti.

Watered by the streams of thy tears, O Benedict, thou, like unto a fruitful tree, didst, by God’s power, bring forth in abundance the divine fruits of virtues and miracles.

Per continentiæ certamina, o beate, carnis membris mortificatis, moruos precibus exsuscitasti, ac debilibus expeditam gradiendi vim tradidisti, morbumque omnem curasti, cum fide in admiratione habitus, o Pater.

O Blessed one! by the struggle of continency, thou didst mortify thy bodily members: thy prayers raised the dead to life, gave to the lame the power to walk, and cured every disease, for men were in admiration with thee and had faith in thee, O Father!

Siccas, atque aridas animas vivifico sermone tuo, o beate, frugiferas reddidisti, miraculorum exhibitione, et pastor divinitus inspiratus, et speciosissimus monachorum decor effectus.

Thy life-giving words, O Blessed one, and the sight of thy miracles, gave fruitfulness to souls that, before, were parched and dry. Thou wast the divinely inspired Shepherd, and the fairest glory of the monastic life.

Misericordem Deum deprecatus, sapiens pater, olei thecam, quemadmodum Elias, illico replevisti, o beatissime, a videntibus cum fide in admiratione habitus.

O wise Father! thou didst beseech the God of mercy, and, like Elias, thou didst suddenly fill the vessel with oil, for men were in admiration with thee, and had faith in thee, O most blessed Benedict!

Utpote mente purus, utpote extra te raptus, universam terram conspexisti, ceu ab unico radio Dei te honorantis illustratus, o beatissime Benedicte.

Because of thy clean-heartedness, and because thou wast out of thyself with rapture, thou didst behold the whole earth, for God honored thee with a ray of his own light, O most blessed Benedict!

In Christo imperans fontis aquam, precibus bonorum datorem obsecrans, emanare fecisti, quæ miraculum deprædicans, o Benedicte, adhuc perseverat.

Thou didst command in the name of Christ, thou didst pray to the Giver of all good gifts, and a fountain of water sprang up at thy bidding: it still exists, O Benedict, the abiding witness of thy miracle.

Spiritus splendore collustratus, pravorum etiam dæmonum tenebras dissipasti, o miraculorum patrator Benedicte, splendidissimum monachorum luminare.

Enlightened by the bright rays of the Holy Spirit, thou didst dispel the darkness of the wicked devils, O Benedict, thou worker of miracles, thou fairest light of monasticism!

Te, o beate, venenatis potionibus interimere insipienter volentes, quem divina universi Creaturis manus custodiebat, insipientes confusi sunt. Quos prævia tua per Spiritum scientia deprehendit.

Those foolish men, that madly plotted to destroy thy life, by poison, were confounded, for thou was guarded, O Blessed one, by the divine hand of the great Creator. The knowledge thou hadst from the Holy Spirit forewarned thee of their plot.

Te monachroum turbæ a te convocatæ diu noctuque concelebrant, corpus tuum in medio positum servantes, quod largos miraculorum fluvios effundit, o pater sapiens, eorumque gressus perenni lumine collustrat.

The choirs of monks, whom thou hast called, celebrate thy name day and night. Thy possess thy body, which is enshrined in their midst, and from which flow abundant streams of miracles, and an unfading light that illumines the path, O Father, full of wisdom!

Divinis mandatis obsecutus, o Pater, super solares radios effulsisti, atque ad inocciduum translatus es, exorans propitiationem peccatorum concedi iis, qui te cum fide colunt, celebris Benedicte.

By thine obedience to the divine precepts, O Father! thou hast been made brighter than the sun, and hast been taken to the land where the light sets not. Pray for them that have confidence in thee and honor thee; pray that they may receive the forgiveness of their sins, O Benedict, thou whose name is known throughout the world!

O Benedict! thou Vessel of Election! thou Palm of the Wilderness! thou Angel of Earth!—we offer thee the salutation of our love! What man was ever chosen to work on the earth more wonders than thou hast done! The Savior has crowned thee as one of his principal cooperators in the work of the salvation and sanctification of men. Who could count the millions of souls who owe their eternal happiness to thee?—thy immortal Rule having sanctified them in the Cloister, and the zeal of thy Benedictines having been the means of their knowing and serving the great God, who chose thee. Around thee, in the realms of glory, a countless number of the Blessed acknowledge themselves indebted to thee, after God, for their eternal happiness; and upon the earth, whole nations profess the true faith, because the Gospel was first preached to them by thy disciples.

O Father of so many people! look down upon thine inheritance, and once more bless this ungrateful Europe, which owes everything to thee, yet has almost forgotten thy name! The light, which thy Children imparted to it, has become dimmed; the warmth they imparted to the societies they founded and civilized by the Cross has grown cold; thorns have covered a large portion of the land into which they sowed the seed of salvation. Come and forward thine own work; and by thy prayers, keep in its expiring life. Give firmness to what has been shaken. May a new Europe—a Catholic Europe—spring up in place of that which heresy and false doctrines have formed.

O Patriarch of the Servants of God! look down from heaven on the Vineyard, which thy hand hath planted, and see into what a state of desolation it has fallen. There was a time when thy name was honored as that of a Father in thirty thousand Monasteries, from the shores of the Baltic to the borders of Syria, and from the green Erin to the steppes of Poland. Now, alas! few and feeble are the prayers that ascend to thee from the whole of that immense patrimony, which the faith and gratitude of the people had once consecrated to thee. The blight of heresy and the rapaciousness of avarice have robbed thee of these harvests of thy glory. The work of sacrilegious spoliation is now centuries old, and unceasingly has it been pursued; at one time, having recourse to open violence, and at another, pleading the urgency of political interests. Sainted Father of our Faith! thou hast been robbed of those thousands of sanctuaries which, for long ages, were fountains of life and light to the people. The race of thy children has become almost extinct: watch over them that still remain, and are laboring to perpetuate thy Rule. An ancient tradition tells us how our Lord revealed to thee that thy Order would last to the end of the world, and that thy children would console the Church of Rome and confirm the faith of many in the last great trials—deign to protect, by thy powerful intercession, the remnants of that Family which still calls thee its Father. Raise it up again; multiply it; sanctify it: let the Spirit, which thou hast deposited in thy Holy Rule, flourish in its midst, and show, by thus blessing it, that thou art ever “Benedict,” the servant of God.

Support the Holy Church by thy powerful intercession, dear Father! Assist the Apostolic See, which has been so often occupied by Disciples of thy School. Father of so many Pastors of the people! obtain for us Bishops like those sainted ones, whom thy Rule has formed. Father of so many Apostles! ask for the countries, which have no faith, preachers of the Gospel, who may convert the people by their blood and by their words, as did those who went out Missioners from thy Cloisters. Father of so many holy Doctors! pray that the science of sacred literature may revive, to aid the Church and confound error. Father of so many sublime Ascetics! rekindle the zeal for Christian perfection, which has grown so cold among the Christians of our days. Patriarch of the Religious Life in the Western Church! bless all the Religious Orders, which the Holy Spirit has given successively to the Church; they all look on thee with admiration, as their venerable predecessor: do thou pour out upon them the influence of thy fatherly love.

Last, O Blessed favorite of God! pray for all the Faithful of Christ during these days which are consecrated to thoughts and works of penance. It was in the midst of the holy austerities of Lent that thou didst mount to the abode of everlasting delight; ah! help us Christians, who are at this very time in the same campaign of penance. Rouse our courage by thy example and precepts. Teach us to keep down the flesh, and subject it to the spirit, as thou didst. Obtain for us a little of thy blessed spirit, that turning away from this vain world, we may think on the eternal years. Pray for us, that our hearts may never love, nor our thoughts ever dwell, on joys so fleeting as are those of time.

Catholic piety invokes thee as one of the patrons, as well as one of the models, of a dying Christian. It loves to tell men of the sublime spectacle thou didst present at thy death, when standing at the foot of the Altar, leaning on the arms of thy disciples, and barely touching the earth with thy feet, thou didst give back, in submission and confidence, thy soul to its Creator. Obtain for us, dear Saint! a death courageous and sweet as was thine. Drive from us, at our last hour, the cruel enemy, who will seek to ensnare us. Visit us by thy presence, and leave us not, till we have breathed forth our soul into the bosom of the God who has made thee so glorious a Saint.

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