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Exploring the Rule of Benedict §1: Historical Backgrounds of the Rule

While the Rule of Benedict itself does not name its author, all historical sources identify the author as Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480–543). The main sources we have about the life of Benedict are the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, the first monk to become pope, and a great admirer of Benedict. The Rule has its roots in the previous rules that had circulated in the centuries prior (rules from Augustine, Basil, Cassian, and The Rule of the Master). Throughout this period in Europe, and in Italian monasticism in particular there was a common practice of borrowing and modifying of monastic rules by the various orders and communities of monks that would come together. The movement was largely decentralized and dynamic, having little supervision or control being exercised over it by the papal and magisterial hierarchy of the church.

What makes the Rule of Benedict unique involves its setting in its sixth century Italian context. It is likely that the Rule was written just after, or during the Justinian re-conquest of Italy against the Frankish and the Gothic invaders (in the 540’s or 550’s). During this time, there was a great amount of dislocation and upheaval, which led to the presence of a great many undisciplined wandering monks who had not been well trained, and whom Benedict viewed as a blight upon the church and the monasteries. These are the Sarabites and the gyratory monks which Benedict hates so much for their indulgence and undisciplined form of life (RB 1). In the face of massive social dislocation and transience, both in terms of regional politics and monastic dispersion, the aim of Benedict was to create a stable community focused on contemplation, the opus dei (the chanting of the Psalter), hospitality, and study. It was this vision of intentional, stable community which would define the shape of Benedictine spirituality and establish itself as a major enclave of culture and education throughout the dark ages.

One Comment

  1. Ben wrote:

    Just saw this today:

    It’s a breviary, on Benedictine lines, reprinted by a Western Orthodoxy press (Western Orthodoxy, Western-rite Eastern Orthodox Church in communion with the Antiochene Orthodox Church.)

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

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