English Monastic Life – Benedictines

Benedictine MonkBenedictine NunArticle

Saint Benedict, justly called the Patriarch of Western Monachism, established his rule of life in Italy; first at Subiaco and subsequently at Monte Cassino about A.D. 529. The design of his code was, like every other rule of regular life, to enable men to reach the higher Christian ideals by the helps afforded them in a well-regulated monastery. According to the saint’s original conception, the houses were to be separate families independent of each other. It was no part of his scheme to establish a corporation with branches in various localities and countries, or to found an “Order” in its modern sense. By its own inherent excellence and because of the sound common-sense which pervades it, the Rule of Saint Benedict at once began to take root in the monasteries of the West, till it quickly superseded any others then in existence. Owing to its broad and elastic character, and hardly less, probably, to the fact that adopting it did not imply the joining of any stereotyped form of Order, monasteries could, and in fact did, embrace this code without entirely breaking with their past traditions. Thus, side by side in the same religious house, we find that the rule of Saint Columba was observed with that of Saint Benedict until the greater practical sense of the latter code superseded the more rigid legislation of the former. Within a comparatively short time from the death of Saint Benedict in A.D. 543, the Benedictine became the recognised form of Western regular life. To this end the action of Pope Saint Gregory the Great and his high approval of Saint Benedict’s Rule greatly conduced. In his opinion it manifested no common wisdom in its provisions, which were dictated by a marvelous insight into human nature and by a knowledge of the best possible conditions for attaining the end of all monastic life, the perfect love of God and of man. Whilst not in any way lax in its provisions, it did not prescribe an asceticism which could be practised only by the few; whilst the most ample powers were given to the superior to adapt the regulations to all circumstances of times and places; thus making it applicable to every form of the higher Christian life, from the secluded cloister to that for which Saint Gregory specially used those trained under it: the evangelisation of far-distant countries.

The connection between the Benedictines and England began with the mission of Saint Augustine in A.D. 597. The monastery of Monte Cassino having been destroyed by the Lombards, towards the end of the sixth century, the monks took refuge in Rome, and were placed in the Lateran, and by Saint Gregory in the church he founded in honour of Saint Andrew, in his ancestral home on the C┼ôlian Hill. It was the prior of Saint Andrew’s whom he chose to be the head of the other missionary monks he sent to convert England. With the advent of the Scottish monks from Iona the system of Saint Columba was for a time introduced into the North of England; but here, as in the rest of Europe, it quickly gave place to the Benedictine code; and practically during the whole Saxon period this was the only form of monastic life in England.

MLA Citation

  • Dom Adrian Gasquet. “Benedictines”. English Monastic Life, 1904. CatholicSaints.Info. 28 November 2018. Web. 14 November 2019. <>