On Wednesday next week, we celebrate the feastday of St. Benedict of Nursia, brother of St. Scholastica. The only source we have for either Benedict or Scholastica is the Dialogues of Pope St. Gregory the Great, written about sixty years after Benedict’s life. In the Dialogues, Pope Gregory focused mainly on Benedict as a wonderworker, but reported other stories about his life.
Benedict was born in central Italy around 480 a.d., studied in Rome, and took up the life of a hermit at Subiaco. Others gathered around him and he began a career of experimentation in the monastic life. His first attempt to lead a monastery reportedly ended with the other monks, put off by his high standards, trying to poison him! In another experiment, he founded twelve small monasteries near Subiaco before finally founding a single large monastery at Monte Cassino near Naples.
A monastic rule attributed to him describes itself as a rule for beginners, a “school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to order nothing harsh or rigorous.” (Perhaps he had learned from his first attempt to lead a monastery!) The rule promoted a balanced life of common prayer, study and manual labor, lived in community under an abbot. The number of monasteries living under the rule grew slowly during the centuries following Benedict, until centralizing efforts under Charlemagne made his rule the dominant one in Western Europe. The Rule is still in use in many monasteries today, and Christians continue to mine it for spiritual insights.
When Benedict died among his monks around the year 547, he was buried in the same grave as his sister Scholastica.
“Benedict,” The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 3rd ed., Donald Attwater with Catherine Rachel John (Penguin, 1995)
“July 11: St. Benedict,” Saint of the Day, American Catholic, http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1441
"Rule of St. Benedict" and "St. Benedict of Nursia" in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, ed. (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).