Why Benedict - Behind the new Pope's Name - Benedictine Monasteries

After hearing the media talk about the 15 popes who named themselves Benedict in the past, I decided to not trust the news and do some research on my own. Here is what I discovered about the Benedicts of the past. What in here is the reason Cardinal Ratzinger chose the name Benedict? History will only show.

I found reading about the Benedictine monasteries very inspiring. I can't imagine reading through the Psalms every week. I wonder how the spiritual life that was taught there could be grafted into a church that is also focused on loving the lost. I think the combination would be tremendous. Maybe we could start and online monastery where we develop readings to be read and prayers to be prayed for people not living in monasteries but who want to be unified with one another in spirit, want to develop their spiritual life with other brothers and sisters in Christ, but want to remain witnessing in the world. That's just a thought. It might be a terrible idea. Or it might be great. I guess that is what church is supposed to be, but churches refuse to be strict for various reasons. We could be strict if we were just a volunteer group, but could it work without the commitment Benedictine monks had to make. Anyway, that was just an idea that came to me while writing.

First, I will deal with the two famous laymen that were named Benedict. Then I'll move on to the popes.

All of my papal information comes from the following books:

Benedict of Nursia (born around 480 - died sometime after 542) - Not a Pope

"As a youth he went to Rome to study, but the scholastic life held no attractions for him. He was distressed and disgusted by the vices and frivolities of the city, and, when about fifteen or twenty years of age, he took up the life of the hermit. Fame began to come and the monks of a neighbouring monastery urged him to become their abbot. He proved too strict for them and returned to his hermit's routine."

From this point in his life, many brought their sons to him to have them trained by him. It resulted in twelve monasteries being built at Subiaco, a valley east of Rome. But that was just the beginning. Benedict then travelled to Monte Cassino where he destroyed and active temple to Apollo and placed a monastery in its place. He then became very influential in the church. Although just a layman, many clergy and other laymen would come to him for consultation.

"He seemed to carry with him an atomosphere of quiet peace."

"Benedict's great contribution was the rule which he gave to his monastery...He was aware of the various kinds of monks, some anchorites, some wanderers, some living by twos and threes but witout wise guidance. He believed the best for of the life of a monk to be the cenobitic, that of the community, and it was for this that he devised his rule."

"As Benedict envisaged it, the monastery was to be self-contained and self-supporting, with its fields and workships. Over it was the abbot, chosen byt the entire community. He was to have complete authority, but was to remember that his title meant father and that he was ultimately accountable to God. The monastery was to have other officers, especially if it were large - among them a prior (or provost), deans (each over ten monks), a cellarer, a novice-master, and a porter. Monks were to be admitted first for a novitiate of one year. After that time their decision was irrevocable. Upon entry the monk was to surrender all his porperty, either distributing it to the poor or giving it to the monastery. He was to think of nothing as being his own. The nobles and wealthy who brought their sons to be enetered in the monasteries, even though they made large gifts to the foundation, were to expect no special favours. The ideal was a kind of Christian communism, like that of the early Christians in Jerusalem, whom Benedict cited for his precedent, where no one called anything his own, but all shaed in the common stock."

"The life war orderly but was not unduly severe and was probably more comfortable than was that of the great masses of the population. Clothing and meals were simple but adequate, and special provision was made for the ill, the aged, the very young, and those doing heavy manual labour. There was to be fasting at regular times, but this was not of the kind practised by the extreme ascetics whom we have met. Much weight was given to humility. Provision was made for various degrees of discipline, from private admonition to physical punishment, excommunication, and as a last resort, expulsion. Idleness was declared 'an enemy of the soul.' The entire round of the twenty-four hours was provided for, with eight services, one every three hours, and with periods for sleep, including a rest early in the afternoon, for eating, and for labour. The labour might be in the fields or in the library, according to the aptitude of the monk. There was also time for directed and supervised reading and for meditation and private prayer. Silence was encouraged and was the rule at meals after compline, the last of the services of the day. Joking and laughter were frowned upon. There was reading aloud at meals from religious books by those assigned ot that function. Stress was placed on worship by the entire community and directions were given for th services. These wer to include the Psalms, so that the whole of the Psalter was recited each week, reading from the Old and New Testaments with accepted commentaries on them, hymns, prayers, amd ont them the Lord's Prayer, and the frequent use of the Gloria, the kyrie eleison, and the canticle Benedictus. Although hospitatlity was enjoined and practised, provision was made for keeping the monks from having more contact twith the outside world than was absolutely necessary. There was a place for priests, for they were needed to say mass, but theyr were to obey the rule as fully as the lay monks."

"The rule was wisely deesigned for a group of men of various ages living together in worship and in work for the cultivation of the full Christian life as that was conceived by the monk...The rule of Benedict became standared in the West, probably because of its intrinsic worth."

"In an age of disorder the Benedictine monasteries were centres of quiet and orderly living, communities where prayer, work, and study were the custom, and that in a society where prayer was ignored or was regarded as magic to be practised for selfish ends, where work was depspised as servile, where even princes were illiterate, and where war was chornic. Like other monastic establishments, Benedicting foundations tended to decline from the high ideals set by the rule."

Benedict of Aniane (born about 750 - died February 11, 821)

"In his twenties, he had renounced the world and entered a monastery. Disturbed by the laxity in the house which he had chosen, he founded a monastery of his own at Aniane in which he sought to restore the observance of the rule of Benedict in its full strictness, and with especial emphasis upon worship and self denial. His example proved contagious and by the time of Charlemagne's death (814) many other houses were adhering closely to the Benedicting ideal...True to his convictions, Louis (the Pious - the king who followed Charlemagne) was especially concerned with improving the quality of monastic life. To this end he called to his assistance Witizia, better know as Benedict of Aniane...Louis made Benedit of Aniane his adviser on monastic affairs and the order went forth that all monasteries in the realm must follow the Benedictine rule as interpreted by him."

Benedict I (June 2, 575 - July 30, 579)

Not much is known about this fellow. He apparently chose

Benedict II (June 26, 684 - May 8, 685)

Apparently Pope Benedict I was influential enough that someone wanted to name themselves after him, or maybe he thought the Pope Benedict I did a disservice to the name of Benedict of Nursia. I guess we will never know. He "was known primarily for his humility, gentleness, and love for the poor." He battled the church of Spain over the doctrine of Monothelitism ("a heresy that held that in Jesus Chrsit there is only one divine will rather than a human and a divine will"). Benedict II's predecessor Leo II had condemned the belief in the Third Counicil of Constantinople (680-81). Benedict II confirmed and unsuccessfully tried to implement that condemnation.


That's all for today. I've spent way too much time on this. I'll continue tomorrow.

Watch out for the potholes.