St Benedict – often referred to as Benedict of Nursia – was alive around 1,500 years ago: he was born on the second of March 480 AD and is generally thought to have died on 21st March 547 AD.
He founded a community of monks – what we’d now call a monastery – and created a set of rules for them to follow. It’s been used by Benedictine monks ever since, allowing them to govern their communities without infringing on their autonomy. The fact that it’s stood for so long means there must be quite a few things in its favour and these can be applied to our own personal development, regardless of whether we’re religious or not or (if we are) which religion we follow.
Types of Benedictine monks
St Benedict split his work into the four types of monk that he observed when he was alive:
- Those who were in a monastery
- Hermits and similar people who had outgrown their monastery
- Monks who lived alone or with – at most – one or two other people who were basically a law unto themselves
- Monks who wandered from one monastery to another
His rules were probably one of the earliest forms of equality (long before it became more popular) and his abbots weren’t allowed to discriminate between monks except based on their own skill levels. It’s taken us most of the 1,500 years to get close to that goal in society as a whole and, even now, we often struggle to achieve this aim.
St Benedict also encouraged people to defer to their elders and (by definition) betters. That may seem difficult to do nowadays with the levels of corruption and the untruths that we’re so often told along with large corporations doing their level best to reduce their monetary contributions to society (it has been suggested that some of the larger corporations earn more “off planet” for tax purposes than they declare on the Earth). So maybe we’d all be better off if we took more heed of this rule.
St Benedict & silence
Whilst Benedictine monks aren’t sworn to silence, they are encouraged to hold their tongue generally. Which actually maps quite well to the modern day comment that we’ve got two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion. Maybe with our increased focus on our phones and tablets, this is actually coming to pass although there’s a significant minority who (whilst quiet vocally) are too loud on things like social media. If you’re in that group then it could well be worth tapering your online comments so that you’re seen but not heard (you can be “seen” via likes and re-tweets. etc) – one side effect of doing this is that people will be more likely to listen when you actually do say something as they gradually realise that it’s likely to be a considered response and worth listening to!
Try doing something similar in your life – it may take a bit of practice but it could well be worth the effort you put into it.
The 12 Steps outlined by St Benedict
These stepping stones were designed by St Benedict to help his monks get closer to God but they apply equally well in our modern lives:
- Fear God – this doesn’t have to be absolute fear, it’s more likely that it meant show deference to God and you can easily substitute a different superior power or simply the Universe if you prefer
- Subordinate your will to the will of God – this goes back to being humble and more modest
- Be obedient to your superiors – this can be updated to mean following the rules of society
- Be patient – something a lot of us seem to find harder than it should be!
- Confess your sins – if appropriate, this can be at a confessional but it can also mean just admitting your mistakes rather than trying to sweep them aside or pretend they didn’t happen
- Accepting small tasks – they’re often trivial but essential. Building blocks are the way to great things – they’re often literally the foundation of them – so if you’ve got a massive goal that you want to achieve, remember that you need to do the small things as well.
- Consider yourself “inferior to all” – that goes back to being humble again. Try it – you’ll be surprised how good the reaction to it is.
- Follow the example of your superiors. OK, you may need to be careful which examples to follow but your built-in radar will soon start to tell you who are truly your superiors in life and who only pretend that they are.
- Only speak when you’re spoken to. OK, there may be instances when this is difficult to apply but it’s a good aim.
- Don’t readily laugh – choose your moments to laugh so that they count for maximum impact.
- Speak simply and modestly. So if you’re inclined to use big words in the hope of impressing others, think again. There’s a great quote from Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Simplifying things takes time but the effort is well worth it.
- Express your inward humility through bodily posture. Posture is important – it affects near enough anything we do – which is why salespeople are often taught to stand up whilst they’re on the phone – it reinforces authority.
There are a lot more things that St Benedict wrote – 73 chapters in all – so if you’ve got time on your hands you can investigate those further.
St Benedict’s Miracles
Miracles are always worth taking with a pinch of salt – if you weren’t around at the time (and I’d guess you weren’t unless it was in a previous life) then you don’t know for certain they happened but there’s often a grain of truth in them.
He is said to have used the sign of the cross to break a glass full of poison. The glass supposedly held wine but when St Benedict cam to bless it with the sign of the cross, it shattered. St Gregory the Great put this down to the drink being literally the drink of death and God not allowing this to happen.
St Benedict is also said to have transformed into another person in order to save a man from drowning. A monk named Maurus was ordered to save a monk called Placidus who was drowning in a lake. He ran across the water and rescued the drowning monk who later recalled that his rescuer had been dressed in St Benedict’s clothes rather than Maurus. If you’re cynical, some of this could be put down to the kind of memory loss associated with severe stress but I’ll leave you to decide on this one.
Reading the mind of his monks – well before the likes of Derren Brown learned to manipulate people’s minds and appear to be able to mind read but probably using very similar techniques.
There are lots of other miracles associated with St Benedict. It’s up to you how many (if any) of those that you believe but it says a lot about his “presence” that these sprang up at all.
St Benedict’s Patronages
Popular figures like Benedict attract patronages (a bit like the UK’s Royal Family are patrons to a vast array of charities and other organisations.
St Benedict is no exception to this rule.
He is one of the patron saints of Europe – technically, he’s the patron of European civilization and you can celebrate his feast day on July 11th.
Because of the miracle with the wine, he’s also the patron saint against poisoning and – maybe also due to the wine – the saint attributed to kidney disease as well as gall stones and dying people. Plus lesser ailments such as nettle rash.
It should almost go without saying that he’s the patron saint of monks – so many of them are either members of his monasteries or follow the rules he wrote so long ago,
School children and students also revere him as their patron, as do civil engineers.
The list goes on!
Others who count St Benedict as their patron saint include farmers & agricultural workers, cavers, the Officers of Arms responsible for heraldry, Italian architects, coppersmiths.
He is also one of the saints who helps protect people against temptations.
All in all, quite a long list.
The St Benedict medal
There has long been a medal dedicated to St Benedict of Nursia.
The front of the medal shows him holding the Holy Rule in his left hand and a cross in his right and around this image is the Latin inscription “Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur” which translates as “May we, at our death, be fortified by His presence”.
On the reverse of the medal is a cross with the initials CSSML on the vertical bar which signify “Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux” (translation is “May the Holy Cross be my light”). On the horizontal bar of the cross are the initials NDSMD which stand for “Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux” – translated as “Let not the dragon be my overlord”. There are also 4 letters, each in a circle, around the cross. These initials are CSPB and stand for “Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti” or “The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict”.
It’s been acknowledged since Pope Benedict XIV gave it his approval in the 18th century and wearing it is thought to ward off spiritual and physical dangers.