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§ 45. The Benedictines. Cassiodorus.

Benedict had no presentiment of the vast historical importance, which this rule, originally designed simply for the cloister of Monte Cassino, was destined to attain. He probably never aspired beyond the regeneration and salvation of his own soul and that of his brother monks, and all the talk of later Catholic historians about his far-reaching plans of a political and social regeneration of Europe, and the preservation and promotion of literature and art, find no support whatever in his life or in his rule. But he humbly planted a seed, which Providence blessed a hundredfold. By his rule he became, without his own will or knowledge, the founder of an order, which, until in the thirteenth century the Dominicans and Franciscans pressed it partially into the background, spread with great rapidity over the whole of Europe, maintained a clear supremacy, formed the model for all other monastic orders, and gave to the Catholic church an imposing array of missionaries, authors, artists, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, as Gregory the Great and Gregory VII. In less than a century after the death of Benedict, the conquests of the barbarians in Italy, Gaul, Spain were reconquered for civilization, and the vast territories of Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia incorporated into Christendom, or opened to missionary labor; and in this progress of history the monastic institution, regulated and organized by Benedict’s rule, bears an honorable share.

Benedict himself established a second cloister in the vicinity of Terracina, and two of his favorite disciples, Placidus and St. Maurus,388388   This Maurus, the founder of the abbacy of Glanfeuil (St. Maur sur Loire), is the patron saint of a branch of the Benedictines, the celebrated Maurians in France (dating from 1618), who so highly distinguished themselves in the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth centuries, by their thorough archaeological and historical researches, and their superior editions of the Fathers. The most eminent of the Maurians are D. (Dom, equivalent to Domnus, Sir) Menard, d’Achery, Godin, Mabillon, le Nourry, Martianay, Ruinart, Martene, Montfaucon, Massuet, Garnier, and de la Rue, and in our time Dom Pitra, editor of a valuable collection of patristic fragments, at the cloister of Solesme. introduced the “holy rule,” the one into Sicily, the other into France. Pope Gregory the Great, himself at one time a Benedictine monk, enhanced its prestige, and converted the Anglo-Saxons to the Roman Christian faith, by Benedictine monks. Gradually the rule found so general acceptance both in old and in new institutions, that in the time of Charlemagne it became a question, whether there were any monks at all, who were not Benedictines. The order, it is true, has degenerated from time to time, through the increase of its wealth and the decay of its discipline, but its fostering care of religion, of humane studies, and of the general civilization of Europe, from the tilling of the soil to the noblest learning, has given it an honorable place in history and won immortal praise. He who is familiar with the imposing and venerable tomes of the Benedictine editions of the Fathers, their thoroughly learned prefaces, biographies, antiquarian dissertations, and indexes, can never think of the order of the Benedictines without sincere regard and gratitude.

The patronage of learning, however, as we have already said, was not within the design of the founder or his rule. The joining of this to the cloister life is duel if we leave out of view the learned monk Jerome, to Cassiodorus, who in 538 retired from the honors and cares of high civil office, in the Gothic monarchy of Italy,389389   He was the last of the Roman consuls—an office which Justinian abolished—and was successively the minister of Odoacer, Theodoric, and Athalaric, who made him prefect of the praetorium to a monastery founded by himself at Vivarium390390   Or Vivaria, so called from the numerous vivaria or fish ponds in that region. (Viviers), in Calabria in Lower Italy. Here he spent nearly thirty years as monk and abbot, collected a large library, encouraged the monks to copy and to study the Holy Scriptures, the works of the church fathers, and even the ancient classics, and wrote for them several literary and theological text-books, especially his treatise De institutione divinarum literarum, a kind of elementary encyclopaedia, which was the code of monastic education for many generations. Vivarium at one time almost rivalled Monte Cassino, and Cassiodorus won the honorary title of the restorer of knowledge in the sixth century.391391   Comp. Mabillon, Ann. Bened. l. v. c. 24, 27; F. de Ste. Marthe, Vie de Cassiodore, 1684.

The Benedictines, already accustomed to regular work, soon followed this example. Thus that very mode of life, which in its founder, Anthony, despised all learning, became in the course of its development an asylum of culture in the rough and stormy times of the migration and the crusades, and a conservator of the literary treasures of antiquity for the use of modern times.

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