Benedict was born into a distinguished family in central Italy, studied at Rome
and early in life was drawn to the monastic life. At first he became a hermit, leaving a depressing
world—pagan armies on the march, the Church torn by schism, people suffering from war, morality at a
He soon realized that he could not live a hidden life in a small town any better
than in a large city, so he withdrew to a cave high in the mountains for three years. Some monks
chose him as their leader for a while, but found his strictness not to their taste. Still, the shift
from hermit to community life had begun for him.
He had an idea of gathering various families
of monks into one “Grand Monastery” to give them the benefit of unity, fraternity, permanent worship
in one house. Finally he began to build what was to become one of the most famous monasteries in the
world—Monte Cassino, commanding three narrow valleys running toward the mountains north of
The Rule that gradually developed prescribed a life of liturgical prayer, study,
manual labor and living together in community under a common father (abbot). Benedictine asceticism
is known for its moderation, and Benedictine charity has always shown concern for the people in the
surrounding countryside. In the course of the Middle Ages, all monasticism in the West was gradually
brought under the Rule of St. Benedict.
Today the Benedictine family is represented by two
branches: the Benedictine Federation and the Cistercians.
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