Novena to St Benedict Day 7: Monte Cassino

My last post on the Life of St Benedict focused on the persecution of the saint by a neighbouring priest, Florentius.

The decision to leave Subiaco

When the priest shifted his efforts from attacking the saint personally, to tactics that endangered the souls of his monks, St Benedict, after first reorganizing his fledgling congregation to take account of his absence, decided to leave Subiaco, ostensibly in the interests of protecting his monks:

"...fearing the danger which thereby might ensue to his younger monks, and considering that all this was done only for the persecuting of himself, he gave place to envy; and therefore, after he had for those abbeys and oratories which he had there built appointed governors, and left some under their charge, himself, in the company of a few monks, removed to another place."

Shortly after the saint set off however, the envious Fr Florentius suddenly died:

"And thus the man of God, upon humility, gave place to the other's malice; but yet almighty God of justice did severely punish [Florentius'] wickedness. For when the foresaid Priest, being in his chamber, understood of the departure of holy Benedict, and was very glad of that news, behold (the whole house besides continuing safe and sound) that chamber alone in which he was, fell down, and so killed him..."

St Maurus, who had been left behind at Subiaco at this stage, sought to recall St Benedict, but the saint refused to return, appalled at St Maurus' attitude to the death of his enemy:

"...which strange accident the holy man's disciple Maurus understanding, straightways sent him word, he being as yet scarce ten miles off, desiring him to return again, because the Priest that did persecute him was slain; which thing when Benedict heard, he was passing sorrowful, and lamented much: both because his enemy died in such sort, and also for that one of his monks rejoiced thereat; and therefore he gave him penance, for that, sending such news, he presumed to rejoice at his enemy's death."

A providential move to Monte Cassino

So St Benedict proceeded on to Montecassino (the modern monastery is pictured above), some 80 miles from Rome and Subiaco.  The engraving below shows the Monastery as it would have appeared to Dom Mabillon and his companions when they visited the monastery in 1685. 

Pope Benedict XVI, in a General Audience, has explained that the decision to move to Monte Cassino clearly had a providential dimension, reflecting God's plan for the spread of the Order:

"In the year 529, Benedict left Subiaco and settled in Monte Cassino. Some have explained this move as an escape from the intrigues of an envious local cleric.

However, this attempt at an explanation hardly proved convincing since the latter's sudden death did not induce Benedict to return (II Dialogues, 8). In fact, this decision was called for because he had entered a new phase of inner maturity and monastic experience.

According to Gregory the Great, Benedict's exodus from the remote Valley of the Anio to Monte Cassio - a plateau dominating the vast surrounding plain which can be seen from afar - has a symbolic character: a hidden monastic life has its own raison d'être but a monastery also has its public purpose in the life of the Church and of society, and it must give visibility to the faith as a force of life. 

Indeed, when Benedict's earthly life ended on 21 March 547, he bequeathed with his Rule and the Benedictine family he founded a heritage that bore fruit in the passing centuries and is still bearing fruit throughout the world."

Don't forget to say the novena prayer to be found with the first post of this series on the life of St Benedict.  And you can find the next post in the series here.


Anonymous said...

I am enjoying these articles on Benedict very much.

Thank you!


Kate said...

Thanks Dean, I appreciate the feedback!