In the year 480 AD, the last of the rulers of what remained of the western Roman Empire, a man by the name of Julius Nepos, died, leaving one Roman Emperor in the far off eastern city of Constantinople (for the first time in ninety-five years), and the old Roman Empire in Europe in the midst of a deleterious decline. In this era of ever diminishing expectations, Saint Benedict was born.
He was, of course, not Saint Benedict immediately; this would take some time. Benedict was first the child of well-off Roman nobility, who lived in the Umbrian town of Nursia. In the year 500 AD, Benedict experienced something of a religious awakening, an aching sense that the promises of the Gospel were unattainable in a culture that he came to experience as decadent. This awakening compelled him to abandon the privileges afforded by his family’s status and wealth. He retreated to the wilds of Subiaco, becoming a hermit. The young man who should have been a “somebody” made himself a “nobody” and should have been forgotten.
Benedict would retreat from the world, but his retreat did not prevent the world from coming to him.
Soon, a community formed around him as his reputation as a mystic and wonderworker spread. It was to this community that Benedict imparted a “rule” or a way of life, in which fidelity to Christ would be expressed in vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. These vows would become a crucible through which the soul would be conformed to Christ.
In the year 530, Benedict journeyed to the height of Monte Casino and established there what would become the spiritual center of the movement that bears his name: the Benedictines.
Benedict would die in the year 543. In the years following his death, as the last vestiges of the Roman Empire gave way to factionalism and strife, and warlords struggled violently to establish kingdoms hacked out of the corpse of Rome, the Benedictines would offer an alternative way of life, a distinctively Christian culture.
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