The fame of St. Benedict as a holy man attracted many disciples, and he began to group them in monastic communities under his own supervision. The most important monastery of St. Benedict was at Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples. It became the capital of monasticism in the West.
Benedictine Rule - The Rule of St. Benedict 528AD
To control the monks of Monte Cassino St. Benedict framed a Rule, or constitution, which was modelled in some respects upon the earlier Rule of St. Basil. The monks formed a sort of corporation, presided over by an abbot, who held office for life. To the abbot every candidate for admission took the vow of obedience. Any man, rich or poor, noble or peasant, might enter the monastery, after a year's probation; having once joined, however, he must remain a monk for the rest of his days. The monks were to live under strict discipline. They could not own any property; they could not go beyond the monastery walls without the abbot's consent; they could not even receive letters from home; and they were sent to bed early. A violation of the regulations brought punishment in the shape of private admonitions, exclusion from common prayer, and, in extreme cases, expulsion.
The Three Vows of the Benedictine Rule
The vows of the Benedictine monks were:
- Conversion in the way of life
The Spread of the Benedictine Rule
The Rule of St. Benedict came to have the same wide influence in the West which that of St. Basil exerted in the East. Gregory the Great established the Benedictine rule in many places in Italy, Sicily, and England. During Charlemagne's reign it was made the only form of monasticism throughout his dominions. By the tenth century the Benedictine Rule prevailed everywhere in western Europe.
The Benedictine Monks
St. Benedict sought to draw a sharp line between the monastic life and that of the outside world. Hence he required that, as far as possible, each monastery should form an independent, self-supporting community whose members had no need of going beyond its limits for anything. In course of time, as a monastery increased in wealth and number of inmates, it might come to form an enormous establishment, covering many acres and presenting within its massive walls the appearance of a fortified town.