Interesting facts and information about life and the lives of men and women in the
Medieval period of the Middle Ages
St. Benedict framed a Rule, or constitution, which was modelled in some respects upon the earlier Rule of St. Basil for the Benedictine Order in 529AD. The Benedictine monks formed a sort of corporation, presided over by an abbot, who held the office for life. Every candidate for admission to the order of the Benedictine monks took the vow of obedience. Any man, rich or poor, noble or peasant, might enter the Benedictine monastery. The postulancy usually lasted one month, the novitiate one year, at the end which simple vows were taken. The solemn vows of the Medieval monks were taken four years later. But having once joined he remained a Benedictine monk for the rest of his life. The Benedictine monks lived 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 by a Benedictine monk brought punishment in the shape of private admonitions, exclusion from common prayer, and, in extreme cases, expulsion.
The Vows of the Benedictine Monks
The vows of the Benedictine monks were:
- Conversion in the way of life
These vows were the basis of the rule of St. Benedict and the life of the Benedictine monks. By the tenth century the Benedictine Rule prevailed everywhere in western Europe including England.
The word monk (monos) means single, and both celibacy and poverty went without saying. The Benedictine rule specified that monks should own nothing (if that is what poverty is) but this was not incorporated as a vow. In the modern understanding of Benedictine monks, poverty and celibacy are included in the vow of obedience as Benedictine monks are obedient to the rules and regulations of the order and of particular congregations and monasteries. The vows of Poverty and Celibacy were a much later addition to the thinking and rule making of the church. These are required of the later religious institutions such as Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits. The Benedictine Rule was already in place for 500 years before these other orders were established.
Benedictine Monks - the Monastic community
The life and work of the Benedictine Monks in a monastic community. 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 Benedictine monks 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.
The Occupations of Benedictine Monks
St. Benedict defined a monastery as "a school for the service of the Lord." The Benedictine monks under his Rule occupied themselves with a regular round of worship, reading, and manual labor. Each day was divided into seven sacred offices, beginning and ending with services in the monastery church. The first service came usually about two o'clock in the morning; the last, just as evening set in, before the Benedictine monks retired to rest. In addition to their attendance at church, the monks spent several hours in reading from the Bible, private prayer, and meditation. For most of the day, however, they worked hard with their hands, doing the necessary washing and cooking for the monastery, raising the necessary supplies of vegetables and grain, and performing all the other tasks required to maintain a large establishment. This emphasis on labor, as a religious duty, was a characteristic feature of western monasticism. "To labor is to pray" became a favorite motto of the Benedictine Monks.
Benedictine Monks - the attractiveness of the Monastic life
It is clear that life in a Benedictine monastery appealed to many different kinds of people in the Middle Ages. Those of a spiritual turn of mind found in the monastic life the opportunity of giving themselves wholly to God as Benedictine monks. Studious and thoughtful persons, with no disposition for an active career in the world, naturally turned to the monastery as a secure retreat and joined the ranks of the Benedictine monks. The friendless and the disgraced often took refuge within the walls of a Benedictine monastery. Many sought to escape from the violent world of the Medieval Middle Ages by seeking the peaceful shelter of the monastery and leading the quiet life of a Benedictine monk.
The Role of the Benedictine Monks in Medieval times
The civilizing influence of the Benedictine monks during the early Middle Ages can scarcely be over-emphasized. A monastery was a farm, an inn, a hospital, a school and a library. By the careful cultivation of their lands the monks set an example of good farming wherever they settled. The role of the monasteries and the Benedictine monks was as follows:
- The Benedictine monks received pilgrims and travellers, at a period when western Europe was almost destitute of inns
- The Benedictine monks performed many works of charity, feeding the hungry, healing the sick who were brought to their doors, and distributing their medicines freely to those who needed them
- The Benedictine monks provided education for boys who wished to become priests and those who intended to lead active lives in the world
- The Benedictine monks copied the manuscripts of classical authors, they preserved valuable books that would otherwise have been lost
- The Benedictine monks were the only scholars of the age
- The Benedictine monks kept records of the most striking events of their time and acted as chroniclers of the medieval history of the Middle Ages
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