After a few weeks densely populated with solemnities, we enter into the heart of summer with the Feast of Saint Benedict next Tuesday. Benedict has been receiving a certain amount of attention recently, thanks to the publication of The Benedict Option by journalist Rod Dreher. The current issue of Regina Magazine also features an article called “Benedict and Scholastica,” by Bill Schulz. It’s a fine introduction to some of the questions surrounding the historicity of the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, our only source for the biography of these saint-founders. I’m personally grateful for the attention given to our founders!
I’m somewhat less skeptical than Schulz. We actually have an abundant resource for reconstructing the personality of the historical Saint Benedict if we pay close attention to his Rule for Monks. I would also note that the Rule of Saint Benedict is the source of much, perhaps most, of the legislation on religious life in the West. Thus, while it is accurate to say that the Rule “still in use today by some orders,” this doesn’t quite do justice to the significance of Saint Benedict, who is, after all, the patron of Western Europe! Saint Benedict’s wisdom is fundamental to all religious orders in the West today, and every religious novice will have spent time with Saint Benedict in his or her study of the history of religious life.
The historicity of Saint Scholastica is admittedly a sticky subject. In my experience, a lot depends on how much exposure one has to Italian monasticism. I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time in the last two years in Italian monasteries, and I’ve encountered a lot of oral history that substantiates the Dialogues. Of course, this oral history could have been invented after the fact, to embroider the biographies of Saints Benedict and Scholastica. But it’s also at least possible that there are genuine memories of these saints, particularly at Monte Cassino, whose history goes back quite close to the lifetime of Saint Benedict.
We will be having our regular schedule of services for the liturgy of Saint Benedict beginning with First Vespers at 5:15 p.m. on Monday. We hope that many can join us to celebrate one of the most important post-Apostolic saints in the West, one whom Dante placed in the highest level of contemplatives!