The Rule of Saint Benedict


Christian monasticism first appeared in the Eastern Roman Empire a few generations before Benedict of Nursia, in the Egyptian desert. Under the great inspiration of Saint Anthony the Great (251-356), ascetic monks led by Saint Pachomius (286-346) formed the first Christian monastic communities under what became known as an Abbot, from the Aramaic abba (father).[1]

Within a generation, both solitary and communal monasticism became very popular and spread outside of Egypt, first to Palestine and the Judean Desert and thence to Syria and North Africa. Saint Basil of Caesarea codified the precepts for these eastern monasteries in his Ascetic Rule, or Ascetica, which is still used today in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In the West in about the year 500, Benedict became so upset by the immorality of society in Rome that he gave up his studies there, at age fourteen, and chose the life of an ascetic monk in the pursuit of personal holiness, living as a hermit in a cave near the rugged region of Subiaco. In time, setting an example with his zeal, he began to attract disciples. After considerable initial struggles with his first community at Subiaco, he eventually founded the monastery of Monte Cassino in 529, where he wrote his Rule near the end of his life.[2]

In chapter 73, St Benedict commends the Rule of St Basil and alludes to further authorities. He was probably aware of the Rule written by Pachomius (or attributed to him); and his Rule also shows influence by the Rule of St Augustine of Hippo and the writings of Saint John Cassian. Benedict's greatest debt, however, may be to the anonymous document known as the Rule of the Master, which Benedict seems to have radically excised, expanded, revised and corrected in the light of his own considerable experience and insight.[3]

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