Each year on the 21st of March the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the great Patriarch of Western Monasticism: Saint Benedict. Because of the long reaching nature of his work he is also known as the Father of Europe and is the Patron Saint of Europe as well.
The effect Saint Benedict has had on the Church is incalculable. Of the 33 Doctors of the Church a total of 5 have come from his order (more than any other order): Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Peter Damian, Saint Bede the Venerable, and Saint Anselm.
In addition, of the 266 Popes a grand total of 17 of them have been from the Benedictine Order and 2 others from the Cistercian Order which is part of the Benedictine family of orders. To understand how impressive that is consider that if one were to add together the next three orders with the most Popes (Agustinians, Dominicans, and Franciscans) you would only have 14 Popes.
Because of the incredible wisdom of the Rule of Saint Benedictine it has been the foundation of religious life in the West and it influenced nearly every major religious order founded from his time up until modern times. What is amazing about his rule is that even though it was meant for monks it has been easily applied to nuns and later to active religious orders when they began popping up in the middle ages. It even had a profound affect on reforms of how the regular clergy lived and thus were born Canons Regular and Clerks Regular. Only the Rule of Saint Augustine has had an effect that is comparable. Thus it was that beyond the Benedictine Order proper that have been a number of other Orders which follow the Benedictine Rule or a version of it and these are the: Camaldolese, Vallombrosa, Cistercians, Trappists (strict observance Cistercians), Sylvestrines, Olivetans, and Mechitarists. His Rule, at least certain portions, have even been found very helpful to lay Catholics in living out their daily lives in great holiness.
The contributions of all of these monks to the world is so immense one cannot even begin to do justice to it all. But we might mention just a few things that we wouldn’t have, as we know it now, if it were not for the the Benedictines and ultimately Saint Benedict: wine, champagne (Dom Perignon was a Benedictine Monk), beer, liquor, cheese, modern agriculture, architecture, modern clocks, hang gliders, blast furnaces, and even the very “Times New Roman” font your are reading this page in which is actually the ground breaking Carolingian Minuscule script.
Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of this impact of Saint Benedictine on the world in his work: Mission of St. Benedict:
St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time or by any rare specific or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often, till the work was done, it was not known to be doing. It was a restoration, rather than a visitation, correction, or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure. Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that ‘contended or cried out,’ or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again.
Probably the most important work performed by the monks, however, was the preservation of the many works of the ancients among the Greeks and others, and if it were not for them the waves of barbarians that washed over Europe for centuries would have utterly obliterated western culture, philosophy, and history.
The Benedictines were the intellectuals from before the middle ages that spawned the great scholastics of that time. Pope Saint Gregory the Great, as was already mentioned a Benedictine, is known as the Father of the Middle Ages and it was that great Pope who sent another Benedictine Monk: Saint Augustine of Canterbury to convert England.
We were also blessed with lights such as Blessed Hermann who was born with with Cerebral Palsy (or something similar) and was give by his parents to a Benedictine Monastery where he would thrive and make significant contributions in the areas of: theology, mathematics, astronomy, music, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. It is common for the great Marian Antiphons the Alma Redemptoris Mater and the Salve Regina to be attributed to him as well.
Benedictines educated the links of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face (two Doctors of the Church and two of the greatest Saints in the history of the Church) in their formative years along with countless others over the centuries.
It is very possible that you owe your being Catholic to the Benedictine Order in one way or another. And beyond that you very well owe the fact that you even came to exist by the labours of various Benedictine Monks throughout the ages.
Let us then on the great Feast of Saint Benedict rejoice and offer up our prayers to him for his intercession, and let us endeavour to spend at least a little time today coming to know just who this amazing Saint was and let us spend some time getting to know his Holy Rule.
And here are a few examples of some authentic Benedictine communities in the English speaking world today: