Benedict of Nursia

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Giovanni Bellini , Benedict of Nursia, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari , 15th century

Benedict of Nursia ( Italian Benedetto di Norcia ; * around 480 in Nursia, today Norcia near Spoleto in the province of Perugia , in the Umbrian Apennines ; †  March 21, 547 on Monte Cassino approx. 140 km south of Rome ) was a hermit , abbot and founder of the order . He lived during the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages . He founded the Montecassino Abbey near Naples in a temple of Apollo around 529 , which is still considered the parent monastery of the Benedictine order (Latin Ordo Sancti Benedicti , OSB). The Benedictine monasticism named after him goes back to Benedict , whose rule - the Regula Benedicti - was written by him as a monastery regular after 529 (around 540). In the Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic Churches he is venerated as a saint, and in the Evangelical and Anglican Churches he is considered an important witness of the faith.

A minority of researchers doubt that Benedict was a real historical figure due to the problematic sources.


Modern representation of Benedict of Nursia

There are two testimonies from the time before the creation of the Dialogi of Gregory the Great in which Benedict's name is documented. On the one hand, it is a small poetic hymn of praise to Benedict and his founding Montecassino in 66 verses, written by a certain Poeta Marcus, and on the other hand, an introductory poem to the Benedictine Rule, which Benedict's successor Abbot Simplicius of Montecassino wrote in the 550 / 60s Has. Important for the perception of Benedict then its in was hagiographischem authored style biography (Latin vita ) that Pope Gregory the Great wrote of the 6th century in the last decade and in his writing Dialogi the ( "Dialogues") einbaute in which it the entire second fills four books. In the Dialogi Gregory tells of the life of the saints in Italy; He would like to show his interlocutor, the deacon Peter, that there are not only good Christians in Italy but also saints, which Peter had doubted. Regarding the biography of Benedict, Gregor relies on the reports of four eyewitnesses whom he knew personally and who were Benedict's pupils: Constantine, who was Benedict's immediate successor as Abbot of Montecassino; Constantine's successor Simplicius; Valentinianus, the abbot of the St. Pancras monastery in the Lateran , into which the monks of Montecassino had retired after the destruction of their monastery by the Lombards around 580; Honoratus, who headed the Subiaco monastery founded by Benedict in Gregory's time .

The theologian Francis Clark published a two-volume study of the Dialogi in 1987 in which he argued that the work was spurious. The author is not Pope Gregory, who died in 604, but a forger who lived in the late 7th century. Some of Clark's considerations met with cautious approval from the historian Johannes Fried , among others , who stated in 2004: “Clark has overshot his goal”: The dialogues were created in his environment during or shortly after Gregor's lifetime; it was "literary dialogues that Gregor actually had". Presumably, however, Benedict is only a phantom, the “product of an edifying story”.

Clark's hypothesis, which he defended in a further study in 2003, has been almost unanimously rejected in research; it is mostly considered untenable, since it turned out that his work has serious methodological flaws. Fried's position that the work goes back to Gregor, but Benedict is an invented figure, has not yet prevailed. According to the current state of research, the authenticity of the Dialogi can be assumed. The historicity of Benedict remains controversial, but at least in essence it is considered likely.


Via Triumphalis of St. Benedict - ceiling fresco of the Melk collegiate church by Johann Michael Rottmayr (1722)
Glory of St. Benedict - high altar painting in the parish church of St. Peter and Paul in Villmar by Johann Georg Schamo (1762) with scenes from the vita of the saint.

Benedict was born in Nursia (Italian Norcia ) around 480 as the son of a wealthy landowner. His twin sister was the Scholastica , who was later also venerated as a saint .

After finishing school in Nursia, Benedict's parents sent their son to Rome to study . Disappointed by the immorality in Rome, however, he soon went to the mountains to Enfide (today's Affile ) and lived with a group of ascetic hermits before retiring to a cave near Subiaco east of Rome for three years . The monastery of San Benedetto , also known as Sacro Speco (Italian, English holy cave), was founded above this cave in the 12th century .

During this time, more and more people became aware of Benedict and soon he was asked to head the nearby monastery in Vicovaro . Benedict agreed and tried to rearrange life in the monastery. He met with great resistance from the monastic community, who even tried to kill their uncomfortable abbot with poisoned wine.

Benedict returned to the valley of Subiaco and founded the monastery of San Clemente and twelve other small monasteries in a building in the Nero villa , including the only one of the convent of Santa Scolastica that still exists today. According to legend, the intrigues of the envious priest Florentius of Subiaco should have driven him from there again. But behind this there is probably a conflict with the Bishop of Tivoli , who was a thorn in the side of Benedict's increasing influence in his diocese.

In the year 529 Benedict moved with a small group of loyal followers to Monte Cassino, 80 km southeast, and founded the monastery there, which is considered the mother monastery of the Benedictines. He himself led the community there; for them he also wrote his famous “ Regula Benedicti ”.

Benedict was very popular with the local population. He stood by the people in times of need. The legends also tell of healings, even of raising the dead. Benedict is considered to be the founder of organized monastic care.

Benedict finally died in Monte Cassino on Maundy Thursday , March 21, 547 while he was praying at the altar of the monastery church - according to tradition, standing on his monks. According to Gregory the Great, his confreres reported seeing angels carrying him up to heaven on carpeted, light-filled streets.

Effect and rule of Benedict

O. Bitschnau (1883): Saint Benedict

Benedict, famous for the Benedictine rule, which applies in the Benedictine , Benedictine and later reform monasteries (e.g. the Cistercians ), was inspired by the late ancient monks and hermitages of the Eastern Roman Empire, in particular by the communities of the Pachomios in Egypt, the monastic rule of Basil of Caesarea from the fourth century, which still applies today in the Orthodox Church, monk fathers such as Johannes Cassian as well as the "Regula Augustini", which is received in three different traditions, and transmitted parts of these ideas its rule to the west. The main source of his rule was the anonymous Regula Magistri ("Rule of the Master") from the early 6th century, from which he took some things, especially in the prologue and the first seven chapters, which he shortened and edited, especially with regard to to real community of not only the abbot but also brothers who are responsible for one another in love for God and neighbor - certainly a basis for the great success of the rule in the troubled times of late antiquity and early Middle Ages and up to today. The monastery rule, which Benedict first wrote for his own monastery, became particularly important in the 9th century. After Benedict von Aniane was made imperial abbot in the Franconian Empire by Ludwig the Pious in 816 , he introduced the Benedict rule in all monasteries that were subordinate to him.

For Benedict, the steadfastness and sedentariness of the monks was of great importance - and this at a time when the migrations were taking place. Renunciation of property, silence, humility, chastity and obedience are still the most important rules of Benedict today. Benedict sees the abbot's relationship to the monks as patriarchal , but with an anti-authoritarian, democratic note that integrates the responsible and competent monks into the decision-making processes. However, absolute obedience to the abbot's decisions is required of the monks.

Benedict founded several monasteries. For the monks he developed a concept of discipline and measure:

  • celibate life,
  • simple diet (the meat of four-legged animals is avoided, a maximum of one cooked main meal per day, restriction of wine consumption)
  • fixed times for prayer, scripture reading , work, and sleep.

The model of monastic life for Benedict was the family with the abbot as father and monks as brothers.

Although he belonged to the social elite, he devoted himself to physical work and passed this on to his successors. The Benedictine principle " Ora et labora " ("Pray and work") , which was mistakenly attributed to him, only emerged in the late Middle Ages. Today it is understood as the balance, which is usually the basis, between meaningful work (as compensation for idleness, which is considered the enemy of the soul) and prayer. Benedict himself usually combines work with reading (RB 48) and gives the day a clear structure. This basic attitude was also received in the wider environment of these religious orders. Today his rule of the order is also propagated as a yardstick for intelligent management (see, for example, Anselm Bilgri's book “Find the Right Measure” or Baldur Kirchner's book “Benedict for Managers”).

Benedict was also always perceived as a peacemaker. Many provisions of his rule are also aimed at this peace in the relationship between superiors and confreres or between the generations represented in the community. Therefore, today's Benedictines use pax or pacis (“peace”) as the second motto and coat of arms word .

St. Benedict , Munich

Benedict and the Benedictines

Benedict wrote a well-respected rule. The much later name "Benedictine order" resulted from the efforts of the Vatican to treat the Benedictines as an order in canonical law. In response to this, the various Benedictine monasteries gradually founded national or otherwise equally interested congregations (e.g. the Cassinese Congregation , the Sublacenses , the English, the Camaldolese , the Olivetans , the Vallombrosans ; in German-speaking countries: the Swiss Congregation , the Austrian K. , the Bavarian K. , the Beuroner K. , the Missionary Congregation of St. Ottilien ), all of which are now represented in the "Benedictine Confederation". However, Benedictine abbeys do not have a motherhouse system like other religious orders, but are completely autonomous. As a result, the Benedictine Confederation is not a generalate and its abbot primate is not a general leader. An indication of the autonomy of each individual monastery can be found in the text of the seal of an abbey: Religio Sancti (the name of the patron saint of the monastery follows) .


Rapture of St. Benedikt (ceiling painting in the Minster Zwiefalten )

Benedict of Nursia is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic Churches . He is also considered a memorable witness of faith in the Protestant and Anglican churches. Its importance for the Christian West has always been emphasized. He is also honored as the patron saint of school children and teachers, miners and cave explorers, coppersmiths and the dying, as well as invoked against fever, inflammation, kidney and gallstones, poisoning and sorcery. Since 1964 he has been considered one of the patrons of Europe .

From the 11th century, St. Benedict's feast day was celebrated on the day of his death, March 21st. In years in which this day fell during Holy Week, it was moved to the earliest possible day after Easter. With the elevation of the feast of St. Benedict in the liturgical calendar of the Church as a whole, the day of remembrance was moved to July 11 in 1970. This date is also his day of remembrance in the Evangelical Name Calendar of the Evangelical Church in Germany , in the Calendar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and in the Calendar of the Anglican Church. (For the remembrance of the Evangelical Lutheran saints, see Confessio Augustana , Article 21.)

The Benedictine monasteries, especially Monte Cassino , stayed at the original date. This is probably mainly because July 11th was traditionally celebrated in Fleury as the festival of the translation (transmission) of the relics of St. Benedict (sometimes also as his birthday natale sancti Benedicti abbatis ). The veneration there had led to the change of patronage from St. Peter to Benedict in the 8th century . The dispute over the relics between Fleury and Monte Cassino at the end of the 11th century led Leo Marsicanus to refute the French representation in detail in his History of the Monte Cassino Monastery. The 11th of July was therefore considered a “forbidden festival” for the abbots of Monte Cassino, especially when it was celebrated under the title “Translatio” (see General Roman Calendar ).


Late antiquity and early medieval depictions of the saint are unknown; there are, however, isolated high medieval images. In pictures and sculptures of the Italian early Renaissance , Benedict is depicted as an abbot, more rarely as a hermit.


Relics of Benedict are in:

Farmer rules

Weather rules applicable on March 21 (the original memorial day of St. Benedict) : "St. Benedict decorates the garden" and "St. Benedict makes onions fat", also in the form "If you want barley, peas and onions fat, sow on St. Benedict. "



  • Friedrich Wilhelm BautzBenedict of Nursia. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 1, Bautz, Hamm 1975. 2nd, unchanged edition Hamm 1990, ISBN 3-88309-013-1 , Sp. 494-496.
  • Francis Clark: The Pseudo-Gregorian dialogues. 2 volumes, Brill, Leiden 1987, Volume 1: ISBN 90-04-07775-8 , Volume 2: ISBN 90-04-07776-6 . (Studies in the history of Christian thought 37-38) (outdated state of research)
  • Simone Frignani: The Benedict Path - from Nursia via Subiaco to Montecassino . Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck 2014, ISBN 978-3-7022-3340-2 .
  • Ildefons Herwegen , Emmanuel von Severus: St. Benedict. 5th edition. Patmos-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1980, ISBN 3-491-77347-4 .
  • Tino Licht: The oldest testimonies to Benedict and Benedictine monasticism. In: Erbe und Einsatz , Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 434-441
  • Raphael Molitor (ed.): Vir Dei Benedictus. A celebration on the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Benedict. Münster 1947, DNB 450352889 .
  • Michaela Puzicha OSB: Benedict of Nursia. Mediator of the fundamentals of a spiritual life . In: Erbe und Einsatz , 94 vol. (2018), pp. 64–75.
  • Veith Risak: Benedict - leader of men and seeker of God. Böhlau-Verlag, Vienna et al. 1991, ISBN 3-205-05422-9 .
  • Bernardin Schellenberger : Benedict of Nursia. The career of a spiritual master . Echter, Würzburg 2015, ISBN 978-3-429-03812-0 .
  • Heinrich Schipperges : Benedict of Nursia, Rule of Benedict. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 164; see. also: the same: the Benedictines in medicine in the early Middle Ages. Leipzig 1964.
  • Adalbert de Vogüé : Benedict of Nursia . In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . Volume 5, 1980, pp. 538-549.
  • Adalbert de Vogüé, Benedict of Nursia. A picture of life. Verlag Neue Stadt, Munich u. a. 2006, ISBN 3-87996-681-8 .
  • Alfried Wieczorek, Gerfried Sitar (Ed.): Benedict and the world of the early monasteries . Exhibition catalog. Schnell and Steiner, Regensburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-7954-2581-4 , esp. Pp. 17-29.
  • Klaus Zelzer: Benedict of Nursia . In: M. Vinzent (ed.), Metzler Lexikon christlicher Denker, Stuttgart-Weimar: Metzler 2000, 85-87.
  • Klaus and Michaela Zelzer: Ambrosius, Benedikt, Gregor . Philological-literary-historical studies ... ed. v. Klaus Zelzer, Vienna: LIT 2015 (Spirituality in Dialogue, 6).

Web links

Wikisource: Benedictus de Nursia  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Commons : Benedict von Nursia  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ A b Günter Stemberger: 2000 years of Christianity . Salzburg 1980. ISBN 3-85012-092-9
  2. Tino Licht: The oldest evidence of Benedict and Benedictine monasticism. In: Erbe und Einsatz, 89 (2013), pp. 434–441.
  3. Gregory the Great, Dialogi 2,1,2.
  4. Johannes Fried: The veil of memory. Munich 2004, pp. 345-349.
  5. Johannes Fried: The veil of memory. Munich 2004, p. 356.
  6. ^ Francis Clark: The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism. Leiden 2003.
  7. Doubts are almost exclusively expressed by historians. The great majority of theologians start from the historicity of Benedict; see Joachim Wollasch: Benedikt von Nursia. Person of the story or fictional ideal figure? In: Studies and communications on the history of the Benedictine order and its branches, Vol. 118, 2007, pp. 7–30; Paul Meyvaert: The Enigma of Gregory the Great's Dialogues . In: Journal of Ecclesiastical History 39, 1988, pp. 335-381; Adalbert de Vogüé: Grégoire le Grand et ses “Dialogues” d'après deux ouvrages récentes . In: Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 83, 1988, pp. 281-348; Adalbert de Vogüé: Grégoire le Grand est-il l'auteur des Dialogues? In: Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 99, 2004, pp. 158–161 (with information on other relevant controversial literature). Johannes Fried, on the other hand, continues to hold fast to the fictional nature of Benedict: Christian Staas: Heiliger oder Legende? Benedict did not exist ; Interview with Johannes Fried in Die Zeit 16/2010 from April 15, 2010.
  8. Brockhaus multimedial premium 2007, article: Monasticism in the West: Pray and work