Today is the Feast Day for St. Benedict of Nursia (c.480-547). An Italian Saint, Benedict was the founder of twelve monastic communities, the most well-known being his first at Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. He likely did not intend to found a religious order — the Order of St. Benedict originated much later as “a confederation of congregations into which the traditionally independent Benedictine abbeys have affiliated themselves for the purpose of representing their mutual interests, without [losing] any of their autonomy.” In dealing with the number of people coming to the monastery, he wrote a “Rule of Life” referred to as the Rule of St. Benedict, which “became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason Benedict is often called ‘the founder of western Christian monasticism.'” The Roman Catholic Church canonized him in 1220.
Jamie Howison recently preached a sermon at St. Benedict’s Table concerning St. Benedict. The introduction ran like this:
At the conclusion of his influential book After Virtue, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre offers the following observation regarding the times in which we live:
“What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us… We are waiting… for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.”
In this statement, MacIntyre is making two rather astonishing claims: 1) that our society has already entered into a new dark age, analogous to the bleak era which followed the collapse of the Roman Empire; and 2) that the vision of one person – Benedict of Nursia – was critical in creating an alternative to the violence and lostness of the first Dark Ages, and, further, that such a vision may be what is most needed in our own time.
…“The world into which St Benedict was born,” writes Esther de Waal,
…was a troubled, torn apart, uncertain world. It knew little of safety or of security, and the church was almost as troubled as the secular powers. It was a world without landmarks. It had this in common with the Twentieth Century: life was an urgent struggle to make sense of what was happening. (Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, p. 15)
(Full text: Let us Keep the Feast)
This is an interesting observation, one which makes Benedict all the more poignant for our times, and particularly as many of us are looking into the creation of a rule of life or missional order.
Another thought-provoker from conversation at “Theology by the Glass” the other night. In discussing the difference between the (overlapping) emerging and missional conversations. Summing up an explanation, one person suggested that the emerging conversation was Benedictine in nature while the missional conversation was more Franciscan. My response was that I’d have to give this one some more thought, but it’s an interesting comparison… one which deserves upon this Feast Day of St. Benedict to be cast forth to glean the collected wisdom of the Internet. Anyone have thoughts on this one?
I’ve been reading R.Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” this week (about time, I guess), and his picture of the breakdown of civility and social capital resonate completely with the notion that we’ve already entered a “dark age.” I think that’s even more important than the moral breakdowns that Christians typically bemoan in our culture. If the problem is loss of social capital rather than declining morality on individual level (not that the two aren’t linked), then it’s easy to see how the formation of alternative communities could form at least part of the answer.