Benedictine Monasteries - Historical Development

Historical Development

The monastery at Subiaco established in Italy by Saint Benedict of Nursia circa 529 was the first of a dozen monasteries founded by him. Even so, there is no evidence to suggest that he intended to found an order. To the contrary, the Rule of St Benedict presupposes the autonomy of each community. Despite the absence of a Benedictine order, since most monasteries founded during the Middle Ages adopted the Rule of St Benedict, it became the standard for Western Monasticism.

Today Benedictine monasticism is fundamentally different from other Western religious orders insofar as its individual communities are not part of a religious order with "Generalates" and "Superiors General". Rather, in modern times, the various autonomous houses have formed themselves loosely into congregations (for example, Cassinese, English, Solesmes, Subiaco, Camaldolese, Sylvestrines) that in turn are represented in the Benedictine Confederation that came into existence through Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Brief "Summum semper" on July 12, 1883. This organization facilitates dialogue of Benedictine communities with each other and the relationship between Benedictine communities and other religious orders and the church at large.

The Rule of Saint Benedict is also used by a number of religious orders that began as reforms of the Benedictine tradition such as the Cistercians and Trappists although none of these groups are part of the Benedictine Confederation.

The largest number of Benedictines are Roman Catholics, but there are also some within the Anglican Communion and occasionally within other Christian denominations as well, for example, within the Lutheran Church.

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