Today marks the anniversary of the death of St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, and is the traditional date of his feast, still kept as such by many houses of his order. In 1964, Pope Paul VI, by the Apostolic Letter Pacis nuntius, declared him to be the patron Saint of Europe, in recognition of the vast contribution that Benedictine monasticism made to every aspect of European civilization. What is particularly interesting about this is the degree to which it shares many of the same concerns that Pope St John XXIII outlines in Veterum Sapientia. Like his predecessor, Paul VI talks about how the preservation and cultivation of classical languages and literature, so characteristic of the Benedictines, was essential to fostering the unity of both the Church and the various human societies within it.
Since there does not appear to be any translation of Pacis Nuntius readily available, we here offer our own in honor of St. Benedict. The second part will be published tomorrow.
(A statue of St Benedict in the main public square of the town of Norcia, where he was born. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 4.0.)
“St Benedict the Abbot is most deservedly proclaimed to be a messenger of peace, a creator of unity, a teacher of civilization, and most especially herald of the Christian religion and the father of monastic life in the West. When some regions of Europe seemed to be falling into darkness, as the Roman Empire, corrupted by old age, was collapsing, while others had no part in the achievements of education or the goods of the spirit, by the strenuous effort of his most constant virtue, brought a new dawn, as it were, to shine upon the continent. For by the Cross, by the book, and by the plow, he above all, by his own effort and those of his sons, brought Christian civilization to those people who dwell in the lands from the Mediterranean Sea to Scandinavia, and Spain to the broad reaches of the Poland.
By the Cross, which is to say, by the law of Jesus Christ, he strengthened and increased the institutions of both private and public life. It is also pleasing/helpful to remember also that by the ‘work of God’, which is to say, a fixed and regular rule of prayer, he taught that the worship of God is of the greatest importance in human fellowship.
In this way, therefore, he firmly joined together that spiritual union of Europe by which nations that differed in language, descent, and temperament felt themselves to be the one people of God. This unity, towards which the monks faithfully strived, learning from the discipline of so great a parent, became a particular characteristic of the Middle Ages. In our times, all men of goodwill labor to restore that unity, which, as Saint Augustine says is the form of all beauty, but which was torn apart by the deplorable vicissitudes of human affairs.
‘By the book’, which is to say, by the cultivation of character, that same venerable patriarch from whom so many monasteries drew their name and their activity, with diligent care preserved the ancient works of literature, when the liberal disciplines and arts were being overwhelmed with darkness, and transmitted them to posterity, diligently cultivating their teachings.
Finally ‘by the plow’, that is, by farming, and by other useful activities, he changed vast and wild spaces into fertile fruits and pleasant gardens, and by joining skilled work to prayer, according to the words ‘Pray and work’ (the motto of the Benedictine Order) brought greatness to man’s work. Deservedly, therefore, did Pope Pius XII call Saint Benedict ‘the father of Europe’, since he inspired in the peoples of that continent the love and zeal for right order upon which their social life depended.”