Benedict

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Benedict, the 'founder of Western monasticism,' born at Nursia, Italy, around 480; died Monte Cassino, Italy, 543.

Benedict was pursuing the normal education for a late Roman member of the upper classes when, at about the age of 20, he left Rome to live in the country with some others in a Christian retreat. Though his early biographers relate miracles even at this stage, the most notable condition of his life was that, though a member of a leisured elite, he adoped a life of physical labor. The motto of the Benedictine Order is: ora et labora, or "pray and work."

Benedictine life stressed both. Benedict, as leader of the group of men that grew up around him, developed a plan of life that stressed balance and moderation: a vegetarian diet, regular hours for sleep, regular hours for prayer, and regular hours for manual labor. The model for the monastic life under Benedict was the family, with the abbot as father and all the monks as brothers. Priesthood was initially an unimportant part of monasticism - monks used the services of their local pastor. Because of this, female monasticism with an abbess as mother worked as well as male monasticism.

There were already monastic groups in Egypt like those organized by St. Pachomius in the desert. Benedict was undoubtedly aware of them, but to what degree the organization plan, known as the Rule of St Benedict, was based on a direct knowledge of the Egyptian organizations is much debated.