I. History of the Order;
II. Lay brothers, Oblates, Confraters, and Nuns;
III. Influence and Work of the Order;
IV. Present Condition of the Order;
V. Benedictines of Special Distinction;
VI. Other Foundations Originating from, or Based upon, the Order.
The term Order as here applied to the spiritual family of St. Benedict is used in a sense differing somewhat from that in which it is applied to other religious orders. In its ordinary meaning the term implies one complete religious family, made up of a number of monasteries, all of which are subject to a common superior or "general" who usually resides either in Rome or in the mother-house of the order, if there be one. It may be divided into various provinces, according to the countries over which it is spread, each provincial head being immediately subject to the general, just as the superior of each house is subject to his own provincial. This system of centralized authority has never entered into the organization of the Benedictine Order. There is no general or common superior over the whole order other than the pope himself, and the order consists, so to speak, of what are practically a number of orders, called "congregations", each of which is autonomous; all are united, not under the obedience to one general superior, but only by the spiritual bond of allegiance to the same Rule, which may be modified according to the circumstances of each particular house or congregation. It is in this latter sense that the term Order is applied in this article to all monasteries professing to observe St. Benedict's Rule.Beginnings of the Order
St. Benedict did not, strictly speaking, found an order; we have no evidence that he ever contemplated the spread of his Rule to any monasteries besides those which he had himself established. Subiaco was his original foundation and the cradle of the institute. From St. Gregory we learn that twelve other monasteries in the vicinity of Subiaco also owed their origin to him, and that when he was obliged to leave that neighbourhood he founded the celebrated Abbey of Monte Cassino , which eventually become the centre whence his Rule and institute spread. These fourteen are the only monasteries of which there is any reliable evidence of having been founded during St. Benedict's lifetime. The tradition of St. Placid's mission to Sicily in 534, which first gained general credence in the eleventh century, though accepted as genuine by such writers as Mabillon and Ruinart, is now generally admitted to be mere romance. Very little more can be said in favour of the supposed introduction of the Benedictine Rule into Gaul by St. Maurus in 543, though it also has been strenuously upheld by many responsible writers. At any rate, evidences for it are so extremely doubtful that it cannot be seriously regarded as historical. There is reason for believing that it was the third Abbot of Monte Cassino who began to spread a knowledge of the Rule beyond the circle of St. Benedict's own foundations. It is at least certain that when Monte Cassino was sacked by the Lombards about the year 580, the monks fled to Rome, where they were housed by Pope Pelagius II in a monastery adjoining the Lateran Basilica. There, in the very centre of the ecclesiastical world, they remained for upwards of a hundred and forty years, and it seems highly probable that this residence in so prominent a position constituted an important factor in the diffusion of a knowledge of Benedictine monasticism. It is generally agreed also that when Gregory the Great embraced the monastic state and converted his family palace on Apostle, it was the Benedictine form of monachism that he adopted there.
It was from the monastery of St. Andrew in Rome that St. Augustine, the prior, and his forty companions set forth in 595 on their mission for the evangelization of England, and with them St. Benedict's idea of the monastic life first emerged from Italy. The arguments and authorities for this statement have been admirably marshalled and estimated by Reyner in his "Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Angliâ" (Douai, 1626), and his proofs have been adjudged by Mabillon to amount to demonstration. [Cf. Butler, "Was St. Augustine a Benedictine?" in Downside Review, III (1884).] At their various stopping places during the journey through France the monks left behind them traditions concerning their rule and form of life, and probably also some copies of the Rule, for we have several evidences of its having gradually introduced into most of the chief monasteries of Gaul during the seventh century. Lérins, for instance, one of the oldest, which had been founded by St. Honoratus in 375, probably received its first knowledge of the Benedictine Rule from the visit of St. Augustine and his companions in 596. Dismayed by the accounts they had heard of the ferocity of the English, the missionaries had sent their leader back to Rome to implore the pope to allow them to abandon the object of their journey. During his absence they remained at Lérins. Not long after their departure, Aygulph, Abbot of Fleury, was called in to restore the discipline and he probably introduced the full Benedictine observance; for when St. Benedict Biscop visited Lérins later on in the seventh century he received the Benedictine habit and tonsure from the hands of Abbot Aygulph. Lérins continued through several centuries to supply from its monks bishops for the chief churches of Southern Gaul, and to them perhaps may be traced the general diffusion of St. Benedictine's Rule throughout that country. There, as also in Switzerland, it had to contend with and supplement the much stricter Irish or Celtic Rule introduced by St. Columbanus and others. In or practised side by side. Gregory of Tours says that at Ainay, in the sixth century, the monks "followed the rules of Basil, Cassian, Caesarius, and other fathers, taking and using whatever seemed proper to the conditions of time and place", and doubtless the same liberty was taken with the Benedictine Rule when it reached them. In other monasteries it entirely displaced the earlier codes, and had by the end of the eighth century so completely superseded them throughout France that Charlemagne could gravely doubt whether monks of any kind had been possible before St. Benedict's time. The authority of Charlemagne and of his son, Louis the Pious, did much, as we shall presently see, towards propagating the principles of the Father of western monachism.
St. Augustine and his monks established the first English Benedictine monastery at Canterbury soon after their arrival in 597. Other foundations quickly followed as the Benedictine missionaries carried the light of the Gospel with them throughout the length and breadth of the land. It was said that St. Benedict seemed to have taken possession of the country as his own, and the history of his order in England is the history of the English Church. Nowhere did the order link itself so intimately with people and institutions, secular as well as religious, as in England. Through the influence of saintly men, Wilfrid, Benedict Biscop, and Dunstan, the Benedictine Rule spread with extraordinary rapidity, and in the North, when once the Easter controversy had been settled and the Roman supremacy acknowledged ( Synod of Whitby , 664), it was adopted in most of the monasteries that had been founded by the Celtic missionaries from Iona. Many of the episcopal sees of England were founded and governed by the Benedictines, and no less than nine of the old cathedrals were served by the black monks of the priories attached to them. Even when the bishop was not himself a monk, he held the place of titular abbot, and the community formed his chapter.
Germany owed its evangelization to the English Benedictines, Sts. Willibrord and Boniface, who preached the Faith, there in the seventh and eighth centuries and founded several celebrated abbeys. From thence spread, hand in hand, Christianity and Benedictine monasticism, to Denmark and Scandinavia, and from the latter even to Iceland. In Spain monasteries had been founded by the Visigothic kings as early as the latter half of the fifth century, but it was probably some two or three hundred years later St. Benedict's Rule was adopted. Mabillon gives 640 as the date of its introduction into that country (Acta Sanctorum O.S.B., saec. I, praef. 74), but his conclusions on this point are not now generally accepted. In Switzerland the disciples of Columbanus had founded monasteries early in the seventh century, two of the best known being St. Gall's, established by the saint of that name, and Dissentis (612), founded by St. Sigisbert. The Celtic rule was not entirely supplanted by that of St. Benedict until more than a hundred years later, when the change was effected chiefly through the influence of Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne. By the ninth century, however, the Benedictine had become the only form of monastic life throughout the whole of Western Europe, excepting Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where the Celtic observance still prevailed for another century or two. At the time of the Reformation there were nine Benedictine houses in Ireland and six in Scotland, besides numerous abbeys of Cistercians.
Benedictine monasticism never took such deep root in the eastern countries of Europe as it had done in the West. The Bohemians and the Poles, nevertheless, owed their conversion respectively to the Benedictine missionaries Adalbert (d. 997) and Casimir (d. 1058), whilst Bavaria and what is now the Austrian Empire were evangelized first by monks from Gaul in the seventh century, and later on by St. Boniface and his disciples. A few of the larger abbeys founded in these countries during the ninth and tenth centuries still exist, but the number of foundations was always small in comparison with those farther west. Into Lithuania and the Eastern Empire the Benedictine Rule never penetrated in early times, and the great schism between East and West effectually prevented any possibilities of development in that direction.Early Constitution of the Order
During the first four or five centuries after the death of St. Benedict there existed no organic bond of union amongst the various abbeys other than the Rule itself and obedience to the Holy See. According to the holy legislator's provisions each monastery constituted an independent family, self-contained, autonomous, managing its own affairs, and subject to no external authority except that of the local diocesan bishop, whose powers of control were, however, limited to certain specific occasions. The earliest departures from this system occurred when several of the greater abbeys began sending out offshoots, under the form of daughter-houses retaining some sort of dependence upon the mother abbey from which they sprang. This mode of propagation, together with the various reforms that began to appear in the eleventh and succeeding centuries, paved the way for the system of independent congregations, still a feature peculiar to the Benedictine Order.Reforms
A system which comprised many hundreds of monasteries and many thousands of monks, spread over a number of different countries, without any unity of organization; which was exposed, moreover, to all the dangers and disturbances inseparable from those troublous times of kingdom-making; such a system was inevitably unable to keep worldliness, and even worse vices, wholly out of its midst. Hence it cannot be denied that the monks often failed to live up to the monastic ideal and sometimes even fell short of the Christian and moral standards. There were failures and scandals in Benedictine history, just as there were declensions from the right path outside the cloister, for monks are, after all, but men. But there does not seem ever to have been a period of widespread and general corruption in the order. Here and there the members of some particular house allowed abuses and relaxations of rule to creep in, so that they seemed to be falling away from the true spirit of their state, but whenever such did occur they soon called forth efforts for a restoration of primitive austerity; and these constantly recurring reform movements form one of the surest evidences of the vitality which has pervaded the Benedictine Institute throughout its entire history. It is important to note, moreover, that all such reforms as ever achieved any measure of success came invariably from within, and were not the result of pressure from outside the order.
The first of the reforms directed towards confederating the monastic houses of a single kingdom was set on foot early in the ninth century by Benedict of Aniane under the auspices of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. Though a Benedictine himself born in Aquitaine and trained at Saint-Seine near Dijon, Benedict was imbued with the rigid austerity of the East, and in his Abbey of Aniane practiced a mode of life that was severe in the extreme. Over Louis he acquired an ascendancy which grew stronger as years went on. At his instigation Louis built for him a monastery adjoining his own palace at Aix-la-Chapelle, which was intended to serve as a model according to which all others were to be reformed, and to bring about this end Benedict was invested with a general authority over all the monasteries of the empire. Absolute uniformity of discipline, observance, and habit, after the pattern of the royal monastery, was then the general scheme which was launched at an assembly of all the abbots at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) in 817 and embodied in a series of eighty capitula passed by the meeting. Though by reason of the very minuteness of these capitula , which made them vexatious and ultimately intolerable, this scheme of centralized authority lasted only for the lifetime of Benedict himself, the capitula (printed in full in Herrgott, "Vetus Disciplina Monastica", Paris, 1726) were recognized as supplying a much needed addition to St. Benedict's Rule concerning points not sufficiently provided for therein, and as filling much the same place then as the approved Constitutions of a monastery or congregation do now.
A century later, in 910, the first real reform that produced any widespread and general effect was commenced at the Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, under St. Berno, its first abbot. The object was an elaboration of the Benedictine ideal, for the uniform preservation of which a highly centralized system of government, hitherto unknown to Benedictine monachism, except as suggested by St. Benedict of Aniane, was introduced. It was in fact the establishment of a veritable order , in the common acceptance of that term, within the Benedictine family, the abbot of Cluny retaining an actual headship over all dependent houses, the latter being governed only by priors as his vicars. For two centuries or more Cluny was probably the chief religious influence in the Latin Church, as it was also the first abbey to obtain exemption from episcopal oversight. Through the efforts of Berno's immediate successors the congregation grew apace, partly by founding new houses and partly by incorporating those already existing, so that by the twelfth century Cluny had become the centre and head of an order embracing some 314 monasteries in all parts of Europe, France, Italy, the Empire, Lorraine, Spain, England, Scotland, and Poland. Although the congregation had its own constitutions and was absolutely autonomous, its members always claimed to be and were actually recognized as real Benedictines; hence it was not strictly a new order but only a reformed congregation within the order. (See CLUNY).
Following the example of Cluny, several other reforms were initiated from time to time in different parts during the next three centuries, which while taking the Rule of St. Benedict as a basis, aimed frequently at a greater austerity of life than was practised by the black monks or contemplated by the holy Rule. Some were even semi-eremitical in their constitution, and one — Fontevrault — consisted of double monasteries , the religious of both sexes being under the rule of the abbess. In dealing with these reformed congregations a distinction must be made between those which, like Cluny, continued to be considered as part of the main Benedictine body, and those which constituted practically new and independent orders, like Cîteaux, and have always been looked upon as outside the Benedictine confederation, though still professing the Rule of St. Benedict in some form or other. Those of the former category are treated here, since they and their successors constitute the order as we understand it at the present day. In the latter class the most important were Camaldoli (1009), Vallombrosa (1039), Grammont (1076), Cîteaux (1098), Fontevrault (1099), Savigny (1112), Monte Vergine (1119), Sylvestrines (1231), Celestines (1254), and Olivetans (1319). All of these will be described in detail under the respective titles.
The influence of Cluny, even in monasteries which did not join its congregation or adopt any of the other reforms mentioned above, was large and far-reaching. Many such abbeys, including Subiaco and Monte Cassino, adopted its customs and practices, and modelled their life and spirit according to the example it set. Monasteries such as these often became in turn the centres of revival and reform in their respective neighbourhoods, so that during the tenth and eleventh centuries there arose several free unions of monasteries based on a uniform observance derived from a central abbey. These unions, the germ of the congregational system which developed later on, deserve a somewhat detailed enumeration here. In England there had been three distinct efforts at systematic organization. The various monasteries founded by St. Augustine and his fellow-monks had preserved some sort of union, as was only natural with new foundations in a pagan country proceeding from a common source of origin. As Christianity spread through the land this necessity for mutual dependence diminished, but when St. Benedict Biscop came to England with Archbishop Theodore in 669, it fell to him to foster a spirit of uniformity amongst the various Benedictine monasteries then existing. In the tenth century St. Dunstan set himself to reform the English monastic houses on the model of Fleury and of what he had seen successfully carried out at Ghent during his exile in Flanders. With his co-operation St. Ethelwold brought out his "Concordia Regularis", which is interesting as an early attempt to procure a uniform observance in all the monasteries of a nation. A century later Lanfranc continued the same idea by issuing a series of statutes regulating the life of the English Benedictines. It should be noted here that these several attempts were directed only towards securing outward uniformity, and that as yet there was apparently no idea of a congregation , properly so called, with a central source of all legislative authority. In Fra Chaise-Dieu (Auvergne), St. Victor (Marseilles), St. Claude, Lérins, Sauve-Majour, Tiron, and Val-des-Choux, were all centres of larger or smaller groups of houses, in each of which there was uniformity of rule as well as more or less dependence upon the chief house. Fleury adopted the Cluniac reform, as did also St. Benignus of Dijon, though without subjection to that organization; and all were eventually absorbed by the congregation of St. Maur in the seventeenth century, excepting St. Claude, which preserved its independence until the Revolution, Val-des-Choux, which became Cistercian, and Lérins, which in 1505 joined the Italian congregation of St. Justina of Padua. In Italy the chief groups had their centres at Cluse in Piedmont, at Fonte Avellana, which united to the Camaldolese congregation in 1569, La Cava, which joined the congregation of St. Justina in the fifteenth century, and Sasso-Vivo, which was suppressed as a separate federation in the same century and its forty houses united to other congregations of the Benedictine family. The monasteries of Germany were divided chiefly between Fulda and Hirschau, both of which eventually joined the Bursfeld Union. (See BURSFELD.) In Austria there were two groups of monasteries, the abbeys of Melk (Molck or Melek) and Salzburg being the chief houses. They continued thus until well into the seventeenth century, when systematic congregations were organized in compliance with the Tridentine decrees, as well be described in due course. Other free unions, for purposes of mutual help and similarity of discipline, were to be found also in Scotland, Scandinavia, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere, in which the same idea was carried out, viz., not so much a congregation in its later sense, with a centralized form of government, as a mere banding together of houses for the better maintenance of rule and policy.
Notwithstanding all these reform movements and unions of monasteries, a large number of Benedictine abbeys in different countries retained to the end of the twelfth century, and even later, their original independence, and this state of things was only terminated by the regulations of the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, which were to change materially the whole trend of Benedictine polity and history. By the twelfth canon of this council it was decreed that all the monasteries of each ecclesiastical province were to unite into a congregation. The abbots of each province or congregation were to meet in chapter every third year, with power to pass laws binding on all, and to appoint from amongst their own number "visitors" who were to make canonical visitation of the monasteries and to report upon their condition to the ensuing chapter. In each congregation one of the abbots was to be elected president, and the one so chosen presided over the triennial chapter and exercised a certain limited and well-defined authority over the houses of his congregation, in such a way as not to interfere with the independent authority of each abbot in his own monastery. England was the first and for some time the only country to give this new arrangement a fair trial. It was not until after the issue of the Bull "Benedictina" by Benedict XII, in 1336, that other countries, somewhat tardily, organized their national congregation in conformity with the designs of the Lateran Council. Some of these have continued to the present day, and this congregational system is now, with very few exceptions and some slight variations in matters of detail, the normal form of government throughout the order.Progress of the Order
At the time of this important change in the constitution of the order, the black monks of St. Benedict were to be found in almost every country of Western Europe, including Iceland, where they had two abbeys, founded in the twelfth century, and from which missionaries had penetrated even into Greenland and the lands of the Eskimo. At the beginning of the fourteenth century the order is estimated to have comprised the enormous number of 37,000 monasteries. It had up to that time given to the Church no less than 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, and over 1,500 canonized saints. It had enrolled amongst its members 20 emperors, 10 empresses, 47 kings, and 50 queens. And these numbers continued to increase by reason of the additional strength which accrued to the order form its consolidation under the new system. In the sixteenth century the Reformation and the religious wars spread havoc amongst its monasteries and reduced their number to about 5,000. In Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden, where several houses had joined the German (Bursfeld) Union, the order was entirely obliterated by the Lutherans about 1551 and its property confiscated by the crown. The arbitrary rule of Joseph II of Austria (1765-90) and the French Revolution and its consequences completed the work of destruction, so that in the early part of the nineteenth century, the order numbered scarcely more than fifty monasteries all told. The last seventy years, however, have witnessed a remarkable series of revivals and an accession of missionary enterprise, with the result that there are now over one hundred and fifty monasteries of black monks, or, including affiliated congregations and convents of nuns, a total of nearly seven hundred. These revivals and examples of expansion will now be treated in detail under the headings of the various congregations, which will bring the history of the order down to the present day.
(1) The English Congregation .—The English were the first to put into practice the decrees of the Lateran Council. Some time was necessarily spent in preliminary preparations, and the first general chapter was held at Oxford in 1218, from which time up to the dissolution under Henry VIII the triennial chapters appear to have been held more or less regularly. (Details of these chapters will be found in Reyner, "Apostolatus Benedictinorum".) At first only the monasteries of the southern province of Canterbury were represented, but in 1338, in consequence of the Bull "Benedictina", the two provinces were united and the English congregation definitely established. This system of the union of houses and periodical chapters interfered in the least possible degree with the Benedictine tradition of mutual independence of monasteries, though the Bull "Benedictina" was intended to give some further development to it. In other countries attempts were made from time to time to effect a greater degree of organization, but in England there was never any further advance along the path of centralization. At the time of the dissolution there were in England nearly three hundred houses of black monks, and though the numbers had from one cause or another somewhat declined, the English congregation may truthfully be said to have been in a flourishing condition at the time of the attempt to suppress it in the sixteenth century. The grave charges brought against the monks by Henry VIII's Visitors, though long believed in, are not now credited by serious historians. This reversal of opinion has been brought about mainly through the researches of such writers as Gasquet (Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, London, new ed., 1899; Eve of the Reformation, London, 1890), and Gairdner (Prefaces to "Calendars of State Papers of Henry VIII").
Throughout the period of suppression the monks were the champions of the old Faith, and when turned out of their homes very few conformed to the new religion. Some sought refuge abroad, others accepted pensions and lingered on in England hoping for a restoration of the former state of things, whilst not a few preferred to suffer lifelong imprisonment rather than surrender their convictions and claims. In Queen Mary's reign there was a brief revival at Westminster, where some of the surviving monks were brought together under Abbot Feckenham in 1556. Of the monks professed there during the three years of revived existence, Dom Sigebert Buckley alone survived at the beginning of the seventeenth century; and he, after forty years of imprisonment, when nigh unto death, in 1607, invested with the English habit and affiliated to Westminster Abbey and to the English congregation two English priests, already Benedictines of the Italian congregation. By this act he became the link between the old and the new lines of English black monks, and through him the true succession was perpetuated. About the same time a number of English monks were being trained abroad, mostly in Spain, for the English mission, and these were in 1619 aggregated by papal authority to the English congregation, though the monasteries founded by them had perforce to be situated abroad. St. Gregory's at Douai was established in 1605, St. Lawrence's at Dieulouard in Lorraine in 1606, and St. Edmund's at Paris in 1611. The first two of these communities remained on the continent until driven to England by the French Revolution, but the third has only recently returned. In 1633, by the Bull "Plantata", Pope Urban VIII bestowed upon the restored English congregation "every privilege, grant, indulgence, faculty, and other prerogative which had ever belonged to the ancient English congregation" and also approved of its members taking on oath by which they bound themselves to labour for the reconversion of their country. So zealous were they in this twenty-seven suffered martyrdom for the Faith, whilst eleven died in prison. Two other monasteries were added to the congregation, viz., Lamspring in Germany in 1643, and Saint-Malo in Brittany in 1611, the latter, however, being passed over to the French (Maurist) congregation in 1672.
In 1795 the monks of Douai were expelled from their monastery by the Revolution, and after many hardships, including imprisonment, escaped to England, where, after a temporary residence at Acton Burnell (near Shrewsbury ), they settled in 1814 at Downside in Somerset. The monks of Dieulouard were also driven out at the same time and after some years of wandering established themselves in 1802 at Ampleforth in Yorkshire. The monks of St. Edmund's, Paris, not successful in making their escape from France, were dispersed for a time, but when, in 1818, the buildings of St. Gregory's at Douai were recovered by the congregation, the remnants of St. Edmund's community reassembled and resumed conventual life there in 1823. For eighty years they continued undisturbed, recruited by English subjects and carrying on their school for English boys, until, in 1903, the "Association Laws" of the French government once more expelled them from their monastery ; returning to England, they have established themselves at Woolhampton in Berkshire. The Abbey of Lamspring continued to flourish amongst Lutheran surroundings until it was suppressed by the Prussian Government in 1802 and the community dispersed. In 1828 a restoration of conventual life in a small way was attempted at Broadway in Worcestershire, which lasted until 1841. The monks then went to other houses of the congregation, though the community was never formally disbanded. Continuity was preserved by the last survivors of Broadway being incorporated in 1876 into the newly founded community of Fort Augustus in Scotland. In 1859 St. Michael's priory, at Belmont, near Hereford, was established, in compliance with a decree of Pius IX, as a central novitiate and house of studies for the whole congregation. It was also made the pro- cathedral of the Diocese of Newport in England, the bishop and canons of which are chosen from the English Benedictines, the cathedral - prior acting as provost of the chapter. Up to 1901 Belmont had no community of its own, but only members from the other houses who were resident there either as professors or students; the general chapter of that year, however, decided that novices might henceforth be received for St. Michael's monastery. In 1899 Leo XIII raised the three priories of St. Gregory's (Downside), St. Lawrence's (Ampleforth), and St. Edmund's ( Douai ) to the rank of abbeys, so that the congregation now consists of three abbeys, and one cathedral - priory, each with its own community, but Belmont still remains the central novitiate and tyrocinium for all the houses. Besides its regular prelates, the English congregations, by virtue of the Bull "Plantata" (1633), allowed to perpetuate as titular dignities the nine cathedral - priories which belonged to it before the Reformation, viz., Canterbury, Winchester, Durham, Coventry, Ely, Worcester, Rochester, Norwich, and Bath ; to these have been added three more, Peterborough, Gloucester, and Chester, originally Benedictine abbeys but raised to cathedral rank by Henry VIII. Six ancient abbacies also, St. Alban's, Westminster, Glastonbury, Evesham, Bury St. Edmunds, and St. Mary's, York, are similarly perpetuated by privilege granted in 1818.
(2) The Cassinese Congregation .—To prevent confusion it is necessary to pint out that there are two congregations of this name. The first, with Monte Cassino as its chief house, was originally known as that of St. Justina of Padua, and with one exception has always been confined to Italy. The other is of much later institution and is distinguished by the title of "Primitive Observance". What follows relates to the former of these two.
Most of the Italian monasteries had fallen under the influence of Cluny in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and had adopted its customs, but by the end of the fourteenth century they had so greatly declined that there was then hardly one left in which the Cluniac observance was retained. The Abbey of St. Justina at Padua, which had formerly been Cluniac, was in a very corrupt and ruinous state in 1407 when Gregory XII bestowed it in commendam on the Cardinal of Bologna. That prelate, desirous of reform, introduced some Olivetan monks, but the three remaining Cluniac monks appealed to the Venetian Republic against this encoachment on their rights, with the result that the abbey was restored to them and the Olivetans dismissed. The cardinal resigned the abbey to the pope, who thereupon gave it to Ludovico Barbo, a canon regular of St. George in alga. He took the Benedictine habit and received the abbatial blessing in 1409. With the help of two Camaldolese monks and two canons of Alga, he instituted a reformed observance, which was quickly adopted in other monasteries as well. Permission was obtained from the pope for these to unite and form a new congregation, the first general chapters of which was held in 1421, when Abbot Barbo was elected the first president. Amongst those that joined were the celebrated abbeys of Subiaco, Monte Cassino , St. Paul's in Rome, St. George's at Venice, La Cava, and Farfa. In 1504 its title was changed to that of the "Cassinese Congregation". It gradually came to embrace all of the chief Benedictine houses of Italy, to the number of nearly two hundred, divided into seven provinces, Rome, Naples, Sicily, Tuscany, Venice, Lombardy, and Genoa. In 1505 the Abbey of Lérins in Provence together with all its dependent houses joined it. A highly centralized system of government was developed, modelled on the Italian republics, by which the autonomy of the individual houses was almost entirely destroyed. All power was vested in a committee of "definitors", in whose hands were all appointments, from that of president down to the lowest official in the smallest monastery. But in spite of this obvious departure from the Benedictine ideal and the dangers arising from such a system, the congregation continued in considerable prosperity until the wars of the Revolution period; and the later decrees of the Italian government put a check to its reception of novices and began a series of suppressions which have reduced its numbers enormously and shorn it of much of its former greatness. The formation of the congregation of Primitive Observance from out of its midst has still further diminished the congregation, until it now consists nominally of sixteen monasteries, some entirely without communities, and only three or four with sufficient numbers to keep up full conventual observances.
(3) The Cassinese Congregation of Primitive Observance .—In the year 1851 Abbot Casaretto of Subiaco initiated at Genoa a return to a stricter observance than was then in vogue, and several other monasteries of the Cassinese congregation, including Subiaco itself, desiring to unite in this reforming movement, Pius IX joined all such abbeys into one federation, which was called after its chief house, the "Province of Subiaco ". Before long monasteries in other countries adopted the same reformed observance and became affiliated to Subiaco. In 1872 this union of monasteries was separated altogether from the original congregation and erected as a new and independent body under the title of the "Cassinese Congregation of Primitive Observance", which was divided into provinces according to the different countries in which its houses were situated, with the Abbot of Subiaco as abbot-general of the whole federation.
(a) The Italian Province dates from the original federation in 1851, and comprises ten monasteries with over two hundred religious. One of these is the Abbey of Monte Vergine, formerly the mother-house of an independent congregation, but which was aggregated to this province in 1879.
(b) The English Province was formed in 1858 when certain English monks at Subiaco obtained permission to make a foundation in England. The Isle of Thanet, hallowed by the memory of St. Augustine's landing there twelve hundred and sixty years previously, was selected and a church which Augustus Welby Pugin had built at Ramsgate was placed at their disposal. By 1860 a monastery had been erected and full conventual life established. It became a priory in 1880 and in 1896 an abbey. In course of time, in addition to serving several neighbouring missions, the community embarked on work in New Zealand, where Dom Edmund Luck, a Ramsgate monk, was made Bishop of Auckland. They also undertook work in Bengal in 1874, but this has since been relinquished to the secular clergy.
(c) The Belgian Province began in 1858 with the affiliation to Subiaco of the eleventh-century Abbey of Termonde. Afflighem followed in 1870, and since then two new foundations have been made in Belgium, and quite recently missionary work has been undertaken in the Transvaal, South Africa.
(d) The French Province, perhaps the most numerous and flourishing in the congregation, dates from 1859. Jean-Baptiste Muard, a parish priest and founder of a society of diocesan missioners, became a monk at Subiaco. After his profession there in 1849, he returned to France with two companions and settled at Pierre-qui-Vire, a lonely spot amid the forests of Avallon, where a most austere form of Benedictine life was established. After his death in 1854, the abbey he had founded was affiliated to the Cassinese P. O. congregation and became the mother-house of the French province. New foundations were made at Béthisy (1859), Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, the ancient Fleury (1865), Oklahoma, Indian Territory, U.S.A. with an Apostolic vicariate attached (1874), Belloc (1875), Kerbeneat (1888), Encalcat (1891), Nino-Dios, Argentina (1899), and Jerusalem (1901). In 1880 the French Government annexed Pierre-qui-Vire and expelled the community by force; some of them, however, were able to regain possession a year or two later. The remainder sought refuge in England, where in 1882 they acquired the site of the old Cistercian Abbey of Buckfast , in Devonshire. Here they are gradually rebuilding the abbey on its original foundations. The "Association Laws" of 1903 again dispersed the congregation, the monks of Pierre-qui-Vire finding a temporary home in Belgium, those of Belloc and Encalcat going to Spain, and Kerbeneat to South Wales, whilst those of Béthisy and Saint-Benoit, being engaged in parochial work, obtained authorization and have remained in France.
(e) The Spanish Province dates from 1862, the year in which the ancient Abbey of Montserrat, founded in the ninth century, was affiliated to the Cassinese P. O. congregation. The old Spanish congregation, which ceased to exist in 1835, is dealt with separately. Other old monasteries which had been restored, St. Clodio in 1880, Vilvaneira in 1883, and Samos in 1888, were, in 1893, joined with Montserrat to form the Spanish province. Since then new foundations have been made at Pueyo (1890), Los Cabos (1900), and Solsona (1901), besides one at Manila (Philippines) in 1895. This province also includes the Abbey of New Nursia in Western Australia, founded in 1846 by two exiled monks from St. Martin's Abbey, Compostella, who after the general suppression in 1835 had found a home at La Cava in Italy. Seeing no
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