Before I delve more into my journey towards becoming an oblate of the Camaldolese Benedictine community in Big Sur, a brief history lesson about the Benedictines and, more specifically, the Camaldolese is in order. We’ll begin with then Benedictine monastic movement, which began amid the detritus of the fall of the Roman Empire in Italy.
St. Benedict of Nurcia was born in 480 to a Roman noble family. As a young adult he went to study in Rome and was appalled by the degradation he saw there at the turn of the sixth century. Benedict left his studies and went to live near Subiaco. There he came under the influence of a monk living there and decided himself to become a monk. However, some the monastic hermits in the region, living with neither an Abbot nor a Rule of Life, tended toward various extremes of ascetic practice or licentiousness.
By the year 529 a group of monks gathered around Benedict, attracted by both his spirituality and his balanced view of the monastic community. He established around a dozen monasteries during his lifetime. As he neared the end of his life in the mid sixth century he drafted his famous Rule of St. Benedict (RSB) for the ongoing health of his monastic communities.
The RSB has become a classic of Christian spiritual literature, and it my intention to discuss it in future posts. The Rule is renown for its approach to Christian spirituality as grounded in a community seeking Christ through the patterns of their common life through the pursuit of humility and obedience to God.
Over the centuries Benedictine monasteries multiplied across Western Europe, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with countless people. They became centers of learning in the midst of the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome.
The Benedictines are particularly important in Anglican history and spirituality, of which the Episcopal Church is a part. In 597 Pope Gregory the Great sent a group of Benedictine monks in Rome to pagan England to share the Gospel with the barbarian kingdoms that had occupied the country have routed the largely Christian Celtic Britons. (The story of the Celtic Christians in Wales, Ireland and Scotland in these years is a parallel story.) Under the leadership of Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with the famous North African bishop and theologian of the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Augustine of Hippo), the Benedictine monks began establishing monasteries that became bases for sharing the Gospel with the Saxons.
The Benedictine tradition is reflected in Anglican life to this day in the parish church gathered in Common Prayer as the basis for mission and ministry.
Next installment: The Camaldolese