The Benedictine Order
The Benedictine order dates back to 529 AD, during the lifetime of St. Benedict of Nursia. It is an order comprised of both monks and nuns. Originally, each monastery was an independent unit, and was able to sustain itself. This continues to be largely true to this day.
St. Benedict did not actually set out to found a new order of monks, instead he founded several monasteries in Subiaco (a province of Rome) which were very loosely connected under the Regula Benedicti (from the Latin “Rule of Benedict”) a document penned by the saint himself, which outlines the precepts for the ideal monastic community and has become the standard of monasticism in the West.
Because Benedict believed that monasteries should be set apart from the world and self-contained, communities in his order function autonomously and have freedom to set their own rules. Still, most Benedictine monasteries keep a strict schedule of the horarium or daily hours as to not waste precious time. While most do not keep vows of silence, hours of silence are observed daily. Each monastery is like a family, self-contained and more or less self-governing, but related to the other monasteries of their order.
The Benedictine order is well known for its mission to spread education and literacy. Both England’s St. Augustine and Germany’s St. Boniface planted schools wherever their missions took them (both men were of the Benedictine order) and Benedictine monasteries took on oblates and scholars to learn in their esteemed libraries.
The Benedictine order lives on in the Catholic Church today in many countries around the world. Though each congregation boasts its own distinctive flare, the average Benedictine monk wears a black habit, which has earned them the nickname “Black monks.”
Among many figures throughout history, St. Boniface and Augustine of Canterbury were Benedictines, and writer Dorothy Day was declared a Benedictine oblate. Pope St. Celestine V was also of a Benedictine order. You can read about him in Jon M. Sweeney’s The Pope Who Quit.
You can learn more about the Benedictines and other orders of the Catholic Church in John Hardon’s Pocket Catholic Dictionary.