Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Benedict on Subiaco

The workshop of Lorenzo Monaco (c. 1365 - c. 1426) 
St Benedict at the "Sacro Speco" (Holy Grotto) at Subiaco
c. 1415 -1420
Egg Tempera and paint on wood panel
36.5 x 27.8 cm
The National Gallery, London

According to The Golden Legend  the young Saint Benedict is receiving food from Saint Romanus at the Sacro Speco in Subiaco

Ambrogio di Stefano Bergognone (also called Amnrogio da Fossano) (c 1453-1523) 
The Temptation and Penitence of Saint Benedict
Oil on wood
27 x 48 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Workshop of Fra Angelico 1400 ; 1455 
Saint Benedict on Subiaco
Tempera on wood panel
17 x 26 cm
Musée Condé, Chantilly

The work by Fra Angelico is one panel of a greater work. Panels of this work are preserved in Museums across the world including the Philadelphia Museum of Art

During the Second World War, the Arch-Abbey of Monte Cassino, the head house of the Benedictine Order,  was virtually destroyed

In 1947 after the Allies and Italy formally declared peace, Pope Pius XII wrote an Encyclical, Fulgens Radiator,  on St Benedict of Norcia and the 1400th anniversary of his death

Pope Pius XII recalled that as a young man, St Benedict gave up his family and the promising career which was promised him in Rome. He went to Subiaco and stayed there three years:

"[L]eaving Rome behind, he sought out wild and solitary places where he could devote himself to the contemplation of the divine. Thus he came to Subiaco and there retiring into a narrow cave he began to live a life that was more heavenly than human. 
Hidden with Christ in God he there strove for three years with great fruit to acquire the perfection and holiness of the Gospels to which he seemed to be called by divine instinct. He made the practice of shunning all earthly things to seek alone and ardently heavenly things; of holding converse with God day and night; of praying incessantly for his own salvation and for the salvation of men; in curbing and mastering the body by voluntary punishment, and checking and controlling the evil motions of the senses.  
In this way of life he found such sweetness of soul that all the former delights he had experienced from his wealth and ease now appeared distasteful to him and in a way forgotten.  
One day the enemy of human nature aroused in him very strong allurements of the flesh; at once he strenuously resisted - noble and strong soul that he was, and casting himself into a thicket of briars and sharp nettles by voluntary wounds he conquered and quenched the interior fire.  
Victorious over himself he seemed to have been strengthened from on high as a reward. 
"After which time, as he himself related to his disciples, he was so free from the like temptation that he never felt any such motion. . . Being now altogether free from vicious temptation he worthily deserved to be a master of virtue".
Our saint, then, living for a long time this secluded and solitary life in the cave of Subiaco, shaped and set himself in sanctity, and laid those solid foundations of Christian perfection on which he was given later to raise a mighty building of lofty heights.  
As you well know, Venerable Brethren, zealous and apostolic works become useless and vain unless they proceed from a soul enriched with those Christian qualities which alone with God's grace can make human undertakings contribute to the glory of God and the salvation of souls. 
This Benedict knew well and had found to be true.  
Before undertaking and executing those great designs and plans to which he was called by God, he first devoted his most earnest efforts and fervent prayers to make himself fully master of that integral, evangelical holiness which he desired the others to acquire"

It was this period of the saint`s life at Subiaco that Pope Benedict XVI emphasised in his General Audience on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 when the subject of his talk was Saint Benedict of Norcia, or as Pope Benedict put it "the Patron of my Pontificate":

"The period in Subiaco, a time of solitude with God, was a time of maturation for Benedict. It was here that he bore and overcame the three fundamental temptations of every human being: the temptation of self-affirmation and the desire to put oneself at the centre, the temptation of sensuality and, lastly, the temptation of anger and revenge.  
In fact, Benedict was convinced that only after overcoming these temptations would he be able to say a useful word to others about their own situations of neediness. 
Thus, having tranquilized his soul, he could be in full control of the drive of his ego and thus create peace around him. Only then did he decide to found his first monasteries in the Valley of the Anio, near Subiaco"

Silence, prayer and meditation, humility, penitence and purification, and Love: what St Benedict learned on Mount Subiaco
All lessons frequently preached by the present Pope in his catecheses, Letters and Encyclicals

A useful reminder for the forthcoming Year of Evangelisation