11 July, the Solemnity of Saint Benedict
Saint Benedict has the reputation of being the messenger of peace, the maker of unity, the master of civilization, and especially the herald of Christianity and the author of monasticism in the West. When darkness seemed to be spreading over Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, he brought the light of dawn to shine upon this continent. For with the cross, the book and the plow, Christian civilization was carried, principally through him and his disciples, to the peoples who lived in those lands which stretch from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, and from Ireland to Poland.
With the cross, that is, the Law of Christ, he strengthened and developed the institutions of private and social life. Through the “Work of God,” that is, through the careful and assiduous conduct of prayer, he taught that divine worship was of the greatest importance in the social order. And so he sealed that spiritual unity of Europe in which the various nations of different ethnic origins and languages felt themselves to be united into one people of God. And so this unity, learnt from so great a master, which the disciples of Saint Benedict so faithfully strove to achieve, became the principle element in that period of history called the middle ages. All people of good will in our times must strive to recover that unity, which as Saint Augustine says, is “the form of all beauty,” and which alas has been lost in the vicissitudes of history.
With the book, that is, with the culture of the mind, this venerable patriarch from whom so many monasteries have drawn their name and their spirit, spread his doctrine through the old classics of literature and the liberal arts, preserved and passed on to posterity by them with so much care.
And lastly, with the plow, that is, through agriculture, he changed the waste and desert lands into orchards and delightful gardens; and joining work with prayer in the spirit of those words,ora et labora, he restored the dignity of human labor.
Not without reason, then, did Pope Pius XII call Saint Benedict the “Father of Europe,” for he inspired the peoples of this continent with the love of order upon which their social life depends. We pray he may look upon Europe, and by his prayer, achieve even greater things in years to come.
[From a letter of Pope Paul VI]