St. Benedict was born about the year 480 of a wealthy family in Nursia, northeast of Rome. All that we know of him comes to us through his famous Rule, and through the Dialogues of Pope St. Gregory the Great, written several decades after his death. The Dialogues are not literal history as we know it but rather a series of stories and miracles written to edify and inspire others. Nonetheless, they are not therefore untrue.
As a young man, Benedict began his secular studies in Rome, but quickly fled to Subiaco, southeast of Rome, to live as a hermit. Soon he was asked by a group of monks to become their abbot. His rule was too strict for them however, and they attempted to poison him. He was miraculously saved, and then left them. He subsequently established twelve monasteries, and then later moved to Monte Cassino, where he destroyed a pagan temple and rebuilt a monastery in its place. It was there that he wrote the Rule, which is not, as previously believed, a totally new creation; but rather a synthesis of the best of the previous three centuries of monastic tradition. Benedict combines elements of both new and old, cenobitic and solitary, Christian East and West in his rule, and always refers his monks to the person of Jesus and the pages of the Gospel.
St. Benedict died about the year 547, after working many miracles and at the end of his life receiving a vision of God in which he saw the entire world taken up into a single ray of divine light — a potent symbol for the contemplative and monastic life. In 1964, Pope Paul VI proclaimed him the patron saint of the whole of Europe.
His Rule was for a few centuries after his death just one among many rules that were known and used in the Western Church. In the ninth century the emperor Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s son, made it the only rule in France and Germany in a move to consolidate and regularize the monasteries. This was accomplished through the agency of St. Benedict of Aniane, in 816 and 817 — though this standardization was short lived. Nevertheless, in the centuries that followed, the Rule became the dominant rule in the West, famed for its moderation and balance, and it is still known and followed for this today.
St. Scholastica was the sister of St. Benedict, and she too is mentioned in the Dialogues of Pope St. Gregory the Great. She also consecrated her life to God at an early age. She became the abbess of a monastery of nuns a few miles from that of St. Benedict.
She and her brother visited each other once a year. Since she was not allowed to enter his monastery, they met at a house some distance away, where they spent their time together praying and speaking of God and of spiritual topics.
As St. Gregory describes it, on one occasion St. Benedict was preparing to leave as evening drew near, but his sister begged him to stay. He, however, was horrified at the thought of not returning to his monastery and refused. And so she bowed her head in tears and earnest prayer to the Lord. Immediately a terrific thunderstorm broke out, and St. Benedict was forced to remain. As St. Gregory relates, “And so it happened that they passed the whole night in vigil and each fully satisfied the other with holy talk on the spiritual life.” The Pope goes on to say, “Nor is it any surprise that the woman who wished to see her brother for a longer time was on this occasion stronger than he, for according to the words of John, ‘God is love,’ and by an altogether fair judgment, she was able to do more because she loved more.”
The next morning, Benedict returned to his monastery. Three days later, as he was at prayer, “he saw the soul of his sister leaving her body and penetrating the secret places of heaven under the form of a dove.” He had her body brought to his monastery and placed in the tomb he had already prepared for himself.
As a recent commentator on the Rule of St. Benedict and on the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great has said, “The tears of Scholastica in prayer make us think of those which the sinner poured out on the feet of the Master…if Benedict, like Paul, was powerless, it was because Scholastica, like the sinner, loved more.”
St. Scholastica died about the year 543. Her feast day is celebrated on February 10.