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St. Benedict & the True European Community

June 8, 2016

“The Enlightenment, like a vast Chinese Wall, separates Europe’s contemporary inhabitants from the man who made their culture possible. Cut off from their roots and disillusioned by one failed utopian experiment after another, European Man has contracted a spiritual disease whose clearest manifestation is his inability to reproduce.” (italics added) “Benedict’s Rule” by E. Michael Jones

The European Union (EU) is not Europe. That might be obvious to some, but the revolutionaries have managed to conflate the two for most people. Therefore, those who hate the EU are supposed to hate Europe and Europeans. Sadly, as with the liturgical revolutionaries, traditionalists have let them take over the language so that we cannot argue our point without a preamble about what words mean. So for the avoidance of doubt, I despise the EU because it is a post-Enlightenment anti-Catholic tyranny but I love Europe, especially the echoes of Christendom that one experiences occasionally on trips there.

Catholics can take a special pride in Europe/Christendom because our religious forebears built it out of the rubble of the collapsed Roman Empire. The standard narrative has been that the barbarians from the east (e.g. Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Alans) destroyed the infrastructure as they conquered creating the Dark Ages. However, we must acknowledge that from the Seventh Century Europe was under constant attack by muslims and that muslim piracy severely restricted the Mediterranean to Christian trade until the Battle of Lepanto (1571).

 

St. Benedict Patron Saint of Europe

Whatever the cause(s), as the Western Empire crumbled, the economy faltered and wealth dissipated, leaving the population living hand-to-mouth. Here is a description of the age by Pope St. Gregory the Great (AD 590-604) who lived a century after St. Benedict and wrote his biography:

What is there to please us in this world? Everywhere we see sorrow and lamentation. The cities and towns are destroyed, the fields are laid waste, and the land returns to solitude. No peasant is left to till the fields; there are few inhabitants left in the cities and yet even these scanty remnants of humanity are still subject to ceaseless sufferings…Some are led away captive, others are mutilated and still more slain before our eyes. What is there then to please us in this world? If we still love such a world as this, it is plain we love not pleasure but misery.” (italics added) Quotation taken from “Benedict’s Rule” by E. Michael Jones

Politics were dominated by the new militaristic invaders. In Britain, this conflict was personified by the mythical King Arthur, who fought (ultimately unsuccessfully) to defend his happy, prosperous kingdom (Camelot) against the evil Angles, Saxons and Jutes. About this time, in AD 480 St. Benedict was born in Nursia* (now Norcia) in Umbria. He was sent to Rome to study but left because of the city’s hedonism. He spent some time with a priest in Enfide, 35 miles east of Rome, but fled to a cave in the hills round Subiaco, where he lived in seclusion for three years. His reputation as a holy man encouraged some monks to ask him to be their abbot. He refused, saying they would not care for his discipline, but they prevailed upon him and he accepted. St. Benedict was right – the monks tried to poison him, but he made the sign of the cross over his wine goblet and it shattered. He returned to his cave at Subiaco.

St. Benedict’s holy charisma still attracted followers and so he organised them into twelve communities of twelve monks living along the valley. This time a jealous parish priest tried to poison his bread, but his pet raven carried it away. Around AD 529, St. Benedict moved to Monte Cassino where he built a monastery over the ruins of a temple of Apollo. This is where he wrote and applied his Rule, based on earlier rules of monastic life. The Rule of St. Benedict became ubiquitous for monastic living over the next millennium and it is the principles enshrined in the Rule that created Christendom and made it the peak of human civilisation.

* Précis of St. Benedict’s biography taken from the Benedictine Yearbook 2016

 

A Catholic Revolution from the Bottom Up

St. Benedict was a revolutionary, but in a Catholic way. Earlier sons of the empire like St. Augustine bemoaned the Gothic invasions and said, ‘something must be done’ to stop them. But St. Benedict acknowledged that the Western Empire was either going or had gone, even in Italy [Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in AD 410 and again by the Ostrogoths under Totila in AD 546]. Therefore, St. Benedict didn’t waste any effort repairing the irreparable, but worked out a means of salvation, not on his own but in community. Neither the state nor private enterprise were reliable providers of goods and services, and for that reason every monastery had to be fully self-sustaining. Behind the relative safety of monastery walls the monks had a water supply and the food they produced themselves. They became proficient in all the artisanal crafts necessary to sustain a life of prayer and work (ora et labora as the Benedictine motto says). For example, they produced their own cloth for habits, other garments and liturgical vestments. They were proficient in metalwork – from horseshoes and ploughs to sacred vessels for Mass. They were their own stonemasons and of course, they were the copiers of and depositories for Christian and Classical literature.

The Catholic Economy

St. Benedict knew that idle hands tempted the devil and that young men especially needed to engage in hard physical labour. In addition, he had spent time as an anchorite and intuited that periods of contemplation followed by physical effort, which allowed the subconscious to process the transcendent, promoted spiritual development. As a result, manual labour became a noble activity, in contradistinction to Classical and barbarian cultures which regarded it as the preserve of slaves and peasants. This put monks right with God, who told Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth…” (Gen 3:19). The elevation of labour remains intrinsic to the Catholic conception of the economy, which can be summarised as:

Economy (Y) = f(Nature) + f(Labour) + f(Exchange)   f(.) means “is a function of”

Notice there is no “f(Capital)” because capital is merely stored labour.

Also, f(Exchange) is present because how economic exchanges are mediated (e.g. via money in markets) is not neutral to the transaction. Astoundingly, although the concept of exchange is the definition of economic activity, usurers’ models (whether capitalistic or communistic) theorise it away, as they must to avoid identification.

Outside the monastery, the warlords expropriated the labour of the remaining peasants by stealing their food and goods, leaving them destitute. Whereas, the community’s wealth stayed with the community (episodes of banditry excepted – the Lombards sacked Monte Cassino in AD 580) where it was used to create further wealth. It wasn’t the greed of abbots that made monasteries rich, it was the righteous exploitation of God’s bounty. The wealth of monasteries were a rebuke to the predatory habits of secular rulers because every village would have been as prosperous as a monastery if all the products of labour (wealth) were not siphoned off, just as they are today under capitalism.

People know a good thing when they see it, and St. Benedict’s Rule and his Order began to spread from Monte Cassino throughout the former Empire and beyond into Germania. The monasteries proliferated and they radiated order – economic and moral. Order is from God and disorder or chaos is from the devil. The development of a moral order was the Church’s attempt to put limits on the behaviour of the barbarian princes; the powerful do not need morality to protect them. Slowly over the centuries, the wealth of the monasteries was reinvested in the surrounding economies and commerce grew until Europe emerged from the “Benedictine centuries” into the Middle Ages. Here is how Bl. Cardinal Newman described the monasteries’ contribution to the creation of Europe:

St Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins and his mission was to restore it in the way not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time, or by any rare specific, or by any serious strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often till the work was done, it was not known to be doing.” Quoted in Jones

So peacefully and gently accomplished was the work of the Benedictines that their contribution has been expunged from the folk memory of Europeans. We have been fed the Whig version of history, which says all monasteries were centres of depravity and luxury. This was the lie they told our ancestors when they could no longer restrain their greed for the land and chattels that the monks had held in trust for up to one thousand years. Once the Whigs got the land, the peasants were rack-rented or ejected to make way for sheep. Anglophone history books are long the tales of Henry VIII’s brave stand against the Pope (Clement VII) and are largely silent on the newly destitute families who died like flies along the roads of “merrie” England. Everyone else became easy prey for the usurers, recently legitimised by the Act Against Usury (1545), which of course the Church always has and always will condemn as immoral (see the current Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church para.341; Vatican.va).

The Preferential Option for the Poor

The network of monasteries was a welfare system before there was even a state to expropriate its prestige. The monasteries were benevolent landlords and all tenants were able to generate a surplus to hold against the exigencies of life. A Catholic father had very little trouble providing for his family, and many did even better than that. Here is how Jones describes the economy of Christendom:

The small Christian community was centered on the Eucharist, but in addition to moral living it also demanded almsgiving and those alms, once given, were returned to the less fortunate with the Church and bishop administering the funds, thus strengthening the bonds of community even further. Doctrine and praxis reinforced each other, and the fruit was community:”

Modern day economists are quick to decry the guilds system as an anti-consumer conspiracy, but they were a way to ensure that a working man’s life was not curtailed by sharp practices. In his seminal book, Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism (1934), Amintore Fanfani describes the pre-capitalist economy that shows how it descended directly from the community spirit of the Benedictines:

Whereas the pre-capitalist sought to equate wages rather to the needs of the worker than to his output, the capitalist, on the contrary, tends to base them rather on the worker’s output than on his needs.”

What’s more, unlike the large number of men currently languishing on Europe’s welfare programmes, there was appropriate policing of those who sought to be a charge on the public purse, i.e. discrimination between the deserving and undeserving poor. As St. Paul wrote,

For also when we were with you, this we declared to you: if any man will not work, neither let him eat.” (2 Thess 3:10)

 

Convincing the Germans

The revolution was top-down as well as bottom-up and here too the Benedictines brought order out of chaos. The Teutonic tribes were largely nomadic and pagan, although the Goths had embraced Arianism. If they had continued their rootless ways, plundering and murdering, the Empire would have broken up into a series of failed states. Without courageous and inspired Benedictines to convert the Teutonic tribes to Catholicism, Christendom would not have created the civilisation it came to be and risen to defend itself against the later Asiatic invaders, e.g. Huns and Ottomans. Then all the wisdom, beauty and wealth of Europe which the Enlightenment claimed as its own and expropriated to itself in the name of its creed, i.e. science, would not have existed.

When rulers have no fellow-feeling (or solidarity in Catholic Social Teaching parlance) for the ruled, the country will always underachieve. This is why so many third world peoples have remained impoverished – because rulers steal the natural wealth (the resource curse) – the rulers regard the ruled as objects, not subjects of labour as Church teaching demands. Europe would have been as unproductive as Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia are today had Catholicism remained the people’s religion and the elites remained pagan.

Thanks to the zeal and courage of the Benedictine monks the elites too were Catholicised, in whole or at least in part. When Vikings spread-eagled monks and stole the monasteries’ gold they were being good Vikings. Similarly, when the Ottomans impaled prisoners and made sex slaves of Christian women, they were being good muslims. But, when a king or knight killed prisoners or harried a surrendered town, we condemn them as bad Catholics.

In Benedict’s Rule, Jones acknowledges the importance of the monks capturing the barbarians for Christ and His Church:

Once it [Benedict’s Rule] fired the imagination of the Anglo-Saxon monks in general and St Boniface in particular, it brought order and classical coherence to the chaotic existence of the Germanic tribes on both sides of the Rhine, as well as the formation of the new centres of culture in Ireland, Northumbria, and ultimately the Carolingian empire. It was this development which prompted Newman to call the six hundred years following the collapse of the Roman Empire, ‘the Benedictine centuries.’

So successful were the Benedictines at proselytising that these earthly rulers acknowledged the Social Kingship of Christ and the spiritual superiority of His Vicar on earth that their monarchs accepted the crown from the hands of a bishop.

The precedent which Boniface established with Pepin [crowning him King of the Franks in AD 754] was continued by his heir Charlemagne, whose reign defined the terms of medieval culture for centuries to come. That that primitive culture transcended its still recent barbarian roots was in large measure due to Benedict’s Rule of monastic life which turned Frankish eyes favourably toward Rome and the classical culture which Rome had absorbed and transfigured.” C. Dawson quoted in Jones.

Ruling by the laws of Christ and His Church allowed Europe to prosper materially, intellectually and morally. This was a sea-change as Dawson explains:

The Carolingian legislation in itself marks the emergence of the new social consciousness of Western Christendom. Hitherto the legislation of the Western kingdom had been of the nature of a Christian appendix to the old barbarian tribal codes. Now, for the first time, a complete break was made with the past, and Christendom enacted its own laws, which covered the whole field of social activity in Church and state, and referred all things to a single standard of the Christian ethos. This was inspired neither by Germanic nor Roman precedent.”

 

Thomas Hobbes Was Wrong

Hobbes the political philosopher carried the anti-Catholic virus of the Whigs and played his part as a transmitter of that virus. In Leviathan (1651) he claimed that “…the papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof…” But it is a fact that the Catholic Church used some of the rubble of the Empire to build from the foundations up, Christendom and Europe. St. Benedict’s Rule created economic and moral order where there was a howling wilderness of barbarian rapine. The pope in Rome rightly was acknowledged by emperors and kings alike as the principal power in Christendom because his Benedictines oversaw its construction.

Conclusion

The EU as a uniter of Europe is an affront to St. Benedict, who worked peacefully and gently and used only volunteers. The EU claims to unite Europe, but uses brutalist top-down methods, see Greece, Ireland and Italy. The heir to St. Benedict would never demand abortion for all.

 

Next Steps

Vote for Brexit if you are in the UK, and oppose the EU if you are not.

Visit a Benedictine monastery for a weekend retreat or just to hear a sung Office. If you can make it, Vigils/Matins of Sunday (sometimes said on Saturday evenings) are particularly good. You will hear the Te Deum most of the year (not Lent or Advent).

St. Benedict’s feast day is July 11th, although Benedictine monasteries still celebrate his birthday on March 21st. This July 11th, go to Mass and pray to St. Benedict that Europe’s people can recover their faith and their wits and demand leaders worthy of St. Benedict’s Rule.

Listen to the Te Deum, in which one can perceive the glory of St. Benedict’s legacy.

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From → Chapter 1

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