Next to St. Benedict himself, St. Benedict of Aniane influenced the shape of Benedictine monasticism in the West more than anyone else. Allied with Holy Roman emperors Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, he promulgated a strict and idealistic monastic reform that lasted nearly two centuries. And Benedict’s work influenced later reforms, including the Cluniac Reform movement of the 11th and 12th centuries.
Of noble Visigothic descent, Benedict first served as a cupbearer in the Frankish court. But at age twenty he resolved to live for God alone and became a monk at an abbey near Dijon. When the monks wanted to make him abbot, he left because he felt that they would not accept the severe pattern of life he had adopted. So he returned to his own estate on the river Aniane in Languedoc, where he built a small hermitage. Later he built a monastery from which he exercised influence over many other abbeys in France and Germany that he had reformed. Eventually Benedict became the overseer of all the monasteries in the Frankish empire.
Louis the Pious compelled Benedict to build a monastery at Inde, Belgium, near the court at Aachen. Then Louis had Benedict generate a monastic reform throughout the empire. Benedict presided at councils that reinforced discipline. Benedict aimed to have monks “pass from faith to sight” through prayer, study, meditation, and reading. He believed that as their understanding increased, they would grow into a contemplative love for God.
Benedict of Aniane died in 821. He never achieved the uniformity he intended because it depended on the unity of an empire that soon disintegrated. But he did elevate the idealism and observance of western monasticism. Benedict of Aniane’s impact was more structural than inspirational, but as his biographer indicated in the following passage, his spirituality touched his brothers profoundly:
Benedict had great concern not only to refresh his own people with food of preaching, but also to nourish with heavenly bread whomever he happened to encounter. That they might not lose the salutary food through forgetfulness, he was accustomed to impress upon them to cling tenaciously to it in their hearts. This he did with such words as, “Let it be with chaste body and humble heart, because proud chastity and vain humility are not acceptable to God.” On some he was in the habit of stressing this, “If most precepts are impossible for you to remember, keep at least this short one, ‘Depart from evil and do good.’” (See Psalm 37:27).
Benedict possessed an unusual gift: as soon as anyone with disturbed thoughts in his mind approached him, the tumultuous crowd of thoughts dissipated at his wholesome counsel. Often indeed when bombarded by unsafe thoughts . . . a person would say to himself, “I will go and reveal you to Lord Benedict.” At that very moment the unsuitable confusion left him. If anyone was hindered by severe faults, he received soothing consolation when he opened up his heart to Benedict.
from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi
Image credit: Icon of Benedict of Aniane by unknown artist, unknown date. Public Domain via Wikimedia.