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Benedictines, the Carolingian Monks

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St. Benedict, by Fra Angelico, 15th centurySt. Benedict, by Fra Angelico, 15th century

Monks in the Carolingian times, based upon their seclusion from the world, their culture, their works and farming domains, tended to confuse 'sacer,' or intouchabilitly and 'sanctus,' or of Church as they also stress the idea that their isolated life from the laymen is superior. It is upon such grounds that Church could find against violence during the decline of the Carolingians, using a pedagogy of fear and scare. Such a separation of monasticism however brought to that laymen put their hand upon Church and, eventually, at the moment of the Millenium's terrors to the will of the Greats to know the 'secrets' of clerics and recipes of the sacred to face the questions that the disparition of their power could not allow to anymore. Generally, during the Early Middle Ages and especially from the 7th to the 11th century A.D. and in the Byzantine empire as well as in the Western kingdoms, monasticism became the only way one could reach to God. That influenced the Church's ecclesiastical structure and societal and cultural values of the time. Such a monasticism however got rid of the eschatological question as it turned both in the East in West Stoicist and Neo-platonicist, which meant it structured itself about opposition between Good -or monks- and Evil -or the world. That triggered too a division between the soul and body, Heavens and the Earth, the visible and the unvisible and eventually the elite of monks and hermits compared to other clercis and the people. Due to the reality of a emperor like a ruler, or monarchs in the West, East and West altogether turned cesaropapists too. The fact that the ruler was considered a 'outside bishop,' 'king and priest,' was compatible with monasticism as the cloiser's order could only exist through orderly terrestrial kingdoms. Intimacy and individual thus belonged to monks as exteriority and eschatology to earthly rulers. The fall of the Roman empire in the West, on a other hand, and the emergence of Barbaric kingdoms promoted bishops like the ministers and protectors to peasants (which meant 'pagans' at the time). When the Carolingian times let room to feudalism, Clunisiac monks (which were Byzantines enough in terms of rituals and liturgy), mostly in France and Italy, along with reformer bishops with God's Peace and Truce led to the classical Middle Ages and that renewed the view of Church's role, with Church a reality not separed from earthly power but neatly distinct however from it as being higher than it at the same time. Such a development did not occur in the East. Christendom of the Early Middle Ages thus were monastic and imperial altoghether with Augustinism. The intallation of the Church in the Roman empire, or even fiscal pressure which had been due to the development of economic interventionism at the time, led, from the start, monks to figure themselves like they fled the world to better follow the advices of the Evangelical life. The monks turned the 'friends of God.' In the East, despite some early efforts to have the monks under control, they were to keep their independence and their moral, or even doctrinal authority. From Justinian onwards, monasticism became a cursus, a state of life. The monks then returned into the earthly world. In the West, on the other hand, monasticism took on later and it took the form of asceticism, without separation from the world. Monasticism in the West is independent of the Eastern one even if the latter exerted a form of fascination and influence. After a swift crisis, as monks were poorly considered, monks of the West became the 'salt of the Earth' and increased in number and monastic rules developed at the same time. Hermits were also numerous. All that, after the ascetical and missionary episode of the Irishmen, was to bring to the Rule, that of St. Benedict. Monasticism in the West began to find its shape, that of a enclosed place, and the rule, which made monasteries the image of the Kingdom, and place to the angelic life. The trigger occurred by the end of the 6th century A.D. as 200 monasteries were founded between 600 and 750. Charlemagne was wary of these isolated monks and he endeavoured to include them in the Carolingian order, like with the large abbeys, their domains and their immunities and their fields

The Benedictines are the monks of the Carolingian era in that sense that it's at the Carolingian times that they came to their greater extent in Europe. The Benedictines were born during the first part of the 6th century when St. Benedict (Benedict of Nursia) -c. 480 A.D.-543 A.D.- established a monastery at Subiaco then at the Monte Cassino, both locations situated near Rome. Thus St. Benedict was the founder of the western monasticism as until then monachism had developed in East only. Benedict wrote down a rule for his monks which is known as the Benedictine Rule. The Rule is supposed to come from the 'Master's Rule,' a monastic rule dating from the 6th century A.D. as Benedict turned it more spiritual, more person-focused and less narrow. Benedict's Rule made the transition between eastern monasticism and western values

It does not seem that Benedict at first had considered that his rule might expand and be adopted by other monasteries. Subiaco was the founding monastery as Benedict then passed to the Monte Cassino whence the order really spread. That the Lombards destroyed the mount by 580 A.D. made that the Benedictine monks settled in Rome, close to the Lateran Palace during 140 years, which likely was a factor for more influence. It was mainly the circumstances which led to that the order of St Benedict entered a expansion. Rule spread in the West mainly during the mission of St. Augustine in England in 597. Copies of the Benedictine Rule were left all over the road. The Rule moreover having been knewn in the abbay of Lérins, the influent one of southern Gaul, which gave to the latter its bishops, the spread kept on. Of note however is that the monasteries of the Gauls already had that pecularity that they intended to take from the monastic rules only what was convenient to them, such rules being that of St Benedict or more ancient, like those of St. Basile, Cassian, or St Cesaire, etc). Based upon the evangelization of England, the Benedictine order, for long, found itself tightly linked with that country and intermingled with lay or religious institutions as it eventually supplanted the Irish rule. The Benedictine Rule, on the Continent, remained in concurrence with the stricter rule of St. Columbanus, the Irish missionarizing monk who had founded numerous monasteries in Continental Europe. Eventually, by the 9th century, all of the monasteries of the Frankish world had passed to the Benedictine rule and the "black monks" were remaining the sole monks of the Empire, and the monks of it. Benedictines were called the 'black monks' as their clothing was entirely black. By the 8th century A.D., Charlemagne could legitimately doubt that there could have been monks in the West before the Benedectines as, by the 9th century, the Benedictine Rule had become the sole form of monastic life in western Europe and participating into the evangelization of the whole continent. The Celtic influence only lasted, during one or two centuries, in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Most proeminent figures of the Carolingian times, like St. Boniface, Alcuin, or Rabanus Maurus were Benedictines or Benedictines-related. Charlemagne inserted Benedictine monasteries into the working of the Empire with tasks like teaching, welfare or responsabilities in public administration. That opening to the world was accepted by a majority of monks

The Rule of St. Benedict was a mix of worldly tasks with the Divine Office, and it was a moderate one. Work was rehabilited from the servile condition it had in the Antiquity to the mean of rehabiliting men. That's why the Benedictine monasteries became those places of agricultural labour and improvement, of learning and schooling, of arts, sciences, and craftmanship. To reconcile the obligation they had to attend the office 7 times a day and the one to perform agricultural works, the Benedictines made use of the institution of 'converse,' religious lay brothers who were hired for domestic tasks, the work in the fields that is, which were distant from the abbey center as a 'grange' or 'barn' was found there, a appropriate farming building. Benedictine monks proper, as far as they were concerned, were, in regard to work which the Rule was forcing upon them, were working in the scriptorium, the orchard or the herbs garden as mostly were clerics compared to lay brothers. Benedictine monks were dressed with their black flow over a wool tunic, without a beard and wearing a crown of hair. Their life was timed by the alternation between prayer (seven offices take place throughout a day) and work (agriculture, construction works), within the framework of strict discipline (absolute silence, abstinence, sobriety, punishment-possibly bodily, Abbot's authority). Their food consisted of cereal porridge, vegetables, purées, fruits, with watercress, salt, bread and half a litre of wine per day. Meat was allowed to the sick only, but the rations were doubled on feast days and increased by eggs, fishes and cheeses. Monks slept all dressed up, with a serge sheet, a blanket and a pillow and their sleep was interrupted around 2 am by the night office. Their working time was 7-8 hours per day, depending on the season. A monastery, in the Carolingian times, might be denominated through the Latin word 'locus', which means 'place'. The Benedictine abbey of Charlieu, France, for example, which was founded in 872 A.D., took its name from 'carus locus', for 'prized place.' About 650 monasteries were extant by the Carolingian times, 200 of which were royal ones -ones the abbott of which was belonging to the royal family. The number of monks in a monastery ranged from a average of 70 to several hundreds for the largest abbeys

On the other hand, according to the views of St. Benedict, there were no bonds between the various monasteries other than the Rule and a common obedience to Rome. Benedictines eventually remained the sole monks in the West until in the 11th century A.D. and, up to nowadays, Benedictines never recognized any other head than the Pope himself. Smaller Benedictine monasteries were priories and rules by a prior or a prioress. Even ahead of Benedict of Aniane, Charlemagne had endeavoured to enforce Benedict Rule everywhere in his kingdom's monasteries. Due to how things were evolving by the Carolingian times like greater abbeys were creating daughter-houses or the monasteries inserted into the working of the Empire, brought the ascetic branch of the Benedictines to resistance. St. Benedict of Aniane, a Visigoth, tried to reform the order towards a confederation, with the help of the emperor Louis the Pious. All the Benedictine abbeys of the empire were to be reformed according to how Benedict's abbey at Aachen was working, as Benedict of Aniane, like a 'imperial abbot,' was invested with a general authority over all the Benedictine monasteries of the Empire (assemby of the abbots, Aachen 817). This reform was not actually applied, and this idea of a central authority to the order did not last beyond the life of Benedict. The capitula of 817 were considered like additions to the Rule only, hinting to that the moderate, northern monasteries had won over the ascetic branch of the South. Wealth of monasteries was protected against abuses as decisions of 817 served like reference as it possible that the device of St-Gall inspired from those. Carolingian abbeys, like St-Gall, signified in their map the solidarity between the monastic world and the world. A part of the area is restricted to monks as a series a building is dedicated to teaching, hospitality and health services. As the abbot is dining with his guests, the abbatial church is the link between the world (the faithfull) and the monks (the choir). Agricultural building and workshops are for production of the monastery. Aniane's endeavour of centrality was taken back in 910, in Cluny, an abbey in Burgundy and this time the reform was successfull because it was coincidental with the development of feudalism in the West. The mother-houses system is heralding the congregations which followed, which are typical of the Benedictine order. Cluny, as far as it is concerned, was the first general movement of evolution of the order, which began in 910 A.D. Cluny, eventually, during two centuries, encompassed 314 monasteries and it did not constitute a new order but a reformed congregation of the Benedictine order instead. Views of Cluny however spread among most of the Benedictine monasteries in Europe as those in turn, during the 10th and 11th centuries A.D., were the foundations of the definitive move which led to the 'congregations,' which occurred through efforts of standardization and priviliged relationships between abbays of a same kingdom, like, for example, Lanfranc and the Benedictines of England. It was to be since the 4th Council of Lateran, in 1215, only that any Benedictine abbay and monastery were to integrate themselves into a localized, kingdom-related congregation. Some monasteries and abbays until them even had staid outside the Clunisiac endeavour. Another characteristic of the Benedictines is that abuses and disturbances which could happen among them always recurringly brought a restoration effort to the primitive Rule and that, on a other hand, any reform in the Benedictine order never came from elsewhere than from the inside of it

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, http://schoolsempire.6te.net. Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 11/6/2014. contact us at geguicha@outlook.com