In A.D. 529, the Emperor Justinian closed the Academy at Athens which had been founded by Plato in the fourth century B.C. and which had preserved the tradition of classical thought for over eight centuries.
In A.D. 529, St. Benedict founded his monastery at Montecassino to be a “school for the Lord’s service.” It was to provide the beginning of a new effort to preserve the treasures of human culture in the centuries to come.
In some sense a torch had been passed.
Benedict had no conscious intention that the preservation of culture would become an important contribution of his monks, but within the next couple of centuries the education of the young, the copying of manuscripts – not only religious, but secular works of classical antiquity as well – and scholarship had become an important adjunct to the Benedictine way of life dedicated to seeking God. Even today in Benedictine schools young people are still the beneficiaries of this fifteen-century responsibility.
Benedictine life is based upon the Gospel of Christ and is lived in witness to this Good News in peace and simplicity. It strives to create surroundings permeated by Christian vision and an attitude of openness to the Spirit. Benedictine education draws its inspiration and values from the Rule and monastic tradition. What follows are some of the ideals that characterize life at a Benedictine college.
The Rule says of the abbot: “Let him not make any distinction of persons in the monastery.” (RB 2:16) Highest importance in our dealings with colleagues and students is the recognition of the unique worth and importance of each individual. In our teaching, it is reflected by a sincere concern for the welfare of each student and inspires personal interactions between students and teachers both in and outside of classes.
While the abbot is given the last word in all decision-making, Benedictine life also values the views and opinions of each of its members. The Rule directs the abbot: “As often as any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the abbot call together the whole community and himself set forth the matter. . . All should be called for counsel, for God often reveals what is better to the younger.” (RB 3:3) The Benedictine model of governance allows for a great deal of collegial decision-making. Each faculty member has a voice at faculty meetings and should value his or her freedom to participate in policy making. Students have the right to be heard and to have their opinions considered seriously. Each person has the freedom to express views without risk of reprisals, and with the consciousness of the responsibility he or she has to the welfare of the community.
One well-loved Benedictine motto is Ora et Labora, “Pray and Work” – known to generations of fatigued novices as “Ora et labora, et labora, et labora. . .” Prayer and work are two important facets of life at a Benedictine school. Benedictines have long been known for the beauty they have added to public worship. We strive to maintain that tradition of beauty and reverence in all of our services. We also encourage students and faculty to find opportunities to cultivate the life of the spirit, no matter what their religious traditions.
Benedictines deserve the credit for introducing into western culture the idea of the dignity of work. The Classical world saw scholarship (the very word comes the Greek word for leisure) as the prerogative of the privileged class and scorned manual labor, even in the form of the production of works of art, as beneath the dignity of those who pursued the life of the mind. The monks demonstrated to post-classical Europe that they could be scholars and teachers and also participate in Divine Worship, serve at table and work in the fields to bring in the harvest when needed. We view work not just as a means of providing economic support, but as a creative outlet for human energies. By providing programs for professional education, we make it possible for students to find a life’s work which will be rewarding and fulfilling. We also encourage the participation in and appreciation for the intellectual, visual and performing arts, as human crafts which are of vital importance to a full life.
We are stewards of God’s possessions. The Rule says: “Let him look upon all the utensils of the monastery and its whole property as upon the sacred vessels of the altar.” (RN 31:10) We look upon the world not as something to be ruthlessly exploited to our own ends, but as God’s property, entrusted to us for care and safekeeping. We manifest this in a concern for the physical aspects of our buildings and even in the smallest ways by an awareness of the part each of us plays in the proper and moderate use of material goods. On the largest scale, we strive to inculcate a consciousness and concern for the quality of the natural environment.
Benedictines cherish a tradition of hospitality. “Guests are never lacking in the monastery,” says the Rule, and they should be welcomed as if they were Christ himself. (RB 53:16,1) We receive guests and strangers on our campus in the same spirit and demonstrate courtesy and kindness to those we teach and with whom we work. This spirit of hospitality can extend to an interest in and acceptance for other cultures, and can reach beyond the campus in the form of working for peace and justice in the world.
These ideals are summed up in the College Mission Statement which may be found in the Catalog. St Benedict refers to his monastery as “a school of the Lord’s service,” (RB:Prol) and that certainly characterizes the ultimate mission of The College of St. Scholastica as well. Benedictines have always been adaptable, and so have survived for fifteen centuries in spite of the changing needs of the world around them. A Benedictine college must also be adaptable: able to change as the needs and characteristics of its constituents change, but also, like the tree, firmly rooted in the Christian and Benedictine values which are the ground that supports and nourishes it. By listening attentively in the spirit to the voices of God’s people and responding generously to their needs, we are assured that we will fulfill the hope of St. Benedict for all his followers –