Benedict of Aniane

Benedict of Aniane
(c. 750-821)
   A Visigothic monk and reformer, Benedict of Aniane was a close advisor of the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious. He helped establish the Rule of Benedict of Nursia as the official rule of monastic life in the Carolingian Empire in the early years of the reign of Louis. His implementation and interpretation of the Rule, moreover, involved a reform of monastic life that is traditionally seen as the precursor to the great monastic reform movement of Cluny in the tenth and eleventh centuries.
   The son of a Gothic count of southern Gaul, Benedict, or Witiza as he was originally known, was sent to the court of the Frankish king Charlemagne to be educated and taught the use of arms. While on campaign in Italy with Charlemagne, however, Benedict nearly drowned, and the incident forced him to examine himself. His soul-searching led him to abandon the world for the monastic life, and in 774 he joined the monastery of Saint-Seine, near Dijon, France. His life there was unsatisfactory, and his extreme asceticism led the abbot to criticize him, to which Benedict, according to his biographer, responded, "the Rule of blessed Benedict as for beginners and weak persons, he strove to climb up to the precepts of blessed Basil and the rule of blessed Pachomius" (Ardo 220). Indeed, Benedict revealed his single-minded determination early in his monastic career, as well as his desire for a better, purer monastic life than existed in the "mixed rule" communities of the Carolingian realm. In 780, Benedict left the community of Saint-Seine to found a new monastery on his father's property in Aniane, near Montpellier, France, and probably about that same time changed his name to Benedict. Despite his earlier interest in the great eremitic monks, Benedict established the Rule of Benedict of Nursia at his monastery, but, true to his earlier zeal, strictly followed the rule of his namesake. With his dedication to Benedict's rule, he broke with the contemporary mixed rule traditions of Carolingian monasticism; nevertheless, the devotion and discipline of his house attracted numerous followers. Over the next few decades, Benedict and his followers spread the strict observance of the rule to many monasteries throughout Aquitaine and Septimania in southwestern France. Moreover, in 802 Benedict participated in a council of bishops and abbots meeting at Aachen to discuss the Rule of Benedict, and in fact the later Benedict was the most important discussant at the council. His activities surely brought him to the attention of the king of Aquitaine, Louis the Pious, whose mentor Benedict became.
   Shortly after Louis became sole emperor following his father's death in 814, he called Benedict from Aquitaine because of "the fame of his life and saintliness," according to a contemporary chronicle. Benedict was to be the emperor's religious advisor and was to introduce throughout the entire empire the reforms implemented in Aquitaine. Benedict was installed in a new monastery, which Louis built for him at Inde, near the imperial palace at Aachen. The monastery, consecrated in 817, was not only the residence of Louis's chief religious advisor but also the model for monastic life in the empire. Benedict welcomed monks and abbots from throughout the realm and instructed them on the Rule of Benedict. Perhaps of even greater importance was Benedict's role at two councils at Aachen in 816 and 817, at which monastic life in the Carolingian Empire underwent dramatic reform. Under Benedict's direction, and with the support of the emperor, the council reformed the life of all religious in the empire and established the Rule of Benedict as the standard for all monasteries in the empire, ending the long-standing tradition of the mixed rule.
   Benedict's career is important for two reasons. First, Benedict successfully imposed the Rule of Benedict of Nursia on all the monasteries (with a few exceptions) in the Carolingian Empire. His activities are important also because the original Benedictine rule was reformed by Benedict, a reform that foreshadowed the reforms at Cluny in the next century. Among other things, Benedict of Aniane's reforms altered the relationship between the abbot and his monks. On the one hand, the reforms limited the abbot's authority, as well as the community's independence, by subjecting both to an overall "abbot-general," whose authority superseded that of the local abbot. The reforms also granted the abbot certain privileges that the original rule had not.
   The reforms of 816 and 817 also enforced a stricter rule of cloister, which not only limited the monks' access to the outside world but also severely restricted the access of the outside world to the monastery. Most notably, the reforms eliminated access to the monastery school for the laity or secular clergy. But the most important reform involved the increase in the liturgical duties of the monks. The original Benedict had sought to establish a balance in the lives of the monks between labor and prayer, but Benedict of Aniane dramatically increased the amount of time the monks were expected to pray, chant the Psalms, and perform divine services. Benedict's death in 821 and the civil war and division in the Carolingian Empire beginning in the 830s limited the impact of his reforms, but he remains important for his efforts on behalf of the Rule of Benedict and the foundation he put in place for later monastic reform movements.
   See also
 ♦ Ardo. "The Life of Saint Benedict, Abbot of Aniane and of Inde." Trans. Allen Cabaniss. In Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, edited by Thomas F. X. Noble and Thomas Head. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995, pp. 213-254.
 ♦ Knowles, David. Christian Monasticism. New York: McGraw Hill, 1969.
 ♦ Lawrence, Clifford H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, 2d ed. London: Longman, 1989.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
   ♦--- . Education and Culture in the Barbarian West: From the Sixth through the Eighth Century. Trans. John Contreni. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1976.
 ♦ Sullivan, Richard. "What Was Carolingian Monasticism? The Plan of St. Gall and the History of Monasticism." In After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History, ed. Alexander Callander Murray. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998, pp. 251-287.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, John M. The Frankish Church. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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