Carmen Butcher, in her elegantly written little book on the life of St. Benedict, Man of Blessing, traces the life and beliefs of St. Benedict. Last summer Kris and I visited his birth church (in Nursia) and had a memorable experience about which I write in Praying with the Church. I was happy to see Carmen Butcher’s new book on Benedict come out because I wanted a little life of Benedict. If you are looking for a readable life of Benedict, and don’t want to be asked to read miles of footnotes, this is the one for you.
Many read the St. Benedict’s Rules for Monasteries as a form of exhorting themselves to a deeper spirituality, and many who do so are in need of setting that little influential book into the context of a life. The life Carmen Butcher writes is hagiographical, but not overly so. She doesn’t engage in historical judgment, even when she relates some of the miracles that many today would see as simple legend. She takes Scholastica, Benedict’s sister, as historical.
Benedict’s rule is the foundation for nearly all of the monastic movement, and many of us have read monastics off and on our entire Christian life, including Thomas a Kempis, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Henri Nouwen. What is also derived largely from Benedict is the hours of prayer, the seven-hour fixed hours with their chanting of the Psalms, and many of us still practice two or three of these hours of prayer as a discipline. They derive in part from Benedict’s systematizing of the Psalms and of how to live a disciplined Christian life.
I can’t even try to sum up Benedict’s life, but I will say this book is a nice way to read about it.