Benedict was born into a world that was slipping into disorganization and chaos. His life was lived in the aftermath of the fall of Rome and the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire. Despite the social upheaval of the era, the Church continued to survive and thrive as it always does and as Benedict reached his adulthood and saw his life going down the tubes into immorality, he was touched and converted by the gospel. As he sought out what this might mean for his life he felt the calling to join a monastery near Rome. Benedict approached this unique calling with great zeal and as a young believer was chosen to be the leader of his monastery. Unfortunately his youthful zeal and lack of experience made him an unbending and demanding leader. Strange but true, his brother monks actually became so desperate to get rid of him that they attempted to poison his dinner one night. The plot to kill him failed but Benedict did leave (which in that sense it was a success) and eventually started another monastery having learned a few lessons about leadership and having a more tempered zeal.
His new approach (which we call The Rule of St. Benedict) was to actually contribute to the building up of Europe as a largely Christian civilization over the next 1400 years. Under the Rule monks were called to a life of prayer and work as a means of serving God now and preparing their souls to be with Him in the future. This was actually quite a radical change because work was seen as something to be avoided at all costs. At the Benedictine monasteries, everyone worked 4 hours a day doing things to either help the community or further the faith. In addition to this they spent another 8 hours a day (with breaks for other things) in prayer and worship of the Lord.
It was in this laboratory of work and prayer and community life 24/7 that the Bible was copied, classical learning and philosophy were preserved, farmland was cleared, roads were built, people were educated, medicine and medical care was provided, and advances in agriculture were made which raised food production. When a monastery became established it was never long before a town would grow up around it. Benedict’s Rule influenced many other groups and has inspired even government leaders in how to lead communities. Even though the Roman civilization and its order had crumbled, the movement of Benedictine monasticism eventually helped rebuild a new Christianized one for all of Western Europe. Benedictines remain today and continue their rhythm of “ work and pray” and for that contribution we consider St. Benedict of Nursia to be one of the shapers of the Christian faith.