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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

March 12

Annotation on the Life of St. Gregory

BARONIUS thinks that his monastery of St. Andrew’s followed the rule of St. Equitius because its first abbots were drawn out of his province, Valeria. On another side, Dom. Mabillon (t. 1. Actor. Sanct. & t. 2. Analect. and Annal. Bened. l. 6.) maintains that it followed the rule of St. Benedict, which St. Gregory often commends and prefers to all other rules. His colleagues, in their life of St. Gregory, Natalis Alexander, in his Church History, and others, have written to support the same opinion: who all, with Mabillon, borrow all their arguments from the learned English Benedictin, Clemens Reynerus, in his Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Anglia. Others object that St. Gregory in his epistles ordains many things contrary to the rule of St. Benedict, and think he who has written so much concerning St. Benedict, would have mentioned by some epithet the circumstance of being his disciple, and would have called the rule of that patriarch his own. These antiquaries judge it most probable that the monastery of St. Andrew had its own rule prescribed by the first founders, and borrowed from different places: for this was the ordinary method of most monasteries in the west, till afterwards the rule of St. Benedict was universally received for better uniformity and discipline: to which the just commendations of St. Gregory doubtless contributed.  1
  F. Clement Reyner, in the above-mentioned book, printed at Doway, in folio, in 1626, displays much erudition in endeavouring to prove that St. Austin, and the other monks sent by St. Gregory to convert the English, professed the order of St. Benedict. Mabillon borrows his arguments on this subject in his preface to the Acts of the Benedictins, against the celebrated Sir John Marsham, who in his long preface to the Monasticon, sets himself to show that the first English monks followed rules instituted by their own abbots often gleaned out of many. Dr. Hickes confirms this assertion against Mabillon with great erudition. (Diss. p. 67, 68.) which is espoused by Dr. Tanner, bishop of St. Asaph’s, in his preface to his exact Notitia Monastica, by the author of Biographia Britannica, in the life of Bede, (t. 1. p. 656.) and by the judicious William Thomas, in his additions to the new edition of Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, (t. 1. p. 157.) These authors think that the rule of St. Benedict was not generally received by the English monks before the regulations of St. Dunstan; nor perfectly till after the Norman conquest. For Pope Constantine, in 709, in the bull wherein he establishes the rule of St. Benedict to be followed in the abbey of Evesham, says of it: “Which does not prevail in those parts.” “Quæ minus in illis partibus habetur.” In 747, Cuthbert, archbishop of Canterbury, in a synod held in presence of Ethelband, king of the Mercians, at Cloveshove, (which town some place in Kent, others more probably in Mercia, about Reading,) published Monastic Constitutions, which were followed by the English monks till the time of St. Dunstan. In these we find no mention of the rule of St. Benedict: nor in Bede. The charter of King Ethelbald which mentions the Black Monks, is a manifest forgery. Even that name was not known before the institution of the Camaldulenses, in 1020, and the Carthusians, who distinguished themselves by white habits. Dom. Mege, in his commentary on the rule of St. Benedict, shows that the first Benedictins wore white, not black. John of Glastenbury, and others, published by Hearne, who call the apostles of the English Black Monks, are too modern, unless they produce some ancient vouchers. The monastery of Evesham adopted the rule of St. Benedict, in 709. St. Bennet Biscop and St. Wilfrid both improved the monastic order in the houses which they founded, from the rule of St. Benedict, at least borrowing some constitutions from it. The devastations of the Danes scarcely left a convent of monks standing in England, except those of Glanstenbury and Abingdon, which was their state in the days of King Alfred, as Leland observes. St. Dunstan, St. Oswald, and St. Ethelwold, restored the monasteries, and propagated exceedingly the monastic state. St. Oswald had professed the order of St. Benedict in France, in the monastery of Fleury; and, together with the aforesaid two bishops, he established the same in a great measure in England. St. Dunstan published a uniform rule for the monasteries of this nation, entitled, Regularia Concordiæ Anglicæ Nationis, extant in Reyner, and Spelman, (in Spicilegio ad Eadmerum, p. 145,) in which he adopts, in a great measure, the rule of St. Benedict, joining with it many ancient monastic customs. Even after the Norman conquest the synod of London, under Lanfranc, in 1075, says, that the regulations of monks were drawn from the rule of St. Bennet and the ancient custom of regular places, as Baronius takes notice, which seems to imply former distinct institutes. From that time down to the dissolution, all the cathedral priories, except that of Carlile, and most of the rich abbeys in England were held by monks of the Benedictin order. See Dr. Brown Willis, in his separate histories of Cathedral Priories, Mitred Abbeys, &c.  2