ST BENEDICT OF ANIAN, ABBOT (A-D-821)
Feast: February 12
From his life, written with great piety, gravity, and erudition by St. Ardo Smaragdus, his disciple, to whom he committed the government of his Monastery of Anian, when he was called by the emperor near the court. Ardo died March the 7th, in 843, and is honoured at Anian among the saints. He is not to be confounded with Smaragdus, Abbot in the diocese of Verdun, author of a commentary on the rule of St. Bennet. This excellent life is published by Dom Menard, at the head of St. Bennet's Concordia Regularum; by Henschenius, Feb. 12 and by Dom Mabillon, Acta SS. Ben. vol. v. pp. 191, 217. See Helyot, Hist. des Ord. Relig. t. 5. p. 139. See also Bulteau, Hist. de l'Ord de St. Benoit, l.5, c. 2, p. 342; Eckart de Reb. Fran. t. 2, pp. 117, 163.
He was son of Aigulf, Count or Governor of Languedoc, and served King Pepin and his son Charlemagne in quality of cup-bearer, enjoying under them great honours and possessions. Grace made him sensible of the vanity of all perishable goods, and at twenty years of age he took a resolution of seeking the kingdom with his whole heart. From that time he led a most mortified life in the court itself for three years, eating very sparingly and of the coarsest fare, allowing himself very little sleep, and mortifying all his senses. In 774, having narrowly escaped being drowned in the Tesin, near Pavia, in endeavouring to save his brother, he made a vow to quit the world entirely. Returning to Languedoc, he was confirmed in his resolution by the pious advice of a hermit of great merit and virtue, called Widmar; and under a pretext of going to the court at Aix-la-Chapelle, he went to the Abbey of St. Seine, five leagues from Dijon, and having sent back all his attendants, became a monk there. He spent two years and a half in wonderful abstinence, treating his body as a furious wild beast, to which he would show no other mercy than barely not to kill it. He took no other sustenance on any account but bread and water; and when overcome with weariness, he allowed himself nothing softer than the bare ground whereon to take a short rest, thus making even his repose a continuation of penance. He frequently passed the whole night in prayer, and stood barefoot on the ground in the sharpest cold. He studied to make himself contemptible by all manner of humiliations, and received all insults with joy, so perfectly was he dead to himself. God bestowed on him an extraordinary spirit of compunction, and the gift of tears, with an infused knowledge of spiritual things to an eminent degree. Not content to fulfil the rule of St. Benedict in its full rigour, he practiced all the severest observances prescribed by the rules of St. Pachomius and St. Basil. Being made cellarist, he was very solicitous to provide for others whatever St. Benedict's rule allowed, and had a particular care of the poor and of the guests.
His brethren, upon the abbot's death, were disposed to choose our saint, but he being unwilling to accept of the charge on account of their known aversion to a reformation, left them, and returned to his own country, Languedoc, in 780, where he built a small hermitage near a chapel of St. Saturninus, on the brook Anian, near the river Eraud, upon his own estate. Here he lived some years in extreme poverty, praying continually that God would teach him to do his will, and make him faithfully correspond with his eternal designs. Some solitaries, and with them the holy man Widmar, put themselves under his direction, though he long excused himself. They earned their livelihood by their labour, and lived on bread and water, except on Sunday and solemn festivals, on which they added a little wine and milk when it was given in alms. The holy superior did not exempt himself from working with the rest in the fields, either carrying wood or ploughing; and sometimes he copied good books. The number of his disciples increasing, he quitted the valley and built a monastery in a more spacious place, in that neighbourhood. He showed his love-of poverty by his rigorous practice of it; for he long used wooden, and afterwards glass or pewter, chalices at the altar; and if any presents of silk or ornaments were made him, he gave them to other churches. However, he some time after changed his way of thinking with respect to the church; built a cloister and a stately church, adorned with marble pillars, furnished it with silver chalices and rich ornaments, and bought a great number of books. He had in a short time three hundred religious under his direction, and also exercised a general inspection over all the monasteries of Provence, Languedoc, and Gascony, which respected him as their common parent and master. At last he remitted something in the austerities of the reformation he had introduced among them. Felix, bishop of Urgel, had advanced that Christ was not the natural, but only the adoptive son of the eternal Father. St. Benedict most learnedly opposed this heresy, and assisted, in 794, at the council assembled against it at Frankfort. He employed his pen to confute the same, in four treatises, published in the miscellanies of Balusius.
Benedict was become the oracle of the whole kingdom, and he established his reformation in many great monasteries with little or no opposition. His most illustrious colony was the Monastery of Gellone, founded in 804 by William, Duke of Aquitain, who retired into it himself, whence it was called St. Guillem du Desert. By the councils held under Charlemagne, in 813, and by the Capitulars of that prince, published the same year, it was ordained that the canons should live according to the canons and laws of the church, and the monks according to the rule of St. Bennet, by which regulation an uniformity was introduced in the monastic order in the West. The emperor Louis Debonnair, who succeeded his father on the 28th of January, 814 committed to the saint the inspection of all the abbeys in his kingdom. To have him nearer his own person, the emperor obliged him to live in the Abbey of Marmunster, in Alsace; and as this was still too remote, desirous of his constant assistance in his councils, he built the monastery of Inde, two leagues from Aix-le-Chapelle, the residence of the emperor and court. Notwithstanding St. Benedict's constant abode in this monastery, he had still a hand in restoring monastic discipline throughout France and Germany, as he also was the chief instrument in drawing up the canons for the reformation of prebendaries and monks in the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 817, and presided in the; assembly of abbots the same year, to enforce restoration of discipline. His statutes were adopted by the order, and annexed to the rule of St. Benedict, the founder. He wrote, whilst a private monk at Seine, the Code of Rules, being a collection of all the monastic regulations which he found extant; as also a book of homilies for the use of monks, collected, according to the custom of that age, from the works of the fathers; likewise a Penitential, printed in the additions to the Capitulars. In his Concord of Rules he gives that of St. Bennet, with those of other patriarchs of the monastic order, to show their uniformity in the exercises which they prescribe. This great restorer of the monastic order in the West, worn out at length with mortification and fatigues, suffered much from continual sickness the latter years of his life. He [e died at Inde, with extraordinary tranquillity and cheerfulness, on the 11th of February, 821, being then about seventy-one years of age, and was buried in the same monastery, since called St. Cornelius's, the church being dedicated to that holy pope and martyr. At Anian his festival is kept on the 11th, but by most other Martyrologies on the 12th of February, the day of his burial. His relics remain in the Monastery of St. Cornelius, or of Inde, in the duchy of Cleves, and have been honoured with miracles.
St. Bennet, by the earnestness with which he set himself to study the spirit of his holy rule and state, gave a proof of the ardour with which he aspired to Christian perfection. The experienced masters of a spiritual life, and the holy legislators of monastic institutes, have in view the great principles of an interior life, which the gospel lays down; for in the exercises which they prescribe powerful means are offered by which a soul may learn perfectly to die to herself, and be united in all her powers to God. This dying to and profound annihilation of ourselves is of such importance that so long as a soul remains in this state, though all the devils in hell were leagued together, they can never hurt her. All their efforts will only make her sink more deeply in this feeling knowledge of herself, in which she finds her strength, her repose, and her joy, because by it she is prepared to receive the divine grace; and if self-love be destroyed, the devil can have no power over us, for he never makes any successful attacks upon us but by the secret intelligence which he holds with this domestic enemy. The crucifixion of the old man, and perfect disengagement of the heart, by the practice of universal self-denial, is absolutely necessary before a soul can ascend the mountain of the God of Jacob, on which his infinite majesty is seen, separated from all creatures; as Blosius, and all other directors in the paths of an interior life, strongly inculcate.
1 Instit. Spir c. 1, n. 6, &c.
(Taken from Vol. I of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company)