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Apostles of the Nations

In this connection then, we perceive another phase of Benedictine life and history -- the conversion of the nations. This missionary spirit was fostered early among the Benedictine monks, for their holy founder himself had converted the peasants who flocked to his cave at Subiaco, and had preached the Gospel to those who dwelt on and around the slopes of Monte Cassino. Before the sixth century had run its course, St. Augustine was in pagan England, sent there by another monk, Pope Gregory the Great; and the holy work so greatly blessed among the Anglo-Saxons was quickly imitated in other lands.

Germany received the faith from Boniface, Scandinavia from Ansgar, while Swithbert and Willibrord evangelized the Netherlands. Rupert, Emmeran and Adalbert labored and preached in Austrian territory. These were the monks who, imbued with apostolic zeal, converted the nations from barbarism and, heathen worship to civilization and the practice of Christian principles and Christian faith.

"Few nations of the modern world," says Abbot Gasquet, "would have been converted to Christianity, or tutored in the arts of peace, except through the medium of Monasticism." The last words of this quotation are important as implying a truth not readily perceived at once. An Augustine and a Boniface were pre-eminently Apostles, but the work they did as individuals would hardly have survived without that corporate strength which they possessed as members of a monastic body.

A single person can never afford a pattern capable of easy imitation by society. To create a Christian nation requires more than the mere teaching and explanation of Christian truths. It needs compact bodies of religious men, it needs a picture of Christian life, in a word it needs example, and this was to be found pre-eminently in Monasticism.

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