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The Benedictine Centuries

Such then was the work of the Benedictine monks in the first few centuries following St. Benedict's time -- the phase of converting nations and civilizing the barbarian races of the north. History often repeats herself, and a modern writer has pointed out the striking resemblance between Benedictine modes of action and those of the great Republic of Rome.

From the earliest days, the Romans were something more than conquerors, they were colonizers as well; and it was largely owing to this latter fact that as time went on they were able to subdue the world. Inferior in many ways to the Greek, the Roman possessed that quality of practical common sense so lacking in his brilliant neighbor.

To conquer the world was one thing, to perpetuate such conquest and retain supremacy was quite another. That the Romans succeeded in the latter task was in large measure due to the planting of colonies, not so much as garrisons, but as centers where Roman law and custom, Roman arts and civilization were displayed to such advantage.

The conquered peoples were induced, of their own free will, to adopt the language, the habits, and the customs of Republican Rome. The "Pax Romana" was seen to be synonymous with security of life and property, and was consequently regarded as a cherished boon.

In the same manner was Northern and Central Europe conquered for the Church by the Benedictine monks. The monasteries were as colonies exhibiting to the peoples round them the excellence and beauty of Christ's teaching and the glorious inheritance of the Christian name.

These monasteries too, presented pictures of a cultured society engaged in the pursuit of art, literature, and science, while at the same time they exemplified in themselves the benefits which civilization brought into every detail of daily life. If the "Pax Romana" had been a blessing in an earlier age, the "Pax Benedictina" brought with it even greater happiness, for now both supernatural and natural benefits were simultaneously put in reach of everyone alike.

This rapid review of early Benedictine history has carried us on five centuries, through periods too of wild disorder, incessant war, and grave abuses. The Church herself had not escaped uninjured, and we need not be astonished that in many places the Benedictine system also needed reformation. This too was more especially the case by reason of the independence of the scattered monasteries, possessing as they did no bond of unity whereby in times of stress the weaker bodies might perhaps have received encouragement and help from stronger hands.

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