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Benedict of Aniane and Reform Efforts

Still, it must be admitted, degeneration was ever followed by reform, and these revivals, never failing when exactly needed, provide us with the strongest proof of the inherent vitality of the Benedictine Institute. The first of these movements of reform was the work of Benedict of Aniane, whose labors received a helping hand from Charlemagne and his son the Emperor Louis.

Benedict's aims were as clear and simple as they were praiseworthy and sincere, but at the same time the results they achieved were only indirectly good at best. The reason for this phenomenon is obvious to us now, and it is with reluctance that we have to admit that the cause of failure lies in an attempt to change the Benedictine Rule in one of its most essential features.

Benedict the Founder had provided that each monastery should be separate and independent; Benedict the Reformer aimed at the closest unity, and so rigid a uniformity that it should be as if "all had been taught by one single master in one single spot." These, in fact, were the principles which underlay the resolutions of the famous Assembly at Aix in July 817. Efforts were not spared to put these resolutions into practice by means that, we can readily believe, must have caused some hesitating doubts even in the mind of the earnest Benedict himself.

We must not, however, be too ready to criticize the suggestions of the Aix Assembly. As we have seen above, some measure of unity might have been a useful change; but iron uniformity itself could never have achieved success, even though, in fact, it paved the way for amelioration in a direction we shall indicate.

St. Benedict himself when he wrote his Rule made ample provision for any change of detail that circumstances might demand, and he frequently insisted that matters should be settled in a different way from that which he had laid down, according to the discretion of the abbot. His code, he felt, would often need additions, often perhaps modifications, for no law was ever made whose exact interpretation could be fitted at once to every case arising.

Methods of observance would naturally grow up and crystallize, according to the habits and customs of the different peoples, and it was precisely for the purpose of embodying these various customs into a draft of what we now call constitutions that the fathers assembled at Aix legislated. With this estimable intent they published the eighty Capitula, and it is impossible not to recognize that there was much of what was good and helpful in them for every monastery, no matter where it was.

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