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Reform Congregations

Reform of the Church in head and members, so urgently needed in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, was taken in hand by the Councils of Constance and of Basel, and the various religious orders were not behindhand in seeking to bring about a better state of things. Among Benedictines, reform took the direction of the very general adoption of the system of Congregations on the model set forth in the Lateran decree and the Bull Benedictina. The most important of these Congregations was that of St. Justina of Padua. The congregation owed its origin to the somewhat curious anomaly of real good accruing to a monastery by means of an abbot in commendam. In this case, the abbot was a noble Venetian, Ludovico Barbo, who, becoming a monk himself, determined to do his best in the interests of regular monastic life. Getting others to join in his pious desire, Barbo in 1421, on behalf of the four monasteries that had adopted his ideas, put to the Pope a plan of union whereby monks were professed not for this or that monastery, but simply for the Congregation.

Moreover, the power of the superiors was to be curtailed by an annual General Chapter, and by nine Definitors -- a small committee of the chapter -- in whose hands were all appointments, and who controlled the monastic property.

Barbo had sought to protect his monasteries from commendatory abbots, but the means he took seemed so great a departure from the spirit and letter of St. Benedict's Rule that Pope Eugene IV, in 1432, felt bound to publish a Bull constituting the Congregation of St. Justina an integral part of the Benedictine family. On this model, though not without considerable changes, were formed other Congregations in France and Spain. The Spanish Congregation became of especial interest. The English monks of the early seventeenth century, who hoped to revive Benedictine Monasticism once more in their native land, adopted almost entirely the Spanish system, paying close attention to those very points in which it differed from its Cassinese model.

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