The Medal of Saint Benedict
by Fr. Bernardine Patterson OSB
A number of letters arranged in various orders on the side on which the Cross is found remain to be explained. There is nothing hidden or superstitious about these letters; their significance is well known and approved by the Church. The manuscript of 1415 reveals their meaning and proves them to be the initials of Latin words which go to make up sentences explanatory of the object of the Medal and its use. They are in reality for the most part short prayers and imprecations, thought to have been frequently in the mouth of St. Benedict himself.
The four letters at the sides of St. Benedict's Cross: C.S.P.B. stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti. The five letters on the length of St. Benedict's Cross: C.S.S.M.L. represent the first part of a prayer, or ejaculation: Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux. The five letters making the breadth of St. Benedict's Cross are N.D.S.M.D.; Non Demon Sit Mihi Dux. The oldest manuscript has "demon" and might be literally translated "Let not the demon be my guide." The manuscript of the year 1415 has, instead of "devil", or "demon", a monster with wings of a "dragon." In the latter case the translation would be: "Let not the dragon by my guide."
The fourteen letters around the Cross, making its border are V.R.S.N.S.M.V.; S.M.Q.L.I.V.B. They come from a Leonine Poem and represent only three of its sixteen verses. The initials stand for the verses:
Vade retro Satana;
Nunquam suade mihi vana.
Sunt mala quae libas;
Ipse venana bibas!
In English: "Begone Satan! Suggest not to me vain things. The cup you offer me is evil, drink the poison yourself!"3 These or similar words are supposed to come forth from St. Benedict's lips: the words of the first verse, apply to the temptation that visited him at his cave and over which he triumphed by the Sign of the Cross. The words of the second verse refer to the occasion when his enemies presented him the beverage of death, which he discovered by making the Sign of life over the cup that contained the poison.
3 Veth, Martin, OSB, The Medal or Cross of St. Benedict, p. 22.
Table of Contents
OSB Index |
Saint John's Abbey