Benedict and Scholastica

Today is the feast of St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict. St. Gregory the Great tells this story:

She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life”. “Sister”, he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell”.

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well”, she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery”.

Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.

Western monasticism was basically formed by Benedict. Unlike Eastern monasticism, it is less extreme, Benedict’s Rule is full of moderate, common sense, to help ordinary Christians lead a life dedicated to work and prayer.

The balance and moderation is partly due to Benedict’s Roman character. But it was also due to his having a twin sister. They grew in the womb together, and nursed together. Benedict always had an intimate and affectionate relationship with a woman, but a relationship which was totally non-sexual. This, I think, gave him a more stable personality than many of the Eastern founders of monasticism who had spectacular temptations against chastity. Benedict’s stability of personality was reflected in his Rule, and that Rule has had profound influence on the character of Western civilization.

We therefore owe much that is moderate and wholesome in our culture to St. Scholastica, who, it will be noted, had a mind of her own and did not meekly accede to Benedict’s decision to leave.

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