26 July 2009

St Benedict on Mt Athos

A few years ago, I came across an interesting pamphlet by a Fr Aidan Keller called Amalfion: Western Rite Monastery on Mt Athos (Austin: St Hilarion, 1994-2002—available in pdf form here), on the mediæval Athonite monastery known as Amalfion—an anomalous monastery of Italian monks on the Holy Mountain that used the Western rite and followed the Rule of St Benedict. One of the most fascinating parts to me was Fr Keller’s reference to a story in Book II, chapters 12 and 22 of the Chronica Monasterii Casinensis of Leo Marsicanus of Ostia, an 11th/12th-c. monk of Monte Cassino and later cardinal. Unfortunately, although he summarises a couple of passages from Leo’s Chronicle (whether directly or indirectly, I’m not sure), Fr Keller doesn’t provide specific citation information for a person who wants to do any further digging. Yours truly, however, had the remarkable good fortune to discover Migne’s text of the Chronicle (PL 173, 439–990B) in a pdf from Documenta Catholica Omnia here, as well as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica edition here. Although my Latin is extremely poor and I don’t think it sufficient to bother with attempting a translation, I was able to locate the passages Fr Keller has summarised in both editions of the text. So below I give the summary from the pamphlet along with the page numbers and PL column numbers of the corresponding passage in the Chronicle:

PL 173, 597B-598A (p. 53 of the DCO pdf; p. 190 of the MGH ed.)

Leo of Ostia’s Cassinese Chronicle sheds some light upon Amalfion, indirectly, in one engaging narrative. We are told that in 986 there occurred a scandal: the 28th Abbot of Monte Cassino in Italy was intruded by an act of nepotism, without the election by the monks which the Rule of St Benedict requires. His name was Manso, a kinsman to the powerful Capuan Duke Pandulf (note: Leo, the Founder of Amalfion, was Duke Pandulf’s own brother). Abbot Manso gave further scandal by his loose living, whereat a number of monks departed from Cassino—including a John of Benevento, a Theobald, a Liutius, and five other monks whose names are not recorded. The first three went to Jerusalem, the other five into ‘Lombardy’ (probably Calabria). (Fr Keller, p. 6)

PL 173, 607C-608B (starting on p. 56 of the DCO pdf; p. 206 of the MGH)

John of Benevento later made his way from Jerusalem to Sinai, dwelt there for six years, then set his face towards Greece, sojourning ‘upon the mountain which is called Agionoros’ [approx. 993], where he dwelt at Amalfion, among his countrymen. And there it was that St Benedict appeared to him in sleep, ordering him to return to Monte Cassino to be elected abbot. He did return, and—Manso having died in 997—he was chosen to be John III, 29th Abbot of Monte Cassino. (Fr Keller, pp. 6-7)

I for one thought it wonderful to discover that St Benedict had appeared on the Holy Mountain, thus establishing a link between himself, his monastic foundation at Monte Cassino, and the great bastion of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, Mount Athos (a link suggested by the Athonite fresco of St Benedict above). Furthermore, it is interesting to see how readily a ninth-c. monk of Monte Cassino sought refuge in the ‘Eastern’ monasteries of the Holy Land.

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