March 22, 2020

Saint Benedict and the Sign of the Holy Cross

By St. Gregory Dialogos, Pope of Rome

(Dialogues, Bk.2)

Not far from the place where [Benedict] lived there was a monastery, where the Abbot had died. The whole monastery came to the venerable man Benedict, entreating him very earnestly that he would accept to take upon himself the charge and government of their monastery. For a long time he denied them, saying that their manners were different from his, and therefore that they would never agree with each other; yet in time, overcome with their entreaty, he gave his consent.

Having now taken on himself the charge of the monastery, he ordered that a common life should be observed, so that none of them could, as before they did, through unlawful acts decline from the path of holy conduct, either on the one side or on the other. Observing this change, the monks fell into a great rage, accusing themselves for ever desiring him to be their Abbot, for their crooked conditions could not endure his virtuous kind of life. Therefore, when they saw that under him they could not live in lawlessness, and were loath to leave their former conduct, and found it hard to be enforced with old minds to meditate and think on new things, and because the life of virtuous men is always grievous to those that be of wicked conditions, some of them began to devise how they might rid him out of the way.

Taking counsel together, they agreed to poison his wine: which being done, and the glass wherein that wine was, according to the custom, offered to the Abbot to bless, he, putting forth his hand, made the sign of the cross, and straightway the glass, that was held far off, broke in pieces, as though the sign of the cross had been a stone thrown against it. On which accident the man of God perceived that the glass had in it the drink of death, which could not endure the sign of life. Rising up, with a mild countenance and quiet mind, he called the monks together, and spoke thus to them:

"Almighty God have mercy on you, and forgive you. Why have you used me in this manner? Did not I tell you beforehand, that our manner of living could never agree together? Go your ways, and seek out some other father suitable to your own conditions, for I intend to not stay any longer among you."

When he had thus discharged himself, he returned to the wilderness which he so much loved, and dwelt alone with himself, in the sight of his Creator, who beholds the hearts of all men.