Gerald Malsbary translates Fr. Adalbert de Vogue’s book Saint Benoit: L’homme et l’oeuvre, published in France in 2001, into English for St. Bede’s Publications. Fr. Adalbert is a Benedictine monk of Pierre-qui-Vire Abbey in France, the motherhouse of the reviewer’s own monastery, St. Gregory’s Abbey.
A renowned monastic scholar, Fr. Adalbert has taught at the Benedictine international university of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. His book examines the two major sources for the life of St. Benedict, who is known as the Patriarch of Western Monasticism: the Life of St. Benedict, which is in the Second Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604 and the first monk to attain the position); the second source is St. Benedict’s own Rule, written in the sixth century.
Fr. Adalbert’s examinations are really commentaries on these two sources which he is Eminently qualified to present commentaries on these two sources, Fr. Adalbert explains that the St. Gregory the Great’s Life of Benedict was not intended to be a biography as we know it today. St. Gregory sought not only to teach about the saint but also about how Christians should live using hagiography, employing scripture stories as a basis for his stories of St. Benedict.
St. Gregory had four living sources who were monks under St. Benedict, giving him access to a pretty accurate record of the events of St. Benedict’s life. He wanted to do more with that by showing how great a saint Benedict was or is. There are many miracle stories, and Fr. Adalbert explains their background. He also shows how St. Gregory used different devices such as numbers and the manner in which he arranged the story - having three miracle stories, a story of a teaching, then three more miracle stories. The audience of St. Gregory’s day would understand that he was emphasizing a focal point to which the reader or listener should pay attention.
The Second Dialogue is the longest of St. Gregory’s Dialogues, in which Gregory discusses various Italian saints with his deacon, Peter. He shows that miracles and saints existed even in their time long after the days of Jesus and the Apostles.
Fr. Adalbert’s second examination is on the Rule of Saint Benedict. St. Gregory says in the conclusion of his biography on St. Benedict that the man could not have been different from his own Rule, making it another source about him.
The Rule was not a totally original work of St. Benedict. Fr. Adalbert discusses how St. Benedict used various rules that already existed, the Rule of St. Pachomius, the Rule of St. Augustine, and the Rule of St. Basil the Great, among others. He also employed material from John Cassian’s works, The Institutes, The Conferences, and other additional rules and monastic works. A major source for St. Benedict is what is called the Rule of the Master, on which Fr. Adalbert is a major expert; another important source was the Scriptures – the Rule of Benedict is full of Scriptural quotes and allusions.
Fr. Adalbert compares the Rule of the Master (RM) and the Rule of St. Benedict (RB), pointing out which parts Benedict copied directly from the RM and those parts that he got elsewhere. He also shows what aspects in the Rule are St. Benedict’s own creations. Many times St. Benedict would tone down or moderate what the RM had prescribed.
Fr. Adalbert’s book is a great introduction into the life of St. Benedict from the two oldest sources on him. This is also a great introduction into the saint Pope Benedict XVI chose as his papal name. This book is highly recommended to those interested in St. Benedict, monasticism, and monastic history.
Fr. Adalbert de Vogue has many books and articles with most in French, but many have been translated into English. Some of these books are: To Desire Eternal Life (2002), Reading St. Benedict (1994), Life of St. Benedict (1993), Rule of St. Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary (1983), the two-volume set of Community and Abbot In the Rule of St. Benedict (1978-79), and many articles.