Monks living under the Rule of St. Benedict* (of Nursia). The original foundation was at Subiaco, but shortly afterwards Benedict founded twelve monasteries with twelve monks each. It is believed that the third abbot of Monte Cassino began to spread knowledge of the Rule beyond the circle of Benedict's own foundations. The Rule developed by Benedict became the “constitution” for the order. Each monastery was to be economically self-supporting. There is no general or common superior over the whole order other than the pope himself, and the order consists of “congregations,” each of which is autonomous, united only by the spiritual bond of allegiance to the same Rule, which may be modified according to the circumstances of each particular congregation. Each monastery was to have an abbot elected for life and other officers elected for limited terms. The vow taken by each monk emphasized perpetuity, poverty, chastity, and especially obedience to the abbot. Those who were admitted were novitiates for one year. Monks were expelled for serious offenses and though a penitent monk might be restored twice, he was permanently expelled for a third offense.

Pope Gregory the Great,* himself a Benedictine, encouraged the movement which gradually spread throughout Western Christendom. Augustine and his forty monks came from the Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew in Rome and established the first English Benedictine monastery at Canterbury soon after their arrival in 597. Various reform movements arose because of the abuses which had crept into the order. The first attempt to confederate the monastic houses of a single kingdom was made in the ninth century by Benedict of Aniane* under the auspices of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. The most noteworthy reform movements were those of Cluny (910), which by the twelfth century had become a center and head of an order embracing some 314 monasteries in all parts of Europe. The Benedictine Order became noted for its literary achievements, e.g., the works of Bede,* and helped to preserve learning through the Middle Ages.