The Benedictine tradition traces its roots back fifteen hundred years to the Rule written by Benedict of Norcia (c. 480-543/547). Essentially a guide for seeking God, The Rule of Benedict "is so adaptable and highly revered that it has provided the basis for almost all subsequent rules of most of the founders of religious orders..." Benedictine Men and Women of Courage: Roots and History presents an in depth history of Benedictines from its beginnings to the present day. In this weighty tome, Ann Kessler, O.S.B. and Neville Ann Kelly render an account of "the contradictory alterations of transforming wisdom and devastating folly" that mark Benedictine history.
The reader comes to know the major figures, male and female, that have shaped the development of the Benedictines. Kessler does not minimize their very human qualities. Rather she presents them as complex humans with both virtues and foibles, moments of unity and of dissension. Not only are there internal struggles over the centuries, but the monasteries are also subject to the fluctuation of the political tides, both within the Church and within the various countries where they are located. Yet this Rule continues to guide monks, nuns, oblates, and others around the world despite its periods of "change, adaptation, decline, restoration and renewal" across the centuries.
This book serves an important function in putting together in one place a comprehensive history of the Benedictine. Over the years many accounts have failed to include the influence of the numerous women and their monasteries that are part of the Benedictine story. This history remedies that problem. In addition the author provides extensive endnotes and bibliography for further research.
Having had the opportunity to live in Benedictine monasteries in Peru and the United States, I was fascinated to learn more about individuals I had heard mentioned and about their influence, as well as gain a more comprehensive understanding of the trajectory of their history. The book is highly readable. I would caution, though, that it is not for the casual reader, but serves as a valuable resource for scholars and anyone with a deep interest in Benedictine history.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Ann Kessler, O.S.B., holds a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. A member of the Order of Saint Benedict at Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, South Dakota, she has written, taught, and lectured on Benedictine history widely. Read more on the book website.
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