The Temptation of Saint Benedict,
Painted by Alessandro Allori (1535–1607),
Painted in 1587,
Oil on canvas
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 

The Temptation of Saint Benedict,
Painted by Alessandro Allori (1535–1607),
Painted in 1587,
Oil on canvas
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 

Gospel of 11 July 2024

Feast of Saint Benedict

Matthew 19:27-29

Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘What about us?’ he said. ‘We have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you solemnly, when all is made new and the Son of Man sits on his throne of glory, you will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.’

Reflection on the Painting

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Benedict. He was born circa 480 AD to a wealthy family in the region of Umbria in Italy. After a young life of privilege, he met a monk called Romanus of Subiaco (died ca. 550 AD), who convinced him to change his ways and to live alone in a cave near Subiaco for three years, in order to demonstrate his commitment to his Christian faith. Romanus checked in on the young Benedict on a regular basis and, when the three years were served, Benedict was given the call to become abbot for fifteen monks who already lived in a monastery nearby. Benedict assumed control of the monastery and insisted that his monks follow the strictest manner of worship and mission. Some of the monks became seriously upset with all his demands and out of the disillusionment came a conspiracy to kill Benedict by poisoning his wine. As he blessed his wine cup, it shattered, saving his life.

In his classic Second Book of Dialogues, Pope Gregory the Great describes Saint Benedict as a hero and great saint, casting him predominantly in the role of miracle worker. There we find a passage which describes what is depicted in our painting:

"One day, while the saint was alone, the Tempter came in the form of a little blackbird, which began to flutter in front of his face. It kept so close that he could easily have caught it in his hand. Instead, he made the sign of the cross and the bird flew away. The moment it left, he was seized with an unusually violent temptation. The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away. Almost overcome in the struggle, he was on the point of abandoning the lonely wilderness, when suddenly with the help of God’s grace he came to himself.

He then noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him. Throwing his garment aside he flung himself into the sharp thorns and stinging nettles. There he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood. Yet, once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain the poison of temptation from his body. Before long, the pain that was burning his whole body had put out the fires of evil in his heart. It was by exchanging these two fires that he gained the victory over sin. "

In our painting we see the devil fleeing away in the distance, whilst the cross on the altar is standing tall. Benedict is seen reading the Bible as he rolls in the stinging nettles.

Saint Benedict. Pray for us.

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Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
10 days ago

The best homily I’ve ever heard was in the Cathedral in Quimper, one Easter. It was beautifully composed, and delivered with clarity and fervour. But no one denomination has the monopoly on excellence, or its opposite. Whereas one can forget something said over ten minutes +, a single sentence can strike home.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
10 days ago

There is a lot of skill in today’s painting, but it misses the mark. Benedict is faintly repulsive, with his odd position & glowing skin. And reading the Bible, with adjacent skull – I feel like saying, “come on, man, concentrate on the pain and discomfort”, instead of appearing to be on a rather bizarre picnic. The idealised city to the left, the life of which he has rejected, is pretty in pale colours, with the rushing waters of a weir bottom left. The right side of the picture is rather dark to see much detail, but the fleeing figure is dressed in yellow, often the colour of prostitution in 16C, and to the right there appears to be a bloodied figure on the ground, is this Christ or St. Benedict?
St. Peter’s “what about us” is often our “go to” feeling. I’ve just watched a Spanish priest giving a short homily on the subject. He said to stop grumbling and grasp Jesus’ hand, because He will always be with you in the boat of your life. I’d add “frail” to the word boat. He used a verb for grasp which was very familiar to me, in a totally different context, in Spain. So do our lives gradually knot together diverse and seemingly unimportant strands, increasing our understanding in tiny increments. Thanks be to God. (I wasn’t going to post today!)

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
10 days ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

Wowwww but I’m glad you did Noelle
So many handles … but can I grab one:
“I feel like saying, “come on, man, concentrate on the pain and discomfort”, instead of appearing to be on a rather bizarre picnic. ”

I’m off to offer Mass for the odd 150+ casualties of “Seymour Narrows”‘s -“deadly currents “, that I passed through last week, (I noted in a post last week I think..?) … on top of “Ripple Rock” – which over looks the narrows …not unlike the ‘over-look’ of our painting today; … we even have a profusion of very brutal, thickly barry laden ‘briers’ in this part of the world (lol).

As a Religious, St Benedict’s rule is the bedrock of my own rule. I’d not heard the story Fr. P relates today in such detail before. And … it has me ‘feeling like saying, ” Come on man, REALLY!? Supplementing /‘sublementing’ pain for Temptation???? Hmmmm never worked for me! if anything such, misplaced asceticism, often just exacerbates self-indulgence. of ‘self-pitifulness'”

Instead I like, at the least, the ‘bible-default’. But better: I am always amazed at how the ‘temptation that God allows’ is so tailored for my learning how to, ‘deny self the more for the sake of increasing in Love of Christ’ – true Christo-Asceticism.

Truly, ‘life is no picnic’. Rather it’s a hazardous adventure – that none of us escapes unscathed – a means that we navigate, to reach ‘Holiness’ as our true end.

I believe my mentor’s real assent, and trial by temptation, was to increase his intercessory wisdom and power of wisdom, for the multiple generations of Consecrated pilgrims to come – till the worlds end for that matter. I believe the lives of the casualties, who I’ll be offering the Holy Mass for, died likewise to fulfill their destiny… that with a prayer, makes sense and good use of all the ‘sin, suffering and death’ that their lives encountered, for the Greater Glory of God.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
11 days ago

Not keen on today’s painting.
Poor ol’ Benedict’s body looks a bit ‘wrong’…. mind you, to inform you, the act of rolling near naked in nettles isn’t a circumstance you’d come across every day…

Thimas@
Member
Thimas@
11 days ago

Well Benedict certainly left everything to follow the promise of Jesus in this gospel as reported by Matthew.. I’m not sure what sort of world Jesus envisaged.

Monica Doyle
Member
Monica Doyle
11 days ago

I don’t know any Benedictines but they go way back! Didn’t he have a sister Scholastica ? Didn’t he visit her before one of them passed away? I digress. Echoes of St. Francis and the rose garden of Assisi that he also threw himself into….sounds tortuous but they get it out of their system… that little devil in the painting scarpers off into the distance..During the times when i cry, “Lord, what about me?”..Let me just for one minute sit and be with you instead🙏🌻

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
11 days ago
Reply to  Monica Doyle

We have friends who live near Worth Abbey (Benedictines) and belong to the Third Order there (E Sussex) so we have been there a few times. The whole place is very vibrant.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
10 days ago

The series on Worth, with Father Jamieson, was good. Ditto his books.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
11 days ago

St Benedict; the founder of Western Monasticism. My son was educated by Benedictine monks and it was agreat privilege to attend their offices in the abbey church. I think it a hard life to spend so much of your day praying – ora et labora.

We should be grateful to the monks who keep all of us in their prayers. St Benedict please look down on us as we struggle through life in our petty, everyday way.

Saint Benedict, help us to achieve ultimate holiness and come into God’s presence at the last. Amen.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
11 days ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

I find those who’ve been educated by Benedictines think there’s nobody to touch them. I know one such who regularly travels miles to hear a Benedictine homily!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
11 days ago

They usually put some effort in!

Who thinks the standard of homilies in Catholic churches is pretty poor generally!? Whenever I have attended a CofE service the standard is usually a lot better…..

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
11 days ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Morning Chazbo.
Hmm. I’d say it’s more to do with the individual than the denomination.
However, we do expect our pastors to tick every one of our boxes – but they’re only human, with variable qualities and deficiencies.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
10 days ago

They are only human. That is true…

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