HISTORY OF MONASTIC CONGREGATIONS

The Benedictine Confederation

 

Today, all Benedictine monasteries are united in a group called the Benedictine Confederation, headed by a Primate Abbot living in Rome. This organization is relatively new; it is due to Pope Leo XIII and dates from 1893.
 Originally, Saint Benedict had not planned a structured organization between the monasteries; each lived in complete autonomy under the watchful eye of the local bishop. For various reasons, over the centuries, some have grouped either because they were geographically close, or because they came from each other and had common observances, or for other reasons. Thus in the ninth century, under the aegis of the Carolingian monarchs and Benedict of Aniane, monasteries realized between them a certain union having uniform uses. A century later many monasteries were grouped under the aegis of that of Cluny; this group prefigured the real regular "Orders".
In the twelfth century, under the impetus of Saint Bernard, the Cistercian monks had formed into a real structured and hierarchically organized Order; Seeing the interest of such a group, some Benedictines tried, on their example, to associate themselves also by regions. But the movement was far from being general. To revive it, Pope Benedict XII tried in the fourteenth century to apply to all Benedictines principles of unification and centralization. But he only partially succeeds. Some abbeys, however, were grouped by country and formed congregations of a national character. This was how the English, Italian, Hungarian and other congregations were born. They subsisted vale through the political hazards.
Pope Leo XIII, concerned with unity, decided to federate these congregations into a single body: he decreed in 1893 the creation of the "Benedictine Confederation". However, the Congregations, jealous of their privileges and their tradition, kept their own structure and their internal organization. Thus some preached the temporary abbatiate while others maintained the abbatial life; in one congregation there was only one novitiate for all the monasteries, and in another there were as many novitiates as there were monasteries; for such a congregation the parish ministry was generalized and for others it was exceptional; the missionary apostolate was proper to one congregation while it was categorically excluded in another, etc. Each of them thus kept his rights and his specificity. In short, each Benedictine congregation (today there are 20) was organized as an independent religious order with its own governing bodies: its Superior General (Abbot-President or Abbot General or Arch-Abbot as appropriate), his General Chapter (supreme legislative body), its own Constitutions etc.
 
Congregations are of various sizes. Some include more than a thousand monks, others only a hundred. The same disparity exists in the number of monasteries: the Hungarian congregation has only one great abbey in Hungary and another recently created in Brazil; On the other hand, Subiaco's congregation is widespread in several European countries, in Africa, in the Philippines and in Vietnam, to the extent that it is divided in several provinces. Some congregations have several centuries of history, such as the Vallombrosa or Camaldoli congregations, others are recent, such as the Cono-Sur congregation (Latin America) created in 1976.
 Although the Benedictine Congregations are distinct from each other in structure and activity, they are all deeply animated by the Benedictine spirit, intending to actualize what Benedict proposes in his Rule. There is enough in common between them to be able to bring them together into a Benedictine "family". At the head of the Benedictine Confederation there is a Abbot-Primate, elected at fixed term by all the superiors; he resides at the Abbey of St. Anselm in Rome and represents the Confederation with the Holy See.
 
Here is the list of Confederate Benedictine Congregations
1) Cassinian Congregation from the ancient congregation of St. Justine founded in 1408. This congregation was incorporated into the congregation of Subiaco on February 7, 2013. The congregation of Subiaco becomes the Subiaco-Cassinese congregation. 
2) English Congregation , founded in 1336 and restored in 1619. 
3) Hungarian Congregation, founded in 1514 and restored in 1639. 
4) Swiss Congregation, founded in 1602. 
5) Austrian Congregation, erected in 1625. 
6) Bavarian Congregation, founded in 1684. 
7) Brazilian Congregation, resulting from the Portuguese Congregation and instituted in 1827. 
8) Congregation of Solesmes , erected in 1837. 
9) American-Cassinian Congregation, erected in 1855.
10) Congregation of Subiaco , erected in 1872, divided into 9 geographical provinces. Following the incorporation of the Cassinese congregation in February 2013, the congregation of Subiaco is called Subiaco-Cassinaise. 
11) Congregation of Beuron , erected in 1873. 
12) Swiss-American Congregation, erected in 1881. 
13) St. Ottilian Congregation , founded in 1884. 
14) Congregation of the Annunciation, founded in 1920. 
15) Slav Congregation, erected in 1945. 
16) Congregation of Mont-Olivet , founded in 1319. 
17) Congregation of Vallombrosa , founded in 1036. 
18) Congregation of Camaldoli, built in 1113. 
19) Congregation of Silvestrins , founded in 1231. 
20) Congregation Cono-Sur , erected in 1976.
21) Benedictine Secular Order of the Missionaries of Charity, depend directly on the Abbot Primate.
Some monasteries, outside the congregation, depend directly on the Abbot Primate.

Copyright 2013 © The Benedictine Secular Order of the Missionaries of Charity Order.