The men and women religious who follow the Rule of St. Benedict (480-547). Founded about 529 at Monte Cassino, some eighty miles south of Rome, the Benedictine Order early included both monks and nuns. The latter were separately established by St. Benedict with the help of his sister, St. Scholastica (480-543). Originally each monastery was an independent and self-sustaining unit, and this principle remains substantially in effect to the present day.
It is customary to distinguish four stages in the history of the Benedictines: 1. from St. Benedict to St. Gregory the Great who died in A.D. 604. The latter as monk who became pope extended the Benedictine ideal into other countries and through his Dialogues developed the ascetical principles of the founder; 2. from the sixth century to the foundation of the Cistercians at Cîteaux, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) began a form of Benedictinism that was more austere; 3. from Cîteaux to the Council of Trent. During this period a grouping of monasteries and a development of the monastic way of life took place, affecting the whole of Western Europe. There was also decadence due to the inroads of the pagan renaissance; 4. from Trent to the Second Vatican Council. The Council of Trent passed decrees regulating monastic life, e.g., election of superiors, administration of property, prescriptions on poverty and common life. These had the salutary effect of joining autonomous monasteries into confederations and thus giving the Benedictine way of life a co-ordinated unity that St. Benedict assumed was necessary to grow in sanctity and the love of God.