Monte Cassino
Saint Andrew’s Monastery

Taught metallurgy, introduced new crops, copied ancient texts, preserved literacy, pioneered in technology especially in water power, invented champagne, improved the European landscape (drained marshes and cleared forests), provided for wanderers, and looked after the lost and shipwrecked. preserved law. encouraged a love of books, literacy, and study. maintained the distinction between human and divine, studied medicine

Psalm 69: Oh God, come to my assistance

“converted the wilderness into a cultivated country; they pursued the breeding of cattle and agriculture, labored with their own hands, drained morasses, and cleared away forests. By them Germany was rendered a fruitful country.” Henry Goodell, president of what was then the Massachusetts Agricultural College

Another historian records that “every Benedictine monastery was an agricultural college for the whole region in which it was located.”8

they managed to dike and drain the swamp and turn what had once been a source of disease and filth into fertile agricultural land

they chose the most secluded and inaccessible sites to reinforce the communal solitude of their life and partly because this was land that lay donors could more easily give the monks.11 Although they cleared forests that stood in the way of human habitation and use, they were also careful to plant trees and conserve forests when possible.

a labyrinth of black, wandering streams; broad lagoons, morasses submerged every spring-tide; vast beds of reed and sedge and fern; vast copses of willow, alder and gray poplar, rooted in the floating peat, which was swallowing up slowly, all-devouring, yet all-preserving, the
forests of fir and oak, ash and poplar, hazel and yew, which had once grown in that low, rank soil. Trees torn down by flood and storm floated and lodged in rafts, damming the waters back upon the land. Streams bewildered in the forests changed their channels, mingling silt and sand with the black soil of the peat. Nature left to herself ran into wild riot and chaos more and more, till the whole fen became one dismal swamp.

High ranking monks could be found in the fields just as easily as in the scriptorium.

The monks used waterpower for crushing wheat,
sieving flour, fulling cloth, and tanning

Wherever they went, the monks introduced crops, industries, or
production methods with which the people had not been previously
familiar. Here they would introduce the rearing of cattle and
horses, there the brewing of beer or the raising of bees or fruit. In
Sweden, the corn trade owed its existence to the monks; in Parma,
it was cheese making; in Ireland, salmon fisheries—and, in a great
many places, the finest vineyards. Monks stored up the waters from
springs in order to distribute them in times of drought. In fact, it
was the monks of the monasteries of Saint Laurent and Saint Martin
who, spying the waters of springs that were distributing themselves
uselessly over the meadows of Saint Gervais and Belleville,
directed them to Paris. In Lombardy, the peasants learned irrigation
from the monks, which contributed mightily to making that
area so well known throughout Europe for its fertility and riches.
The monks were also the first to work toward improving cattle
breeds, rather than leaving the process to chance.

the stream
first hurls itself impetuously at the mill where in a welter of movement
it strains itself, first to crush the wheat beneath the weight
34 How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
of the millstones, then to shake the fine sieve which separates
flour from bran. Already it has reached the next building; it
replenishes the vats and surrenders itself to the flames which heat
it up to prepare beer for the monks, their liquor when the vines
reward the wine-growers’ toil with a barren crop. The stream
does not yet consider itself discharged.The fullers established
near the mill beckon to it. In the mill it had been occupied in
preparing food for the brethren; it is therefore only right that it
should now look to their clothing. It never shrinks back or refuses
to do anything that is asked for. One by one it lifts and drops the
heavy pestles, the fullers’ great wooden hammers . . . and spares,
thus, the monks’ great fatigues. . . . How many horses would be
worn out, how many men would have weary arms if this graceful
river, to whom we owe our clothes and food, did not labor for us.
When it has spun the shaft as fast as any wheel can move, it disappears
in a foaming frenzy; one might say it had itself been
ground in the mill. Leaving it here it enters the tannery, where in
preparing the leather for the shoes of the monks it exercises as
much exertion as diligence; then it dissolves in a host of streamlets
and proceeds along its appointed course to the duties laid down
for it, looking out all the time for affairs requiring its attention
whatever they might be, such as cooking, sieving, turning, grinding,
watering, or washing, never refusing its assistance in any task.

Forges for extracting iron, with slag from furnaces used as fertilizer

One episode includes a 600 ft glide in a glider.


“All guests who come shall be received as
though they were Christ.”

the door of the monastery is always open to all, and
that its bread is free to the whole world.”


the building or repair of bridges, roads, and other such features
of the medieval infrastructure.

copying of manuscripts

Relief from the Barbarian invasions of the early middle ages
Rescued Christian and pre-christian literature
Condemned slavery since 1435
Spread agricultural and animal husbandry knowledge
Started and protected universities
Sponsored and supported science and medicine
Created International Law theory
Developed and sponsored modern economic theory
Invented charity as we know it
Codified, expanded, and improved Western Law
Developed Western Morality/just war theory
Sponsored and influenced music, art and architecture
Developed the concept of inalienable rights
Teachers of the Noble’s children

doctors of the church whom Cassiodorus esteemed most highly: Hilary of Poitiers, Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and his own contemporaries, Eugippius and Dionysius

elementary guidebooks (Augustine, Tyconius, Adrian, Eucherius, and Junillus

The Desert ascetics of Egypt followed a three-step path to mysticism: Purgatio, Illuminatio, and Unitio. These stages correspond to the purgative way found in later Catholic theology.

During the first level, Purgatio (in Greek, Catharsis), young monks struggled through prayer and ascetic practices to gain control of “the flesh”—specifically by purging their gluttony, their lust and their desire for possessions. This period of purgation, which often took many years, was intended to teach young monks that whatever strength they had to resist these desires (grace) came directly from the Holy Spirit. As the monks underwent this stage of their spiritual education, they identified with Christ’s temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), so that by the end of the Purgatio, they could trust peacefully in the Lord for all their needs.

At this point, the Illuminatio (theoria in Greek) commenced. During this period the monks practiced the paths to holiness as revealed in the Gospel, identifying strongly with the Christ who taught the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5–7). Many monks took in visitors and students and tended the poor as much as their resources allowed. The monks continued their life of humility in the Spirit of God; the stoic acceptance of suffering was intended to make them capable of taking on heroic or difficult responsibilities for the local Christian community. Many monks died never having moved past this period.

The final stage was the Unitio (theosis in Greek), a period in which the soul of the monk was meant to bond with the Spirit of God in a union often described as the marriage of the Song of Solomon (also called the “Song of Songs” or the “Canticle of Canticles”). To find the solitude and peace that this level of mystical awareness demanded, elderly monks often fled into the deep desert or into remote forests, identifying with the transfigured Christ, who remained hidden from his disciples both during his life and often after his resurrection.


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