Saint Benedict Medal
"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Christ"
Origin, Meaning and Privileges
There is a great wish on the part of many Catholics to have clear ideas regarding the celebrated medal, which goes under the name of the great Patriarch of the Monks of the West. It is true that several notices, some more, some less correct, have been already published; but not one of them-so it seems to us-having fully satisfied the wishes of the faithful, we thought it would be well to offer to their devotion a more complete explanation of an object, which has become so dear to them. That there may be order in what we are going to say about it, we will begin with the description of the medal.
A Christian needs but reflect for a moment on the sovereign virtue of the cross of Jesus Christ, in order to understand how worthy of respect a medal is on which it is represented. The cross was the instrument of the world's redemption; it is the saving tree whereon was expiated the sin committed by man, when he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. St. Paul tells us that the sentence of our condemnation was fastened to the cross, and blotted out by the blood of our Redeemer. In a word, the cross, which the Church, salutes as our only hope, "Spec Unica," is to appear at the last day in the clouds of heaven as the trophy of the victory of the Man-God.
The image of the cross excites in our minds the liveliest sentiments of gratitude towards God for the benefit of our salvation. After the Blessed Sacrament, there is nothing on earth so deserving our respect as the cross; and it is for this reason that we pay it a worship of adoration which is referred to God, whose precious blood was split upon it.
Animated by sentiments of the purest religion, the primitive Christians had, from the very beginning of the Church, the profoundest veneration for the image of the cross, and the Fathers seem never to tire in the praises they give to this august sign. When, after three hundred years of persecution, God had decreed to give peace to His Church, there appeared in the heavens a cross, on which were these words, "In this sign shalt thou conquer," and the Emperor Constantine, to whom was granted this vision, promising him victory over his enemies, would henceforth have his army go to battle under a standard bearing the image of the cross with the monogram of the word "Christ." This standard was called the Labarum.
The cross is an object of terror to the evil spirits; they ever crouch in terror before it; they no sooner see it than they let go their prey and take to flight. In a word, of such importance to Christians is the cross and the blessing it brings along with it, that from the times of the Apostles, down to our own age, the faithful have ever been accustomed frequently to make the sign of the cross upon themselves, and the priests of the Church have constantly used it over all the objects which, in virtue of their sacerdotal character, they have the power to bless and sanctify.
Our medal, therefore, which firstly offers to us the figure of the cross, is in strict accordance with Christian piety, and worthy, even were there no other motive than this, of all possible veneration.
The Letters on the Medal
Besides the two figures of the cross and of St. Benedict, there are also inscribed on the medal a certain number of letters, each of which is the initial of a Latin word. These words compose one or two sentences, which explain the medal and its object. They express the relation existing between the holy Patriarch of the Monks of the West and the sacred sign of the salvation of mankind, at the same time that they offer the faithful a formula, which they may make use of, for employing the virtue of the Holy Cross against the evil spirits.
These mysterious letters are arranged on that side of the medal on which the cross is. Let us begin by noticing the four which are placed in the angles formed by the arms of the cross.
Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti
The Cross of Holy Father Benedict
These words explain the nature of the medal.
On the perpendicular line of the cross itself are these letters.
Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux
May the Holy Cross be my Light
On the horizontal line of the cross are these letters:
N. D. S. M. D.
Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux
Let not the Dragon be my Guide
These two lines put together form a pentameter verse, containing the Christian's protestation that he confides in the Holy Cross, and refuses to bear the yoke which the devil would put upon him.
On the rim of the medal there are inscribed several other letters; and first the well-known monogram of the Holy Name of Jesus,
I. H. S.
Faith and our own experience convince us of the all-powerfulness of this Divine name. Then follow, beginning at the right hand the following letters:
V. R. S. N. S. M. V. S. .M. Q. L. I. V. B.
Vade retro, Santana; Nunquam suade mihi vana. Sunt Mala Quae Libas; Ipse Venena Bibas.
Begone, Satan! and suggest not to my thy vain things: the cup thou profferest me is evil; drink thou thy poison.
These words are supposed to be uttered by St. Benedict; those of the first verse when he was suffering the temptation in his cave, and which he overcame by the sign of the cross; and those of the second verse, at the moment of his enemies offering him the draught of death, which he discovered by his making over the poisoned cup the sign of life.
The Christian may make use of these same words as often as he finds himself tormented by the temptations and insults of the invisible enemy of our salvation. Our Savior sanctified the first of these words by Himself making use of them: "Begone, Satan!" Vade Retro, Santana. Their efficacy has thus been tested, and the very Gospel is the guarantee of their power. The vain things to which the devil incites us are disobedience to the law of God; they are also the pomps and false maxims of this world. The cup proffered us by this angel of darkness is evil, that is, sin, which brings death to the soul. Instead of receiving it at his hands, we ought to bid him keep it to himself, for it is the inheritance which he chose for himself.
The Christian who reads these pages needs not that we should enter into a long explanation of this formula, which meets the artifices and violence of Satan with what he most dreads, namely, the cross, the holy name of Jesus, our Savior's own words in his temptation, and lastly, the mention of the victories which the great Patriarch St. Benedict gained over the infernal dragon. We need only pronounce these words of the medal with faith, and we shall immediately feel ourselves strengthened and encouraged to resist all that hell can do against us. Even did we know none of the countless facts which show us how strangely Satan fears this medal, the mere knowledge of what it means and what it expresses would be sufficient to make us look upon it as one of the most powerful arms which the goodness of God has put into our hands against the malice of the devils.
Origin of the Medal of St. Benedict
It would be impossible to say at what precise period the faithful began to make use of the medal which we have just described; all we can do is state the circumstances which caused it to become so widely spread in the Church, and elicited for it the express approbation of the Holy See.
In the year 1647, at Nattremberg in Bavaria, certain witches, who were accused of having exercised their spells to the injury of the people of the neighborhood, were put into prison by the authorities. In the examination which they were put to at their trial, they confessed that their superstitious practices had never been able to produce any effect wherever there was an image of the Holy Cross, either hung up or hidden underground. They added that they had never been able to exercise any power over the monastery of Metten, and this circumstance had made them feel sure that the house was protected by the cross. The magistrates questioned the Benedictine monks of Metten upon this subject. Search was made in the monastery, and their attention was at length fixed upon several representations of the Holy Cross painted on the wall, and together with the cross were found the letters which we have been describing. These paintings were very ancient, but for years they had been passed by without notice. How, then, were the letters to be explained? No one in the house knew what they meant, and yet they alone could explain the reason of these crosses having been painted in this particular manner.
After many previous researches, they came to examine a manuscript belonging to the library of the monastery. It was an Evangeliarium or book of the Gospels, remarkable for its binding, which was inlaid with relics and precious stones. On the first page was written thirteen verses, telling the reader that this book was written and thus ornamented by order of Abbot Peter in the year 1415. At the end of this manuscript there was the book of Rabanus Mauarus, On the Cross, and several pen-and-ink drawings made by one of the monks of Metten, who had concealed his name. One of these drawings represented St. Benedict in a monk's cowl, and holding in his right hand a staff, the end of which was formed into a cross. On the staff was written this verse:
Crux Sacra Sit M. Lux. N. Draco Sit Michi Dux.
The holy Patriarch was holding in his left hand a banner on which were inscribed these two other lines:
Vade Retro Sathana Nuq. Suade M. Vana. Sunt Mala Que Libas Ipse Venena Bibas.
So that at the beginning of the fifteenth century, St. Benedict was represented holding a cross, and the verses the initials of which are now found on the medal, were known even at that time. These verses must have been at this period regarded as an object of special devotion, since the painting of the cross on the walls of the Metten monastery was encircles with their initial letters. At the same time, it is evident that the reason of these crosses having been placed on the walls had been lost sight of, and that the rich Evandeliarium, which we have just described from Dom Bernard Pez, had been almost forgotten, until an unexpected circumstance induced the monks to search i it or an explanation of the mysterious letters. We cannot be surprised at this carelessness, if we remember the vicissitudes through which the monasteries of Germany had passed for upwards of a century, owing to the religious and political disturbances, which had taken place in that country, and which had caused the suppression of so many of the monasteries, leaving the remainder in a wretched and precarious state.
But here the question presents itself. When was the practice first introduced of representing Saint Benedict with the Holy Cross? In answer, we may fairly quote, as some kind of origin to this practice, the very characteristic facts which we have already given from the Lives of SS. Placid and Maurus, those first founders of the traditions of the Benedictine Order. From these instances we learn how both of these saints performed their miracles by associating to the power of the Holy Cross, the merits of their master Saint Benedict. But we may also find a further clue to this question in the fact related in the Life of Pope Saint Leo IX, who governed the Church from 1049 to 1054.
This holy Pontiff was born in the year 1002. His name was Bruno, and during his childhood he was put under the care of Berthold, Bishop of Toul. Being on a visit to some relations at the castle of Eginshiem, he was sleeping one night - it was between Saturday and Sunday - in the room which had been allotted him. During hi sleep, a frightful toad came and crept on his face. It put one of its forefeet on his ear and the other under his chin, and then, violently pressing his face, began to suck his flesh. The pressure and pain awoke Bruno. Alarmed at the danger to which he was exposed, he immediately rose from his bed, and with his hand knocked away from his ear the horrid reptile, which the moonlight enabled him to see. He immediately began to scream with fright, and several servants were soon in his room with lights; but the venomous reptile had disappeared. They searched for it in every corner of the room, but to no purpose, so that they were inclined to look upon the whole matter as a mere imagination of the boy. Be this as it may, the consequences were cruel realities, for Bruno, immediately felt his face, throat and breast begin to be inflamed, and he was soon reduced to an extremely dangerous state.
For two months did his afflicted parents sit by his bedside, expecting every day to be his last. But at length, God, who destined him to become the pillar of his Church, put and end to their anxiety by restoring him to health. For eight days he had been speechless, when on a sudden
whilst perfectly awake, he saw a shining ladder which seemed to go from his bed, passing, through the window of his room reached up to heaven. A venerable old man, clothed in the monastic habit, and encircled with a brilliant light, descended by this ladder. He held in his right hand a cross, which was fastened to the end of a long staff. Coming close up to the sick man, he put his left hand on the ladder, and with his right placed the cross which he was carrying on Bruno's face, and afterwards on the other parts which were inflamed. This touch caused the venom to issue through and opening which was then and there formed near the ear. The old man then departed by the same way by which he had come, leaving the sick man with the certainty of his recovery.
Bruno lost no time in calling his attendant, Adalberon, who was a cleric: he made him sit on his bed, and related to him the joyful visit which he had just received. The sadness which had overwhelmed the family was changed into and extreme joy, and in a few days the wound was healed and Bruno restored to prefect health. Ever after he loved to recount this miraculous event, and the Archdeacon Wibert, to whom we are indebted for this history, assures us that the Pontiff was convinced that the venerable old man who had cured him by the touch of the Holy Cross, was the glorious Patriarch, St. Benedict.
Such are the facts as we find them related in the acts of St. Leo The Ninth, given by Dom Mabillon in his Sixth Benedictine Century. This history forces us to make two equally natural conjectures. First, the reason of Bruno's recognizing St. Benedict in the venerable figure which appeared to him with a cross in his hand, was because it was the custom of those times to represent the holy Legislator as bearing this sign of our redemption; and secondly, the event which we have here related having happened to a man whose influence in the Church was so great, and who entertained such warm gratitude towards the holy Patriarch who had healed by the cross, must have confirmed, and perhaps even originated in Germany more particularly, where St. Leo The Ninth passed the greater part of his life, the custom of making the cross and emblem of St. Benedict, since it was the instrument whereby he worked so many wonders. The manuscript of the Metten monastery is a monument which bears witness to such being the case, and the verses which surrounded the effigy of the holy Patriarch were not merely the manual labor of the anonymous writer, but a venerable formula, which was famous even then, since the initial letters of the verses were painted, in several parts of the monastery round the image of the cross, and this too so long before, that in the year 1647 the monks were not able to explain what the letters meant.
The affair of Nattremberg roused the devotion of the country towards St. Benedict and his cross. In order to secure the faithful protection granted by Heaven to those who venerate the sacred cross unitedly with the holy Patriarch of the Western Monks, certain pious persons began to multiply and distribute, wherever they could, the august symbols which are found on the medal. To the figure of the cross and the effigy of St. Benedict, they added the letters which had been explained by the Metten manuscript. From Germany, where the medal was first struck off, it was soon propagated into every part of Catholic Europe, and was looked upon by the faithful as a sure protection against the infernal spirits. St. Vincent of Paul, who died in 1660, seems to have known this medal, for his Sisters of Charity have always worn it attached to their beads, and for many years it was only made, at least in France, for them.
Of the use to be made of the medal of St. Benedict
After having described the medal of St. Benedict, and given its origin, we will now explain the use which is to be made of it and the advantages to be derived from it. We are aware that in this age of ours, when the devil is thought by many to be an imaginary rather than a real being, it will seem to be strange that a medal should be made and blessed, and used as a preservative against the power of the wicked spirit. And yet the Holy Scriptures give us abundant instructions upon the ever-busy power of the devils, as also upon the dangers to which we are exposed, both in soul and body, by the snares they set for us. The not believing in the existence of devils, or the ridiculing of the accounts which are told of their operations, is not enough to destroy their power, and, in spite of this incredulity, the air is filled with legions of these spirits of wickedness, as St. Paul teaches us .
Were it not that God protected us by them ministry of the holy angels, and this generally without our being aware of it, it would be impossible for us to escape the countless snares of these enemies of all God's creatures. But if there ever was a time when it would seem to be superfluous to prove this existence of wicked spirits, it is now, when we find reappearing amongst us those dangerous and sinful practices, which were used by the pagans of old, and now again by Christians, for the purpose of eliciting an answer from spirits, though these can be no other than evil and lying ones. Surely our age is credulous enough in the existence of devils, when we find it so fashionable to be using again all those consultings of the dead, and oracles, and superstitions, which Satan employed for keeping men under his power during so many hundred years.
Now such is the power of the Holy Cross against Satan and his legions, what we may look upon it as the invincible shield which makes us invulnerable against all their darts. The brazen serpent raised up in the desert by Moses, in order to cure those who were stung by the fiery serpents, is given to us by our Savior himself as a figure of his cross. The mark made on the house-doors with the blood of the Paschal Lamb by the Israelites preserved them from the terrible visit of the destroying Angel. The prophet Ezzechiel tells us that they were God's elect, who had Thau on their foreheads; and it is this same mark which St. John, in his Apocalypse, call the sign of the Lamb. It would even seem that the pagans had some idea of the power which this sacred sign was to exercise, at some future period, against the devils; for on occasion of the destruction of the temple of Serapis at Alexandria, under the Emperor Theodosius, there was found engraven upon its foundations the letter Thau, which is the figure of the cross, and the symbol which was venerated by the Pagans as expressive of the future life. The very adorers of Serapis used to say, agreeably to a tradition which they had, that when this symbol should be made known to the world, idolatry would cease.
History informs us that the pagan mysteries were sometimes rendered powerless on account of there being in the crowd a Christian who made the sign of the cross. Tertullian tells us in his "Apology," that even pagans, who had witnessed what wonders the Christians wrought by the cross, would themselves successfully employ this mysterious sign against the artifices and attacks of the wicked spirits. St. Augustine assures us that the same was done in his time: "Nor ought we," says he, "to be astonished at this; these men are, it is true, strangers who have not joined our ranks; but it is the power of our great King, which makes itself felt on these occasions."
After the triumph of the Church, the great doctor, St. Athanasius, thus expressed his own convictions and confidence in reference to this important subject: "The sign of the cross," he says,"has the power of dispelling all the secret charms of magic, and of rendering harmless all the deadly draughts it employs. Let any one but try what I say; let him make the sign of the cross in the midst of the demons, and of pretended oracles, and magical spells; let him invoke the name of Christ, and he will see for himself how the devils fly from this sign and this name, how the oracles are struck dumb, and how magic and its philters lose their power!"
So that this power of the cross is, at the same time, an historical truth, and a dogma of our faith; and it is only because our faith is weak, that we so seldom have recourse to it, and so seldom experience help from it. The snares of Satan are laid for us on every side; we are surrounded by dangers both of soul and body; let us imitate the early Christians and defend ourselves by making a more frequent use of the sign of the cross. Will the happy time ever come again for our country when we shall be allowed to have the crucifix as our protection in our towns and highways and fields, and be permitted to reverence it in our public squares as well as in our own houses, and not be insulted for wearing it openly on our breast besides it secretly in our heart?
And now, applying these considerations to the medal which is the subject of these pages, we come to this conclusion, that it must be profitable to us to use with faith the medal of St. Benedict on occasions when we have reason to fear the snares of the enemy. Its protection will infallibly prove efficacious in every kind of temptation. Numerous and undeniable facts attest its powerful efficacy on a thousand different occasions, in which the faithful had reason to apprehend a danger, either from the direct agency of Satan, or from the effects of certain evil practices. We may also employ it in favor of others as a means of preserving or delivering them from dangers, which we foresee are threatening them. Unforeseen accidents may happen to us on land or on sea; let us carry about us this holy medal with faith and we shall be protected. Even in the most trivial circumstances, and in those interests which regard solely man's temporal well-being, the efficacy of the holy cross and the power of St. Benedict have been felt. For example, the wicked spirits, in their hatred of man, sometimes molest the animals which God has created for our service, or infest the various articles of nourishment which the same Providence has given to us. Or again, it is not unfrequenty the case that our bodily sufferings are caused or protracted by the influence of these cruel enemies. Experience has proved that the medal of St. Benedict, made use of with proper intention and with prayer, has frequently broken the snares of the devil, procured a visible improvement in cases of sickness, and sometimes even effected a complete cure.
-- by Abbot Dom Prosper Gueranger 1880