The Life of St. Benedict: Conquering the Flesh and the Devil

How He Overcame a Temptation of the Flesh

The holy man, being on a certain day alone, the tempter was at hand; for a little black bird, commonly called thrush, began to fly about his face, and that so near that the holy man, if he would, might have taken it with his hand; but no sooner had he made the Sign of the Cross, than the bird vanished. When presently so great a carnal temptation assailed him that the holy man had never before felt the like. For the remembrance of a woman which sometime he had seen was so lively presented to his fancy by the wicked spirit, and so vehemently did her image inflame his breast with lustful desires, that almost overcome by pleasure, he was determining to leave the wilderness. But, suddenly assisted by divine grace, he came to himself, and seeing near him a thicket full of nettles and briars, he threw off his garments and cast himself naked into the midst of those sharp thorns and nettles, where he rolled himself so long, that when he rose up, his body was pitifully rent. Thus, by the wounds of his flesh he cured those of his soul. And after that time, as he himself related to his disciples, he was so free from the like temptation that he never felt any such motion. Henceforth, many began to forsake the world to place themselves under his government. Being now altogether free from vice, he worthily deserved to be made a master of virtue.

How He Broke a Glass By the Sign of the Cross

Not far off was a monastery, whose abbot being dead, the whole convent repaired to the venerable man Benedict and, with earnest persuasions requested him to be their abbot, which he refused for a long time, forewarning them that his manner of life and theirs would not agree; yet at length, overcome with importunity, he gave his consent. But when in the same monastery he began to observe regular discipline, the monks fell into a great rage and began therefore to plot his death, and after consultation, they poisoned his wine. So when the glass which contained the poisoned drink was, according to the custom of the monastery, presented at table to be blessed by the abbot, Benedict putting forth his hand and making the Sign of the Cross, the glass, which was held far off, broke in pieces as if he had thrown a stone against it. By this the man of God perceived that the glass had in it the drink of death which could not endure the sign of life. So presently rising up, with a mild countenance and tranquil mind, having called the brethren together, he thus spake unto them: “Almighty God in His mercy forgive you brethren; why have you dealt thus with me? Did I not foretell you that my manner of life and yours would not agree? Go and seek a superior to your liking, for you can have me no longer with you.” This said, he forthwith returned to the solitude he loved so well and lived there by himself in the sight of Him who seeth all things.

This article is taken from a chapter in The Life of St. Benedict by Pope St. Gregory the Great, which is available from TAN Books.



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