The Saint Benedict medal, a cherished emblem in the Catholic tradition, bears not only the image of the revered Saint Benedict but also a set of Latin letters and phrases that hold deep spiritual significance.
by NOELLE KAISER
The Saint Benedict Medal
The Saint Benedict Medal typically features an image of Saint Benedict on one side, along with a Latin inscription. The reverse side of the medal usually contains a cross with various letters and symbols. These symbols have specific meanings and are associated with prayers for protection against evil forces. This article explores the history and symbolism behind the letters.
The origins of the Saint Benedict medal can be traced back to the 7th century and are associated with Saint Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the Benedictine Order.
What is the Benedictine Order?
Founder: The Benedictine Order was founded by Saint Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. Around the year 529, Benedict established the first Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy. The order follows the Rule of Saint Benedict, a set of guidelines for monastic living that emphasizes a balanced and disciplined approach to life.
Rule of Saint Benedict: The Rule of Saint Benedict, written by Saint Benedict himself, serves as the foundation for the Benedictine way of life. It provides a comprehensive guide for monastic living, covering aspects such as prayer, work, community living, and obedience. The Rule has been influential not only within the Benedictine Order but also in shaping the broader Christian monastic tradition.
Ora et Labora (Prayer and Work): A key principle of the Benedictine Order is the integration of prayer and work. Monks and nuns in Benedictine communities are dedicated to a life of prayer, participating in daily liturgical services, while also engaging in manual labor. This balanced approach is reflected in the Latin motto "Ora et Labora," emphasizing the importance of both spiritual and physical aspects of life.
Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life: The Rule of Saint Benedict outlines three vows that members of the Benedictine Order take: stability, obedience, and conversion of life. Stability commits members to remain in a particular monastery, fostering a sense of community and continuity. Obedience involves submitting to the authority of the abbot or abbess and following the Rule. Conversion of life is a commitment to ongoing spiritual growth and transformation.
Monastic Life and Education: Benedictine monasteries historically played a crucial role in preserving knowledge and education during the Middle Ages. Monks were often responsible for copying and preserving manuscripts, contributing to the transmission of classical and religious texts. Many Benedictine monasteries also became centers of learning, with scriptoria and libraries that were essential to the cultural and intellectual development of medieval Europe.
The Legend of Saint Benedict
According to legend, Saint Benedict had a vision in which he saw a black cross with specific letters inscribed, forming a Latin prayer of exorcism and protection against evil.
In the quiet hills of central Italy, where the whispers of time blend with the rustle of olive groves, a legendary tale unfolds. It is a tale of a man destined for sanctity, a man whose name would resonate through the ages – Saint Benedict.
Born in Nursia in the year 480 AD, young Benedict's path was paved with divine signs. As a noble youth, he navigated the temptations of the secular world but felt a divine calling. Escaping the clamor of Rome, he retreated to the solitude of Subiaco, where nature cradled his contemplations. It was here that he stumbled upon a cave, the rocky cradle of his spiritual transformation.
The legend weaves a vivid tapestry of Benedict's life in Subiaco. Word of his piety spread, drawing followers seeking solace in the hermit's wisdom. Yet, the trials of seclusion were not without challenges. The Devil himself, envious of Benedict's burgeoning sanctity, sought to disrupt his divine journey. In one infamous encounter, as Benedict knelt in prayer, a malevolent raven disrupted his solitude. Yet, even in this moment of darkness, Benedict's unwavering faith triumphed. Legend has it that he blessed the raven, transforming its malevolence into a symbol of humility – a lesson for all who would follow his path.
The climax of Benedict's tale unfolds at Monte Cassino, where he founded the great Benedictine Order. Here, surrounded by the echoes of prayer, Benedict etched the Rule, a spiritual compass guiding his disciples through a life of balance. The Rule became a beacon, attracting souls seeking purpose and salvation. Benedict's spiritual legacy transcended his mortal journey, extending through the corridors of time. His order, marked by the motto "Ora et Labora," became a timeless testament to the harmonious coexistence of prayer and work.
As the sun sets behind the ancient walls of Monte Cassino, the legend of Saint Benedict endures. It is a tale of solitude, temptation, and divine resilience—a narrative that continues to inspire seekers of the sacred, echoing through the arches of Benedictine monasteries and the hearts of those who find solace in the balance of prayer and labor.
Symbolism of the Letters
The letters surrounding the Saint Benedict medal convey a powerful message rooted in spiritual defense.
Image Source: SMM Sisters
Each letter represents a distinct Latin phrase:
CSPB: "Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti" (The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict).
CSSML: "Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux" (May the Holy Cross be my light).
NDSMD: "Non Drago Sit Mihi Dux" (Let not the dragon be my guide).
VRSNSMV: "Vade Retro Satana; Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana" (Begone, Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities).
SMQLIVB: "Sunt Mala Quae Libas; Ipse Venena Bibas" (Evil are the things thou offerest; drink thou thy own poison).
The Legend of "Drink Thou Thy Own Poison"
The intriguing phrase "Sunt Mala Quae Libas; Ipse Venena Bibas" finds its origin in a dramatic incident from Saint Benedict's life. Legend has it that a jealous adversary attempted to poison him by offering a poisoned loaf of bread. Through the protective power of prayer and the sign of the cross, Benedict miraculously shattered the bread, escaping unharmed. The inscription on the medal serves as a symbolic reminder that ill-intentions can recoil upon those who harbor them.
In the hallowed annals of religious folklore, there exists a potent legend that has echoed through centuries—a tale known as "Drink Thou Thy Own Poison." At the heart of this narrative stands the indomitable figure of Saint Benedict, a monk whose unwavering faith and spiritual acumen would weave a tale of divine retribution.
It is said that once, within the sacred confines of Monte Cassino, Saint Benedict found himself besieged by the temptations of the infernal adversary. The Devil, relentless in his pursuit of the virtuous monk, sought to exploit the frailties of the mortal spirit. In a moment of audacious confrontation, the Evil One presented a poisoned chalice to Benedict, urging him to partake of the deadly draught.
However, the saint, fortified by his unshakable faith, was not swayed. Instead, he took the poisoned cup and, with a solemn prayer, blessed the malevolent potion. To the Devil's astonishment, the poison transformed within the chalice, becoming a symbol of divine protection. Benedict, in his divine wisdom, compelled the Evil One to "Drink thou thy own poison," a resounding proclamation of the triumph of good over evil.
The legend carries profound symbolism, illustrating the resilience of the virtuous against the machinations of malevolence. It became a parable within the Benedictine Order, a testament to the power of faith and the efficacy of divine protection. The phrase "Drink Thou Thy Own Poison" transcended its literal meaning, becoming a timeless metaphor for the consequences that befall those who attempt to sow discord or harm the righteous.
Through the ages, the legend of "Drink Thou Thy Own Poison" has resonated as a beacon of hope and a warning to those who tread the path of malevolence. It stands as a testament to the enduring power of faith, turning the darkest intentions into vessels of divine grace. In the hush of monastery halls and the quiet corners of contemplative hearts, the legend persists—a timeless reminder that even in the face of adversity, the light of righteousness prevails.
Significance and Usage
The Saint Benedict medal, with its combination of symbols, images, and Latin inscriptions, has become a widely recognized and utilized sacramental in the Catholic Church.
Related: What is a Sacramental?
Believers often carry or wear the medal as a tangible expression of their faith and a source of spiritual protection against evil forces.
In conclusion, the Saint Benedict medal stands as a symbol deeply rooted in history and spirituality. The inclusion of the phrase "Sunt Mala Quae Libas; Ipse Venena Bibas" adds a layer of symbolism, reminding believers of the triumph of good over evil and the protective power of faith.
As a cherished sacramental, the Saint Benedict medal continues to be a source of comfort and spiritual strength for those seeking divine protection in their journey of faith.
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