Thursday, January 29, 2009

Saints Maur and Placid

Sister Phyllis Hunhoff

In the Benedictine tradition, January 15th is the Feast Day of the young disciples of Saint Benedict, Saints Maur and Placid. I decided to spend some time seeing what they meant to St. Benedict.

It has actually been four years ago that I introduced you to some of the miracles of St. Benedict – when our community, studied Adalbert de Vogue’s commentary on The Life of St. Benedict as given to us by St. Gregory the Great. You may remember that Gregory is the only source – and a very good one – that we have of St. Benedict. Adalbert de Vogue is a Benedictine monk in an abbey in France. He is considered the foremost expert on the Rule of the Master and also on the other pre-Benedictine Rules. He has authored the Cenobitic Rules of the West and is able to give dates to their existence.

So what do we know about Maur and Placid? Gregory the Great introduces them in his Life of Saint Benedict. (Note the small book – Dialogue II of St. Gregory – if anyone would like one of these, I do have a few on hand and I could order them for you.) Gregory explains that after Benedict had established his twelve monasteries at Subiaco (near Rome in Italy), noble Christians came from Rome presenting their sons to be raised and educated among the monks. These boys were offered by their parents to God – we could say that they were the first “oblates.” Among them were Maur, an adolescent, the son of Euthicus, and Placid — practically a toddler — son of the patrician Tertullus. Maur quickly became Abbot Benedict’s helper whereas Gregory specifies that Placid was in “early childhood.”

Before I explain the miracles more fully, it is interesting to think about the idea of Roman aristocrats flocking to Benedict. Benedict left Rome to search for God, now Rome comes to him. Benedict decided against making a career there, now the elite of the city bring their sons to him. Benedict despised studies, now they bring children to be educated. If the building of the twelve monasteries looked like the immediate fruit of Benedict’s contemplative escape, this influence over the Roman nobility seems to correspond to the first conversion of this young Benedict. So Benedict became an educator – not only with the youth brought to him but also with the monks of the monastery.

Maur and Placid are involved in a series of four miracles which Gregory locates at Subiaco. In the first, Benedict goes to help a monk who could not sit still during prayer. Maur, the servant of God was there then and during that time, he saw the same vision of the devil that Benedict did, which was distracting the monk. By a gift of clairvoyance Benedict immediately perceives the invisible and satanic source of the evil. Maurus prays with this monk for two whole days. Seeing this monk having difficulty, Benedict strikes the monk with a rod – and de Vogue suggests this is just like the rod of Moses in the miracle of the water flowing from the rock. The devil is opposed to prayer and this brings the opposition to light. Even for us, instead of the divine and eternal work we are to do in prayer, we know only too well, the temptations that distract us.

In the second miracle, a Goth, who had become a monk, lost the metal part of his brush cutter when it flew off into the lake. He went trembling to tell Maur, who told Benedict (6.2). Benedict took the handle and threw it into the lake. At once the iron returned from the bottom of the lake and came back to the handle. Above all, we see the goodness of the abbot is added to the power of the miraculous events.

Now the third miracle: Three of the monasteries that Benedict founded in that region were up among the rocks on the mountain. The monks felt they had to change the place of their monastery because they could find no water and prayed that they might have water (5.2). During one night, Placid accompanied Benedict and went up on this rocky summit. The next day, Benedict said to the monks, “Go up to that rock where you will find three stones placed on top of one another and do a little digging.” They found the water to be flowing.

Again, Gregory points out that Moses in the desert was faced with a possible revolt when the people had no water. Moses struck the rock before all and the water flowed.

Finally, on another day, as Placid was getting water from the lake, he fell in and was swept out from shore. In a vision, Benedict saw what was happening and sent Maur to save Placid. Maur walked across the water without realizing it and brought Placid back to shore. When he came back to the shore Maur attributed the miracle to Benedict’s command; Benedict said it was because of Maur’s obedience. There is competition in humility between the disciple and the master where each seeks to ascribe the merit of the miracle to the other.

Placid, however, gave the deciding consequence and said that when he was being pulled from the water, he saw the abbot’s goatskin over his head. The controversy is absolutely decided—by God himself—in favor of the master.

This last miracle is considered more complex. Among the various elements, it is the walking on the water which Gregory wishes to emphasize; a prodigy (unusual circumstance) whom he says was unheard of since St. Peter. Thus Maur represents the Apostle Peter when he runs on the water. Maur simply obeys his abbot. Peter did not walk on the water except by the virtue of the will of Jesus, so Maur owes his great deed to the will of Benedict. An ecstatic grace takes hold of Maur.

Thus these four miracles exalt Benedict, the abbot of Subiaco. First Benedict makes Maurus see, then he gets him to act. The first miracle is in praise of prayer, the last exalts obedience. Between them are two miracles inspired by goodness. The first is obtained by Benedict after another long prayer, the second he works without apparent effort in favor of a monk who is particularly humble. Here we have prayer, humility and obedience, the criteria for our conversion

What is most significant, I think, in the story of Maur and Placid is that these two young men persevered in seeking God and whether we realize it or not, Gregory, like his informers, was indeed a son of Benedict.


Father Mark: a priest of the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma

Fr. Hugh Feiss: a monk of the Monastery of the Ascension, Southern Idaho

The Life of Saint Benedict, commentary by Adabert de Vogue, OSB