by Gregory the Great
Translated; with an introduction by Margot H. King
by Aldhelm & Paul the Deacon
Translated by Mary Forman osb
Little is known of the sister of St. Benedict except for a short anecdote found in The Dialogues of Gregory the Great1 where a shadowy figure bearing her name makes an appearance as a model for imitation. Gregory uses the figure of Scholastica to stress the distinction between individual virtue and divine power and to point out the limited power granted to even the greatest saints.2 In this anecdote, a prayer which St. Benedict makes is not answered, whereas that of Scholastica is proved to be the more powerful “because she loved the more.”
Given the context in which this indistinct figure appears, it may well be asked whether there ever was a real Scholastica. Legends, however, do not require that such a question be asked. It would seem that her importance in monastic history lies less in her historical existence than in the acknowledgment that all great spiritual movements require both the masculine and the feminine principle. Indeed, almost all the Christian monastic founders have – behind or beside them – a female relative. Macrina, the sister of Basil the Great, who provided the model for her brother’s more famous monastery is only the most well-known of these.3
Even Scholastica’s name – like that of Benedict himself – leads one to question whether she really existed. In the Rule of St. Benedict, the word schola means the “monastery, the place where training is given,” the purpose of which “is to lead [the monks] to future salvation through the practice of the ascetic life.”4 Moreover, the schola was the place where the monks learned how to live in community, how to live together as brothers, “bound together by ties of mutual charity and support” (Ibid., p. 93). While institutionalisation, discipline and asceticism are of utmost importance to a monastic community, a rule which does not take into account interior disposition and those characteristics which are commonly thought to be “feminine” must surely wither on the vine. “The motivation behind the observance,” say the editors of RB 1980, “is the object of [Benedict’s] interest – the individual’s submission to the action of grace within him. Thereby the whole tone of monastic asceticism is elevated to a lofty spiritual plane” (Ibid, p. 94).
The importance of Scholastica therefore rests less on her historical authenticity than on the spiritual disposition she would seem to embody in Gregory’s Dialogues: a dependency on God so radical that everything else fades in comparison to it. Seen from this perspective, the manifestation of spiritual power gained through virtuous asceticism is of secondary importance when compared to an inner “feminine” receptivity whose strength, as Helen Luke has said, “is precisely to use nothing, but simply to give and to receive. This is the nature of the earth – to receive the seed and to nourish the roots – to foster growth in the dark so that it may reach up to the light … The hidden beauty of this receptive devotion [consists in being able] to be still without inaction … to ‘further life’ without willed purpose … to serve without demanding prestige, and … to nourish without domination.”5 And, paradoxically, it is only through this kind of hiddenness and humility that the Almighty and All-Powerful God is to be found.
[Gregory is speaking to his disciple Peter]:
Who then [he says] was more highly elevated in this life than Paul? Nevertheless he begged the Lord three times to be delivered from the thorn of the flesh (2 Cor. 12:8) but could never obtain his petition. In this context I must tell you how the venerable father Benedict once wanted something but could not achieve it.
His sister,6 whose name was Scholastica and who had been consecrated to almighty God from her infancy, had the habit of coming to see him once a year. The man of God went down to meet her not far from the gate in a house located within the territory of his monastery. One day when she made her customary visit, her venerable brother went down with his disciples to see her. They spent all day praising God and speaking of holy things and when the night shadows fell they partook of a meal together. They were still at table speaking of heavenly things and, as it was growing late, the holy nun, his sister, begged him, saying: “I entreat you, do not leave me this night; let us speak together until morning about the heavenly life.” He replied: “What are you saying, my sister? By no means can I remain outside the monastery!”
As they were speaking the sky was perfectly clear and cloudless. When she heard her brother’s refusal, the nun clasped her hands together on the table and laid her head on them and began to entreat the almighty Lord. At the very instant that she lifted her head from the table, there was such a streak of lightning, so mighty a thunderclap and such a deluge of rain that neither venerable Benedict nor his brothers could even go outside. Indeed it was through bowing her head on her hands and letting her streams of tears fall on the table that the serene sky became stormy. Note that this downpour did not occur after she had completed her prayer; on the contrary, both the prayer and the rainfall happened simultaneously, so that at the moment when she raised her head from the table, the thunder struck, and at the very same moment that she raised her head, the rain fell.
Then the man of God, surrounded by lightning flashes, thunderclaps and torrential rain and realising that he could not return to the monastery, was greatly saddened and began to grumble: “May God forgive you, my sister! What have you done?” She replied: “Look, I begged you and you would not hear me; I begged my Lord and He heard me. Leave now if you want. Leave me alone and go back to the monastery!” He was, however, unable to go further than the door and was forced to stay there grudgingly and against his will. Thus they spent the whole night awake and mutually comforted each other by speaking of spiritual and holy matters.
As I said, he wanted something but did not obtain it. If we consider the intention of the venerable man, there is no question that he hoped that the good weather he had enjoyed when he came down to meet her would have continued, but he did not get what he wanted: by the power of almighty God he found a miracle effected by the heart of a woman. It is not surprising that, on this occasion, a woman was stronger than he since she had yearned to see her brother for a very long time and because according to the word of John, “God is love” (1 Jn 4, 8.16); truly she was more powerful because she loved the more.
… The next day, the venerable woman returned to her own cell7 and the man of God went back to his monastery. Three days afterwards, while he was in his cell, he raised his eyes and saw the soul of his sister in the form of a dove leaving her body and penetrating into the mystic secrets of heaven. Filled with rejoicing at such glory, he rendered thanks to the all-powerful God by singing hymns of praise and he announced her death to his brothers.
Then he immediately sent to have her body carried to the monastery and he placed it in the tomb which he had prepared for himself. It was in this manner that it happened that not even the tomb can separate those whom the spirit has forever united in God.
Aldelmi Episcopi Schireburnensis8
Quæ proprium ex Schola sumpsit Scholastica nomen,
Hanc Deus ubertim cœlesti munere ditat,
Aurea Virgineo lucrantem præmia voto.
De qua hoc præcipuum vitæ ramusculus almæ
Divulgare solet, latus qua tenditur orbis.
Quod fratrem sibimet germano fœdere iunctum,
Subnixis precibus gestit compellere virgo,
Quatenus acciperent sacrorum dulcia noctu
Fercula librorum, & sancti convivia verbi
E quibus affatim saturantur pectora plebis,
Atque saginantur sanctorum corda virorum.
Sed fidus precibus frater non flectitur uilis,
Quinimmo sanctam contempsit voce sororem.
Tum Virgo Christum pulsabat corde benignum,
Ut sibi dignetur vulnus sanare doloris.
Mox igitur cœlum nimboso turbine totum,
Et convexa poli nigrescunt æthere furvo.
Murmura vasta tonant, flammis commixta coruscis,
Et tremuit Tellus magno tremebunda fragore.
by Aldelm, Bishop of Schireburn
Scholastica took her very name from schola,
God enriches her abundantly with heavenly favour,
She who gained golden rewards by her virginal vow.
Concerning whom a little twig of nourishing life
is wont to scatter excellence
as widely as the world extends.
Because the virgin impatiently urges her brother
who is joined to her by a covenant of kinship,
and supports her pleas with reasoned argument
So that, at night, they might partake
of the sweet courses of the holy books
and the banquets of the holy word.
From which the breasts of many
are sufficiently filled,
And the hearts of holy people nourished.
But the faithful brother is not moved by any pleas,
Nay rather he disdains his holy sister in his words.
Then the virgin urged the good Christ in her heart
to deign to heal the wound of sorrow for her.
Thus soon the whole sky grows dark
with a stormy whirlwind
and the vault of the heaven with gloomy air.
Huge rumbling thunder,
mingled with flashing lightning bolts,
And the Earth quaked,
trembling from the great noise.
Humida rorifluis humectant vellera guttis,
Irrigat & terram tenebrosis imbribus aër.
Complentur valles, & larga fluenta redundant,
Tunc mansit nolens, qui pridem sponte negavit
Quod germana petit deplorans anxia curis.
Sic Deus auscultat devota mente rogantes,
Quamlibet à nullo solandi verba capessant.
a Paulo Diacono metrice scripta9
Sponsa decora Dei petit alta Scholastica cœli,
Ingreditur thalamum sponsa decora Dei.
Angelicis hodie manibus super astra levatur,
Miscetur turmis Angelicis hodie.
Iubilat hinc Domino sanctorum cœtus in astris,
Plebs nostra in terris iubilat hinc Domino.
Hinc dolet, atque gemit classis mala dæmoniorum,
Serpens antiquus hinc gemit, atque dolet.
Illius insidias hæc vità pertulit omni,
Sed vicit moriens illius insidias.
Virgo dicata Deo primo permansit ab ævo.
Vixit ab infanti Virgo dicata Deo.
Wet fleecy clouds moisten it with dewy drops,
And the air bedews the land with gloomy showers.
The valleys are filled
and abundant streams overflow,
Then unwillingly he remained
who before had deliberately refused
what his distressed and weeping sister had sought.
So God heeds those who ask with burning heart,
Even when they pay attention to words
which do not console
by Paul the Deacon
The beautiful spouse of God, Scholastica, seeks
the heights of heaven
The beautiful spouse of God enters
the bridal chamber.
Today she is raised above the stars
with angelic hands,
Today she consorts with the angelic hosts.
Thus the company of saints in the stars
shout with joy to the Lord,
Thus our people on earth
shout with joy to the Lord.
Hence the evil band of demons grieves and groans,
Hence the ancient serpent groans and grieves.
This life tolerates his snares in everything,
But dying she vanquishes his snares.
Dedicated from her earliest years to God,
She remained a virgin.
From her infancy, the virgin was dedicated to God.
Regna poli cupiens patriam cum fratre reliquit.
Cassinum petijt regna poli cupiens.
Tecta sibi statuit summa Benedictus in arce,
At soror in planis tecta sibi statuit:
Frater erat solitus descendere quosque per annos,
Visere germanam frater erat solitus.
Proxima lux fuerat quo corpus virgo reliquit,
Qua cœlum petijt proxima lux fuerat.
Ut sibi mos fuerat, frater descendit ab arce,
Germanam visit ut sibi mos fuerat.
Exoriente die fit eo conventus eorum,
Et sermo exoritur exoriente die.
Mutua verba ferunt regni vitæque perennis,
De satanæ pugnis mutua verba ferunt.
Oceanum subiens sol lucem iam tumulabat,
Phœbus fert tenebras Oceanum subiens.
Pabula pro solito dederant animabus amata,
Dant & corporibus pabula pro solito.
Virgo gemit comedens, suspiria corde dat imo,
Verba facit frater, virgo gemit comedens.
Ardet amans animus sermones quæritat auris,
Os escas gustat, ardet amans animus.
Desiring the kingdom of heaven,
she left her country with her brother,
Desiring the kingdom of heaven, she sought Cassino.
Benedict established for himself a dwelling
in a sanctuary on the peak,
But the sister established for herself
a dwelling on the plains.
The brother was wont to descend each year,
The brother was wont to visit his sister.
It was the next day that the virgin left her body,
She sought heaven; it was the next day.
As was his custom,
the brother descended from the sanctuary,
He visited his sister,
as was his custom.
When the dawn arises, their meeting takes place
And with the rising dawn, a conversation arises.
They exchange words about the kingdom
and everlasting life,
They exchange words about the combats of Satan.
The sun sinking to the ocean now buries the light,
Phœbus bears shadows, sinking to the ocean.
As was their custom,
they had given foods which their souls loved,
And they give foods to their bodies
as is their custom.
Eating, the virgin sighs;
indeed, she brings forth gasps from her heart,
The brother fashions words;
eating, the virgin sighs.
Her loving mind burns,
her ear earnestly seeks discourses,
Her mouth tastes foods, her loving mind burns.
Fit magis esuriens, dum plures accipit escas,
Verbi non dapium fit magis esuriens.
Iam simul ambo parant mensam removere, cibósque,
Ferre Deo grates iam simul ambo parant.
Illa dolens animo dubitat, metuitque profari,
Hæc tandem loquitur illa dolens animo.
O venerande Pater, mihi nil miserere dolenti,
Germanam linquis, ô venerande Pater.
Hîc precor ut maneas, lux ecce diurna recedit,
Instant iam tenebræ, hîc precor ut maneas.
Ne soror ista petas, frater sanctissimus inquit,
Quæ petis, haud tribuam, ne soror ista petas.
Protinùs illa dolens lacrymis rigat ora profusis,
Dat caput in mensam protinus illa dolens.
Spes erat huic Dominus,
Dominum sic mæsta precatur,
Quod vult fit, quoniam spes erat huic Dominus.
Tota poli facies operitur nubibus atris,
Densatur nimbis tota poli facies.
Fulgura crebra micant, collidunt flamina venti,
Corruat ut cœlum, fulgura crebra micant.
Becoming more hungry
as she is accepting different foods,
Becoming more hungry not for banquets
but for conversation.
Now as both prepare to clear the table
and the foods,
Now as both prepare to give thanks to God.
Grieving in mind, she hesitates and fears to speak.
Finally, grieving in mind, she speaks these things.
“O venerable Father,
you have no mercy on me, who grieves,
You forsake your sister; O venerable Father.
I beseech you to remain here;
Behold the light of day is receding,
Now darkness approaches,
I beseech you to remain here.”
“So as to prevent you from asking
for these things which you demand, sister,”
the most holy father says,
“I will grant them not at all
So as to prevent you from asking.”
Grieving, she immediately moistens her face
with profuse tears,
Grieving, she immediately lowers her head to the table.
For her the Lord was hope,
thus does the sorrowful one entreat the Lord,
What he wishes may be done,
since for her the Lord was hope.
All the surface of heaven is covered
with dark clouds,
All the surface of heaven grows dark with clouds
Frequent lightning bolts flash,
blasts of wind beat down,
As the heaven falls, frequent lightning bolts flash.
Frater id intuitus, cur egerit increpat illam,
Nocte domi remanet frater id intuitus.
Postera lux veniens fluctus fugat atque tenebras,
Pandit iter justo postera lux veniens.
Transierat triduum post eius ab inde digressum,
Post istud signum transierat triduum:
Suspicit ad speculam cœlum Benedictus & orat,
Sic germanæ animam suspicit ad speculam.
In volucris specie volitabat ad astra columbæ,
Quid fuit, hac patuit in volucris specie.
Quod soror astra petat, grates agit Omnipotenti:
Fratribus enarrat quod soror astra petat.
Collocat in tumulo parto sibi membra sororis,
Et sua post ipso collocat in tumulo.
Unus habet tumulus, tenuit quos una voluntas:
Quos parit una alvus, unus habet tumulus.
Signa stupenda nimis vità fecere fruentes,
Defuncti faciunt signa stupenda nimis.
Vidimus hîc homines ereptos dæmone plures,
Insanos sanos vidimus hîc homines.
Seeing it, her brother
asks why he should rebuke her,
Seeing it, her brother stays the night in the house.
When the next day comes,
the turbulence and darkness flee,
the path lies open to the just man.
When the next day comes.
Three days after his departure from there,
she passed on,
Three days after this sign, she passed on.
Benedict looks up at the heights
and prays to heaven,
Thus does he look up at the soul of his sister
in the heights.
In the form of a bird,
she flew to the heights like a dove,
What she was, was revealed
through the form of a bird.
He gives thanks to the Almighty One
that his sister seeks the heavens:
He explains to the brothers
that his sister seeks the heavens.
He puts the body of his sister
in the tomb prepared for himself
And afterwards he puts his own body
in that very tomb.
One sepulchre holds them whom one will held:
One sepulchre holds them whom one womb begets.
Exceedingly wondrous signs
make people rejoice in life
The dead ones effect exceedingly wonderful signs.
Here we saw many men snatched away
from the devil,
Here we saw mad men made healthy.
Est data pluribus hîc vox oris, lux oculorum,
Frugi pedum virtus est data pluribus hîc.
Hîc Deus omnipotens meritis placatur eorum;
Quæ petitur, præstat hîc Deus omnipotens.
Hîc & ubique Deus precibus nos protegat horum,
Nos regat, & foveat hîc, & ubique Deus.
carmen ejusdem auctoris 10
O Benedicta soror Benedicti numine Christi
Eximiíque Patris, ô benedicta soror.
Prompta vacare Deo Scholastica iure vocaris:
Cerneris à cunis prompta vacare Deo.
Seria consilio, iam tunc irguncula quamvis,
Calcatrix cosmi, seria consilio.
Sponsa decora Dei niveis tu compta lapillis,
Lilia sacra seres sponsa decora Dei.
Appetis alta poli, tempsisti dulcia sæcli.
Dindyma perpetui appetis alta poli.
Cuncta perosa tibi Phœbi sub lumine posta,
Et malesuada soli cuncta perosa tibi.
Here was given to many
a voice for the mouth, a light for the eyes
Well-earned strength of feet
was here given to many.
Here almighty God is placated by their merits;
Whatever is sought, here almighty God provides.
May God here and everywhere
protect us with their prayers,
May God rule us and cherish us
here and everywhere.
by the Same Author
O blessed sister of Benedict, by the will of Christ
And of the majestic Father, O blessed sister.
Ready to attend to God
You are rightly called Scholastica,
You are seen from your cradle
ready to attend to God.
A vessel for counsel, although then still a young girl,
A treader of the cosmos, a vessel for counsel.
Noble spouse of God, you are adorned with pearls,
you will bear holy lilies, noble spouse of God,
You desire the heights of heaven,
you despised the sweet things of the world,
You desire the lofty mountains
of the everlasting heaven.
All things hateful to you were placed
under the light of Phœbus,
And the seductive things of the earth
were all hateful to you.
Castalides proceres11 præibas concita prædux,
Illuminabas ovans Castalides proceres.
Virginal ecce tuum fratris conjunxeras ædi,
Staret ut invulsum Virginal12 ecce tuum.
Unguibus à teneris mutans superna caducis.
Victoriámque tenens unguibus à teneris,
Ampla trophæa refers
Aretes spondes meletes te,13
Filia Virgo Sion ampla trophæa refers.
Versibus heroicis aliàs castissima laudes
Scripsimus ecce tibi versibus heroicis
Quêis liquidò patuit meritorum culmine toto
Perfectam cunctis, quêis liquidò patuit.
Sufficiat precibus germanum vincere votum,
Inuictum cunctis, sufficiat precibus.
Scribere nunc superest natalem volucre penna
Scandere quo jussa es, scribere nunc superest.
Virgo beata die subijsti limina regni
Mense Numæ in decimo, virgo beata, die.
You went before the Castalian leaders
as their inspired guide,
Exulting, you illuminated the Castalian leaders.
Behold you joined your own virginal
to the abode of your brother,
Behold your own virginal abides as unplucked.
You are grasped by fragile finger tips,
when exchanging the things of heaven,
And grasping victory
you are grasped by finger tips,
You bring back magnificent trophies,
virtue, zeal, and discipline,
Virgin Daughter of Sion,
you bring back magnificent trophies.
Most chaste one,
we have written other praises in heroic verses,
behold we have written to you in heroic verses:
From which it was clearly shown
by the whole summit of merits
That she is perfect in all things,
from which it was clearly shown.
Let the sisterly vow suffice to excel in prayers
Unconquered by all, let it suffice in prayers.
It remains now to describe her feast day
with swift pen
to render into verse
the place where you were ordered,
it remains now to describe.
Blessed virgin, on the day
you approached the thresholds of the kingdom
on the tenth day in the month of Numa,
Phœbus in Aquario vicenas iámque quaternas
Præripiens partes Phœbus in Aquario.
Unguine pneumatico _oreis nutrita verendis
Cujus odor patuit unguine pneumatico.
Sinibus Abraïcis vigilum devecta lacertis
Permansura sacris sinibus Abraïcis:
Virgineísque choris lenta statione locata
Laudibus harmonicis, Virgineísque choris.
Organa quæ resonant superni nominis odas
Angelici proceres, organa quæ resonant.
Pascere nunc lilijs milleno _ore refertis,
Tu paradisiacis pascere nunc lilijs.
Hic vigeas, valeas semper venereris ameris,
Nunc & in æternum hic vigeas valeas.
The sun in Aquarius already snatching away
the twenty-four parts,
the sun in Aquarius.
Nursed by the spiritual unction in wondrous _owers,
Whose odour was evident
from the spiritual unction.
Conveyed by arms of sentinels
to the bosom of Abraham
She will remain in the holy bosom of Abraham:
With virgin choirs
she was laid in a lasting abode
With harmonious praises and virgin choirs.
Organs which resound the odes of the celestial name
Angelic leaders, organs which resound.
You return now to feed on lilies
each with a thousand-fold blossom,
You return now to feed on paradisial lilies.
Here may you thrive, may you be strong,
may you worship, may you love,
Now and forever.
here may you thrive, may you be strong.