February 10th, Feast of St. Scholastica
Whether St. Scholastica was older or younger than her twin St. Benedict, she seems to embody the personality of a darling little sister.
Hardly anything is known of her life, but the story of her final visit with the brother whom she loved offers us a marvelous example of both prayer and fraternal charity in these final days before the season of Lent.
The history of St. Scholastica
Butler’s “Lives of the Saints” recalls the legend of Scholastica, according to St. Gregory the Great. We reproduce the history below:
“St. Gregory tells us that St. Benedict governed nuns as well as monks, and it seems clear that St. Scholastica must have been their abbess, under his direction. She used to visit her brother once a year and, since she was not allowed to enter his monastery, he used to go with some of his monks to meet her at a house a little way off. They spent these visits praising God and in conversing together on spiritual matters.
“St. Gregory gives a remarkable description of the last of these visits. After they had passed the day as usual they sat down in the evening to have supper. When it was finished, Scholastica, possibly foreseeing that it would be their last interview in this world, begged her brother to delay his return till the next day that they might spend the time discoursing of the joys of Heaven. Benedict, who was unwilling to transgress his rule, told her that he could not pass a night away from his monastery. When Scholastica found that she could not move him, she laid her head upon her hands which were clasped together on the table and besought God to interpose on her behalf.
“Her prayer was scarcely ended when there arose such a violent storm of rain with thunder and lightning that St. Benedict and his companions were unable to set foot outside the door. He exclaimed, ‘God forgive you, sister; what have you done?’ Whereupon she answered, ‘I asked a favour of you and you refused it. I asked it of God, and He has granted it.’
“Benedict was therefore forced to comply with her request, and they spent the night talking about holy things and about the felicity of the blessed to which they both ardently aspired and which she was soon to enjoy.
“The next morning they parted, and three days later St. Scholastica died. St. Benedict was at the time alone in his cell absorbed in prayer when, lifting up his eyes, he saw his sister’s soul ascending to Heaven as a dove. Filled with joy at her happiness, he thanked God and announced her death to his brethren. He then sent some of the monks to fetch her body which he placed in a tomb which he had prepared for himself.”
Because she loved more, she could do more
Dom Prosper Gueranger, the champion of Benedictine renewal after the horrors of the Enlightenment (which horrors were worshiped, for example, in the literary masterpiece, Les Miserables), proffers the following reflection on this event:
“But how came Scholastic, the humble retiring nun, by that energy, which could make her resist the will of her brother, whom she revered as her master and guide? What was it told her that her prayer was not a rash one, and that what she asked was a higher good than Benedict’s unflinching fidelity to the rule he had written, and which it was his duty to teach by his own observance of it?
“St. Gregory’s answer: ‘It is not to be wondered at, that the sister, who wished to prolong her brother’s stay, should have prevailed over him; for, whereas St. John tells us that God is charity, it happened, by a most just judgment, that she that had the stronger love had the stronger power.’”
The historicity of St. Scholastica
While it is true that many of the monk-saints are said to have had sisters, St. Scholastica stands out from the rest. If indeed some scholars (we think foolishly) doubt the historicity of certain sibling-stories from the monastic period, the history of St. Benedict’s sister is quite unique and beyond any suspicion.
Consider that St. Benedict was revered by all as a most holy and learned father. Indeed, he was considered a New Testament patriarch – the father of monasticism in the West. Yet, elevated as he is, the history of this holier “little sister” (little in her obedience to him whom she revered as a spiritual father, if not younger in her years) stands as a witness to the historicity of St. Scholastica. How St. Benedict must have delighted in the virtue of his dear little Scholastica!
While we could have been tempted to dismiss a legend in which St. Benedict might have been shown to be wiser and holier that St. Scholastica (as his cult is far more developed in the Church than hers and, especially, considering that he is a man in whom [it is thought] reason is more vigorous), how can any ignore the history of Scholastica who is remembered specifically as the one person who ever corrected St. Benedict in the measure of charity and divine wisdom?!
Indeed, how holy St. Scholastica must have been. And how good an example she is to all “little sisters” (older and younger alike).
St. Scholastica, pray for us!