The Order of Saint Benedict (Latin name: Ordo Sancti Benedicti) is a Roman Catholic religious order of independent monastic communities that observe the Rule of St. Benedict. Within the order, each individual community (which may be a monastery, a priory or abbey) maintains its own autonomy, while the organization as a whole exists to represent their mutual interests. Today the terms "Order of St Benedict" and "Benedictine Order" are also used frequently to refer to the total of the independent Benedictine abbeys, thereby giving the wrong impression of a "generalate" or "motherhouse" with jurisdiction over dependent communities. The Benedictine Confederation, which was established in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII in his brief Summum semper, is the international governing body of the order, headed by the Abbot Primate.
The monastery at Monte Cassino established in Italy by St. Benedict of Nursia circa 529 was the first of a dozen monasteries founded by him. Even so, there is no evidence to suggest that he intended to found an order. To the contrary, the Rule of St Benedict presupposes the autonomy of each community. Despite the absence of a Benedictine order, since most monasteries founded during the Middle Ages adopted the Rule of St Benedict, it became the standard for Western Monasticism.
The Benedictine monasteries went on to make considerable contributions not only to the monastic and the spiritual life of the West, but also to economics, education, and government, so that the years from 550 to 1150 may be called the "Benedictine centuries".
Even today Benedictine monasticism is fundamentally different from other Western religious orders insofar as its individual communities are not part of a religious order with "Generalates" and "Superiors General". Rather, in modern times, the various autonomous houses have formed themselves loosely into congregations (for example, Cassinese, English, Solesmes, Subiaco, Camaldolese, Sylvestrines) that in turn are represented in the Benedictine Confederation that came into existence through Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Brief "Summum semper" on July 12, 1883. This organization facilitates dialogue of Benedictine communities with each other and the relationship between Benedictine communities and other religious orders and the church at large.
The Rule of Saint Benedict is also used by a number of religious orders that began as reforms of the Benedictine tradition such as the Cistercians and Trappists although none of these groups are part of the Benedictine Confederation.
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