Q. The Memorial of St. Benedict is celebrated this week (June 11). I have a friend who wears a St. Benedict medal and calls it part of his “armor” in spiritual warfare. What does he mean by that?
A. St. Benedict (c. 480–c. 547) was the Italian abbot who built a monastery in Monte Casino, Italy, that was to become the birthplace of Western monasticism. He was a champion in spiritual warfare, and his medal is known as a great source of graces in that regard. The medal is highly indulgenced and is so distinctive that it has its own designated blessing instead of the usual blessing for sacramentals. Exorcists tell us that it is indeed a great weapon in battling the Enemy of our souls. The medal contains an image of St. Benedict on one side and a cross on the other, because he made the Sign of the Cross as his weapon against the Devil’s assaults, against the plots of his enemies, against temptations, and against all dangers. The various letters on the medal are of great importance. Each one is the initial of a Latin word, and these Latin phrases have powerful significance. The letters CSPB are placed in the angles formed by the arms of the Cross. They signify Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti, which means “the Cross of the Holy Father Benedict.” On the perpendicular line of the Cross itself are these letters: CSSML. They signify Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux, “May the Holy Cross Be My Light.” On the horizontal line of the Cross are these letters: NDSMD. They signify Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux, “Let not the Dragon [Satan] Be My Guide.” On the rim of the medal are inscribed several other letters. The first three, IHS, are the monogram of the Holy Name of Jesus, representing the first three Greek letters of His name. Next follow, beginning at the right side, the following letters: VRSNSMVSMQLIVB. These initials stand for the following declaration: Vade retro, Satana; nunquam suade mihi vana. Sunt mala quae libas; ipse venena bibas: “Get behind me, Satan, and don’t suggest to me your vain things. The cup you offer me is evil — drink your poison yourself!” According to St. Benedict’s ancient biographer, one day when he was suffering temptation from the Devil, he quoted the first words, which of course come from Our Lord’s lips in the Gospel (see Matthew 16:23). When he did, the Devil left him. On another occasion, his enemies were trying to kill him by offering him a poisoned cup of wine. Their plot was revealed when he made the Sign of the Cross over the cup, and a serpent appeared within it. So he refused to drink it. (This is why you often see St. Benedict depicted in sacred art with a chalice that has a serpent crawling out of it.) The second set of words refer to that event. Quoting Abbot Prosper Gueranger in The Medal or Cross of Saint Benedict: “The Christian may make use of these same words as often as he finds himself tormented by the temptations and insults of the invisible Enemy of our salvation. … The vain things to which the Devil incites us are disobedience to the law of God; they are also the pomps and false maxims of the world. The cup offered us by this angel of darkness is evil; that is, sin, which brings death to the soul. Instead of receiving it at his hands, we ought to bid him to keep it to himself, for it is the inheritance which he chose for himself.”