Butler, Edward Joseph Aloysius (Dom Cuthbert ) (1858–1934), Benedictine abbot and author, was born 6 May 1858 in Dublin, only child of Edward Butler (fl. 1854–96), barrister and professor of mathematics at the Catholic University of Ireland, and Mary Butler (née Cruise), sister of Sir Francis Cruise (qv), surgeon and religious writer. Edward was educated (1869–75) at Downside school, Somerset, before becoming a Benedictine novice at Belmont priory, Hertfordshire (1876–80). He later recalled that before entering the religious life, he ‘had no notion whatever . . . of the nature of the religious state or the monastic life. I acted on a perfectly blind impulse, I felt a strong call to be a monk . . . I had no great attraction for church services or prayer’ (Knowles, 350). He returned to Downside (1880–96), where he taught, was ordained priest (1884), and became headmaster (1888–92).
Drawn to the history of the Benedictine order, he studied its early documents and showed that the order, from its inception, was primarily a monastic rather than a missionary body. He published Notes on the origin and early development of the restored English Benedictine congregation 1600–1661 (1887). He became a leading figure in the controversial movement for Benedictine congregational reform, which resulted in the change from a unitary congregation devoted to missionary work to one of self-governing monastic houses. Downside became an autonomous abbey under full monastic discipline in 1900, providing monks with the opportunity of permanent residence in claustral life.
In order to encourage scholarship, he was sent to establish and became superior of Benet House, Cambridge (1896–1904), the university residence of the order. Matriculating in 1896, he graduated BA (1898) and MA (1903) from Christ's College, Cambridge, the first catholic priest to graduate from the university since the reformation. This was the happiest period of his life: he loved scholarship and worked on what became the definitive edition of the Lausiac history of Palladius (1898, 1904). He made many friends in the academic world and pioneered the friendly cooperation in theological study of English catholics with those of different persuasions. Always regarding himself as Irish, he maintained his links with Ireland, and in 1906 helped to establish a foundation in Co. Wexford, originally at Enniscorthy, later at Mount St Benedict's, Gorey, Co. Wexford.
Recalled to Downside as subprior (1904), he was elected abbot (1906; reelected 1914). He presided over the expansion of the school, fostered scholarship, restored the house noviciate (1908), and developed a full liturgical life, introducing the daily singing of vespers, conventual mass (1915), and greater beauty in vestments and in the furnishings of the church. Frustrated in his attempts to reduce the parochial commitments of Downside, he resigned (1922) and retired to Ealing priory, London (1922–34), where he devoted himself to writing, lecturing, and – as an enthusiastic member of the Catholic Evidence Guild – preaching in Hyde Park, where his enthusiasm and sincerity, rather than his oratorical power, attracted large crowds.
He produced a valuable Latin edition of the Rule of St Benedict (1912) and Benedictine monachism (1919; 2nd ed. 1924), which explored all aspects of Benedictine life, was accessible to the general reader, and gained a worldwide audience. Other books include Western mysticism (1922; 2nd ed. 1927), The life and times of Bishop Ullathorne (1926), and Religions of authority and religion of the spirit. With other essays (1930). He wrote sixty articles on religious history for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed., 1910) and contributed to the Downside Review, the Dublin Review (1893–9), the Tablet, and other journals. His works are listed in Knowles, 466–72.
Elected president of the English Benedictine Congregation (1914–21), vice-president of the Lingard Society, and delegate to the general chapter by the community of St Gregory, he was appointed titular abbot of both St Augustine's of Canterbury (1922), and St Albans (1932). He received an hon. D.Litt. (1908) from Dublin University, the first catholic ecclesiastic to be so honoured, and was awarded an hon. DD (1933) and MA from London University. Tall, distinguished, and somewhat aloof, he had a dry sense of humour, and exercised extreme regularity in his daily life. He won respect for his scholarship, kindly nature, and deep piety. His portrait by W. C. Symons (1845–1911) hangs at Downside. He died suddenly on Easter Sunday (1 April 1934) in London and is buried at Downside.