Vol. 5, Chapter VIII. The Monastic Orders

61. The Revival of Monasticism

Literature. — The Letters of Anselm, Bernard, Peter the Venerable, William of Thierry, Hildegard, etc. — Abaelard: Hist. calamitatum, his autobiography, Migne, 178. — Honorius of Autun: De vita claustrali, Migne, 172, 1247 sqq. — Bernard: De conversione ad clericos sermo, in Migne, 182, 853-59, and De praecepto et dispensatione, 851-953. — The Treatments of Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, etc., in their Summas. — Petrus Venerablis: De miraculis, in Migne, 189. Caesar of Heisterbach (ab. 1240): Dialogus Miraculorum, ed. by J. Strange, 2 vols. Col. 1851. Excerpts in German trans. by A. Kaufmann, 2 parts, Col. 1888 sq. — Thos. à Chantimpré (d. about 1270): Bonum universale de apibus, a comparison of a convent to a beehive. Excerpts in German by A. Kaufmann, Col. 1899; Annales monastici, ed. by Luard, 5 vols. London, 1865-69. — Jacobus de Voragine: Legenda aurea, English by W. Caxton (about 1470), Temple classics ed. 7 vols. London, 1890. — William of St. Amour (d. 1272): De periculis novissorum temporum in Denifle Chartularium Univ., Paris, vol. I.

The Lives of Anselm, Bernard, William of Thierry, Francis, Dominic, Norbert, etc. — H. Helyot (Franciscan, d. 1716): Hist. des ordres monastiques, religieux et militaires et des congrégations séculières de l’une et de l’autre sexe qui ont été établies jusqu’ àprésent, 8 vols. Paris, 1714-19; Germ. trans., 8 vols. Leip. 1753-56. He gives a long list of the older authorities. — Mrs. Jamieson: Legends of the Monastic Orders, London, 1850. — A. Butler: Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, 12 vols. Dublin, 1868 sqq. — Sir William Dugdale: Monasticon anglicanum, ed. by J. Caley, etc., 8 vols. London, 1846. Based on the ed. of 1817. — T. D. Fosbroke: Brit. Monasticism, or Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England, London, 1803, 3d ed. 1845. — Montalembert: Les moins d’occident depuis St. Benoit jusqu’ à St. Bernard, Paris, 1860-77; EngI. trans., 7 vols. London, 1861 sqq. — O. T. Hill: Engl. Monasticism, Its Rise and Influence, London, 1867. — S. R. Maitland: The Dark Ages, ed. by Fred. Stokes, 5th ed., London, 1890. — Wishart: Short Hist. of Monks and Monasticism, Trenton, 1900. — E. L. Taunton: The Engl. Black Monks of St. Benedict, 2 vols. London, 1897. — A. Gasquet: Engl. Monastic Life, London, 1904, and since. — Hurter: Innocent III., vol. IV. 84-311. — J. C. Robertson: View of Europe during the Middle Ages, in introd. to his Life of Chas. V. — H. Von Eicken: Gesch. und System der mittelalterlichen Weltanschauung, Stuttgart, 1887. — A. Jessopp: The Coming of the Friars, London, no date, 7th ed., chap. Daily Life in a Med. Monastery, 113-166. — Harnack: Monasticism, Giessen, 1882, 5th ed. 1901, trans. by C. R. Gillett, N. Y., 1895. — Stephens: Hist. of the Engl. Church, chap. XIV. (Monastic Orders). — Hauck, III. 441-516, IV. 311-409. — Littledale: Monachism, in Enc. Brit. — Denifle: Luther und Lutherthum, Mainz, 1904 sq., draws in his treatment of monasticism, upon his great resources of medieval scholarship.

The glorious period of monasticism fell in the Middle Ages, and more especially in the period that is engaging our attention. The convent was the chief centre of true religion as well as of dark superstition. With all the imposing movements of the age, the absolute papacy, the Crusades, the universities, the cathedrals and scholasticism, the monk was efficiently associated. He was, with the popes, the chief promoter of the Crusades. He was among the great builders. He furnished the chief teachers to the universities and numbered in his order the profoundest of the Schoolmen. The medieval monks were the Puritans, the Pietists, the Methodists, the Evangelicals of their age. All these classes of Christians have this in common, that they make earnest with their religion, and put it into zealous practice.

If it be compared with the monachism of the earlier period of the Church, the medieval institution will be found to equal it in the number of its great monks and to exceed it in useful activity. Among the distinguished Fathers of the Post-Nicene period who advocated monasticism were St. Anthony of Egypt, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Benedict of Nursia. In the Middle Ages the list is certainly as imposing. There we have Anselm, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus among the Schoolmen, St. Bernard and Hugo de St. Victor, Eckart, and Tauler among the mystics, Hildegard and Joachim of Flore among the seers, the authors of the Dies irae and Stabat mater and Adam de St. Victor among the hymnists, Anthony of Padua, Bernardino of Siena, Berthold of Regensburg and Savonarola among the preachers, and in a class by himself, Francis d’Assisi.

Of the five epochs in the history of monasticism two belong to the Middle Ages proper. The appearance of the hermit and the development of the eremite mode of life belong to the fourth century. Benedict of Nursia of the sixth century, and his well-systematized rule, mark the second epoch. The development of the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth century marks the last epoch. The two between are represented by the monastic revival, starting from the convent of Cluny as a centre in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and the rise and spread of the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century. Cluny was for a century almost the only reforming force in Western Europe till the appearance of Hildebrand on the stage, and he himself was probably trained in the mother convent. Through its offshoots and allied orders Cluny continued to be a burning centre of religious zeal for a century longer. Then, at a time of monastic declension, the mendicant orders, brought into existence by St. Francis d’Assisi and Dominic of Spain, became the chief promoters of one of the most notable religious revivals that has ever swept over Europe.

The work done by men like William of Hirschau, Bruno and Norbert in Germany, Bernard and Peter the Venerable in France, and St. Francis in Italy, cannot be ignored in any true account of the onward progress of mankind. However much we may decline to believe that monasticism is a higher form of Christian life, we must give due credit to these men, or deny to a series of centuries all progress and good whatsoever.

The times were favorable for the development of monastic communities. If our own is the age of the laic, the medieval period was the age of the monk. Society was unsettled and turbulent. The convent offered an asylum of rest and of meditation. Bernard calls his monks “the order of the Peaceful.” Feud and war ruled without. Every baronial residence was a fortress. The convent was the scene of brotherhood and co-operation. It furnished to the age the ideal of a religious household on earth. The epitaphs of monks betray the feeling of the time, pacificus, “the peaceful;” tranquilla pace serenus, “in quiet and undisturbed repose;” fraternae pacis amicus, “friend of brotherly peace.”

The circumstances are presented by Caesar of Heisterbach under which a number of monks abandoned the world, and were “converted” — that is, determined to enter a convent. Now the decision was made at a burial. Now it was due to the impression made by the relation of the wonderful things which occurred in convents. This was the case with a young knight, Gerlach, who listened to an abbot who was then visiting a castle, as he told his experiences within cloistral walls. Gerlach went to Paris to study, but could not get rid of the seed which had been sown in his heart, and entered upon the monastic novitiate. Sometimes the decision was made in consequence of a sermon. Caesar of Heisterbach himself was “converted” by a description given by Gerard of Walberberg, abbot of Heisterbach, while they were on the way to Cologne during the troublous times of Philip of Swabia and Otto IV. Gerard described the appearance of the Virgin, her mother Anna, and St. Mary Magdalene, who descended from the mountain and revealed themselves to the monks of Clairvaux while they were engaged in the harvest, dried the perspiration from their foreheads, and cooled them by fanning. Within three months Caesar entered the convent of Heisterbach.

There were in reality only two careers in the Middle Ages, the career of the knight and the career of the monk. It would be difficult to say which held out the most attractions and rewards, even for the present life. The monk himself was a soldier. The well-ordered convent offered a daily drill, exercise following exercise with the regularity of clockwork; and though the enemy was not drawn up in visible array on open field, he was a constant reality. Barons, counts, princes joined the colonies of the spiritual militia, hoping thereby to work out more efficiently the problem of their salvation and fight their conflict with the devil. The Third Lateran, 1179, bears witness to the popularity of the conventual life among the higher classes, and the tendency to restrict it to them, when it forbade the practice of receiving motley as a price of admission to the vow. The monk proved to be stronger than the knight and the institution of chivalry decayed before the institution of monasticism which still survives.

By drawing to themselves the best spirits of the time, the convents became in their good days, from the tenth well into the thirteenth century, hearthstones of piety, and the chief centres of missionary and civilizing agencies. When there was little preaching, the monastic community preached the most powerful sermon, calling men’s thoughts away from riot and bloodshed to the state of brotherhood and religious reflection. The motto aratro et cruce, “by the cross and the plough,” stood in their case for a reality. The monk was a pioneer in the cultivation of the ground, and, after the most scientific fashion then known, taught agriculture, the culture of the vine and fish, the breeding of cattle, and the culture of wool. He built roads and the best buildings. In intellectual and artistic concerns the convent was the chief school of the times. It trained architects, painters, and sculptors. There the deep problems of theology and philosophy were studied; there manuscripts were copied, and when the universities arose, the convent furnished them with their first and their most renowned teachers. In northeastern Germany and other parts of Europe and in Asia it was the outer citadel of church profession and church activity.

So popular was the monastic life that religion seemed to be in danger of running out into monkery and society of being transformed into an aggregation of convents. The Fourth Lateran sought to counteract this tendency by forbidding the establishment of new orders. But no council was ever more ignorant of the immediate future. Innocent III. was scarcely in his grave before the Dominicans and Franciscans received full papal sanction.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the important change was accomplished whereby all monks received priestly ordination. Before that time it was the exception for a monk to be a priest. Extreme unction and absolution had been administered in the convent by unordained monks. With the development of the strict theory of sacerdotalism, these functions were forbidden to them, as by the ninth ecumenical council, 1123. The synod of Nismes, thirty years earlier, 1096, thought it answered objections to the new custom sufficiently by pointing to Gregory the Great, Gregory of Tours, and Augustine as cases of monks who had priestly ordination. On the other hand the active movement within the convents to take a larger part in the affairs of society was resisted by ecumenical councils, as, for example, the Second Lateran, 1139, which forbade monks practising as physicians or lawyers.

The monastic life was praised as the highest form of earthly existence. The convent was compared to Canaan and treated as the shortest and surest road to heaven. The secular life, even the life of the secular priest, was compared to Egypt. The passage to the cloister was called conversion, and the monks converts, conversi, or the religious. They reached the Christian ideal. Renouncing the vow was pronounced turning to the company of the lost, to the lion’s mouth, and to the realm of blackness and death.

Bishop Otto of Freising speaks of the monks as “spending their lives like angels in heavenly purity and holiness. They live together one in heart and soul, give themselves at one signal to sleep, lift up as by one impulse their lips in prayer and their voices in reading…. They go so far, that while they are refreshing the body at table, they listen to the reading of the Scriptures…. They give up their own wills, their earthly possessions, and their parents, and, following the command of the Gospel and Christ, constantly bear their cross by mortifying the flesh, being all the while full of heavenly homesickness.”

The enthusiastic advocacy of the monastic life can only be explained by a desire to get relief from the turbulence of the social world and a sincere search after holiness. There is scarcely a letter of Anselm in which he does not advocate its superior advantages. It was not essential to become a monk to reach salvation, but who, he writes, “can attain to it in a safer or nobler way, he who seeks to love God alone or he who joins the love of the world with the love of God?” He loses no opportunity to urge laymen to take the vow. He appeals to his kinsmen according to the flesh to become his kinsmen in the Spirit.

Bernard was not at peace till he had all his brothers and his married sister within cloistral walls.

Honorius of Autun, in his tract on the cloistral life, after declaring that it was instituted by the Lord himself, calls the convent a shore for those tired on the sea, a refuge for the traveller from the cold and anxieties of the world, a bed for the weary to rest on, an asylum for those fleeing from the turmoils of the state, a school for infants learning the rule of Christ, a gymnasium for those who would fight against vices, a prison career for the criminal from the broad way till he goes into the wide hall of heaven, a paradise with different trees full of fruits and the delights of Scripture.

The monastic life was the angelic life. “Are ye not already like the angels of God, having abstained from marriage,” exclaimed St. Bernard, in preaching to his monks, and this was the almost universal representation of the age.

Kings and princes desired to be clad in the monastic habit as they passed into the untried scenes of the future. So Frederick II., foe of the temporal claims of the papacy as he was, is said to have died in the garb of the Cistercians. So did Roger II. of Sicily, 1163, and Roger III., 1265. William of Nevers was clad in the garb of the Carthusian order before he expired. Louis VI. of France passed away stretched on ashes sprinkled in the form of a cross. So did Henry, son of Henry II. of England, expire, laid on a bed of ashes, 1184. William the Conqueror died in a priory with a bishop and abbot standing by.

It was the custom in some convents, if not in all, to lay out the monks about to die on the floor, which was sometimes covered with matting. First they rapped on the death table. Waiting the approach of death, the dying often had wonderful visions of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints. The imagination at such times was very vivid, and the reports which the dying gave on returning for a moment to consciousness seem to have been generally accepted.

The miraculous belonged to the monk’s daily food. He was surrounded by spirits. Visions and revelations occurred by day and by night. Single devils and devils in bands were roaming about at all hours in the cloistral spaces, in the air and on foot, to deceive the unwary and to shake the faith of the vigilant. The most elaborate and respectable accounts of monks, so beset, are given by Peter the Venerable in his work on Miracles, by Caesar of Heisterbach, and Jacobus de Voragine. Caesar’s Dialogue of Miracles and Voragine’s Golden Legend are among the most entertaining storybooks ever written. They teem with legends which are accepted as true. They simply reflect the feeling of the age, which did not for a moment doubt the constant manifestation of the supernatural, especially the pranks and misdemeanors of the evil one and his emissaries.

Peter the Venerable gives a graphic picture of how these restless foes pulled the bedclothes off from sleeping monks and, chuckling, carried them to a distance, how they impudently stood by, making fun while the modest monastic attended to the necessities of nature, and how they threw the faithful to the ground, as at night they went about through convent precincts making “holy thefts of prayer.” Peter tells a good story of a poor monk who suddenly saw before him an immense demon standing at his bedside, who with difficulty bore his weight with his wings. Two others appeared at once and exclaimed to the first, “What are you doing here?” “I can do nothing,” was the reply, “on account of the protection which is given by the cross and the holy water and the singing of psalms. I have labored all night and can do nothing.” The two replied, “We have come from forcing a certain Gaufrid to commit adultery and the head of a monastery to fornicate with a boy, and you, idle rogue, do something, too, and cut off the foot of this monk which is hanging outside his bed.” Seizing a pickaxe which was lying under the bed, the demon struck with all his might, but the monk with equal celerity drew in his foot and turned to the back side of the bed and so escaped the blow. Thereupon the demons took their departure.

It is fair to suppose that many of these experiences were mere fancies of the brain growing out of attacks of indigestion or of headache, which was a common malady of convents.

The assaults of the devil were especially directed to induce the monk to abandon his sacred vow. Writing to a certain Helinand, Anselm mentions the four kinds of assault he was wont to make. The first was the assault through lust of the pleasures of the world, when the novice, having recently entered the convent, began to feel the monotony of its retired life. In the second, he pushed the question why the monk had chosen that form of life rather than the life of the parish priest. In the third, he pestered him with the question why he had not put off till late in life the assumption of the vow, in the meantime having a good time, and yet in the end getting all the benefits and the reward of monkery. And last of all, the devil argued why the monk had bound himself at all by a vow, seeing it was possible to serve God just as acceptably without a vow. Anselm answered the last objection by quoting Psa_76:11, and declaring the vow to be in itself well pleasing to God.

It is unfair to any institution to base our judgment of its merits and utility upon its perversions. The ideal Benedictine and Franciscan monk, we should be glad to believe, was a man who divided his time between religious exercises and some useful work, whether it was manual labor or teaching or practical toil of some other kind. There were, no doubt, multitudes of worthy men who corresponded to this ideal. But there was another ideal, and that ideal was one from which this modern age turns away with unalloyed repugnance. The pages of Voragine and the other retailers of the conventual life are full of repulsive descriptions which were believed in their day, and presented not only a morbid view of life but a view utterly repulsive to sound morality and to the ideal. A single instance will suffice. In the curious legend of St. Brandon the Irish saint, whose wanderings on the ocean have been connected with America, we have it reported that he found an island whereon was an abbey in which twenty-four monks lived. They had come from Ireland and had been living on the island eighty years when they welcomed St. Brandon and his twelve companions. In all this time they had been served from above every week day with twelve loaves of bread, and on Sabbaths with double that number, and they had the same monotonous fare each day, bread and herbs. None of them had ever been sick. They had royal copes of cloth of gold and went in processions. They celebrated mass with lighted tapers, and they said evensong. And in all those eighty years they had never spoken to one another a single word! What an ideal that was to set up for a mortal man! Saying mass, keeping silence, going in processions with golden copes day in and day out for eighty long years, every proper instinct of nature thus buried, the gifts of God despised, and life turned into an indolent, selfish seclusion! And yet Voragine, himself an archbishop, relates that “Brandon wept for joy of their holy conversation.”

Gifts of lands to monastic institutions were common, especially during the Crusades. He who built a convent was looked upon as setting up a ladder to heaven. Battle Abbey, or the Abbey of St. Martin of the Place of Battle, as the full name is, was built by William the Conqueror on the battle-field of Hastings and finally dedicated by Anselm, 1094. The Vale Royal in Cheshire, the last Cistercian home founded in England, was established by Edward I. in fulfilment of a vow made in time of danger by sea on his return from Palestine. He laid the first stone, 1277, and presented the home with a fragment of the true cross and other relics.

Most of the monastic houses which became famous, began with humble beginnings and a severe discipline, as Clairvaux, Citeaux, Hirschau, and the Chartreuse. The colonies were planted for the most part in lonely regions, places difficult of access, in valley or on mountain or in swamp. The Franciscans and Dominicans set a different example by going into the cities and to the haunts of population, howbeit also choosing the worst quarters. The beautiful names often assumed show the change which was expected to take place in the surroundings, such as Bright Valley or Clairvaux, Good Place or Bon Lieu, the Delights or Les Delices (near Bourges), Happy Meadow or Felix Pré, Crown of Heaven or Himmelskrone, Path to Heaven or Voie du Ciel. Walter Map, writing in the last part of the twelfth century, lingers on the fair names of the Cistercian convents, which, he says, “contain in themselves a divine and prophetic element, such as House of God, Gate of Salvation,” etc.

With wealth came the great abbeys of stone, exhibiting the highest architecture of the day. The establishments of Citeaux, Cluny, the Grande Chartreuse, and the great houses of Great Britain were on an elaborate scale. No pains or money were spared in their erection and equipment. Stained glass, sculpture, embroidery, rich vestments, were freely used. A well-ordered house had many parts, — chapel, refectory, calefactory, scriptorium for writing, locutorium for conversation, dormitory, infirmary, hospital. Not a single structure, but an aggregation of buildings, was required by the larger establishments. Cluny, in 1245, was able to accommodate, at the same time, the pope, the king of France, and the emperor of Constantinople, together with their retinues. Matthew Paris says Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland, was ample enough to entertain, at the same time, three sovereigns without inconvenience the one to the other. The latest conveniences were introduced into these houses, the latest news there retailed. A convent was, upon the whole, a pretty good place to be in, from the standpoint of worldly well-being. What the modern club house is to the city, that the medieval convent was apt to be, so far as material appointments went. In its vaults the rich deposited their valuables. To its protection the oppressed fled for refuge. There, as at Westminster, St. Denis, and Dunfermline, kings and princes chose to be buried. And there, while living, they were often glad to sojourn, as the most notable place of comfort and ease they could find on their journeys.

The conventual establishment was intended to be a self-sufficient corporation, a sort of socialistic community doing all its own work and supplying all its own stuffs and food. The altruistic principle was supposed to rule. They had their orchards and fields, and owned their own cattle. Some of them gathered honey from their own hives, had the fattest fish ponds, sheared and spun their own wool, made their own wine, and brewed their own beer. In their best days the monks set a good example of thrift. The list of minor officials in a convent was complete, from the cellarer to look after the cooking and the chamberlain to look after the dress of the brethren, to the cantor to direct the singing and the sacristan to care for the church ornaments. In the eleventh century the custom was introduced of associating lay brethren with the monasteries, so that in all particulars these institutions might be completely independent. Nor was the convent always indifferent to the poor. But the tendency was for it to centre attention upon itself, rather than to seek the regeneration and prosperity of those outside its walls.

Like many other earthly ideals, the ideal of peace, virtue, and happy contentment aimed at by the convent was not reached, or, if approached in the first moments of overflowing ardor, was soon forfeited. For the method of monasticism is radically wrong. Here and there the cloister was the “audience chamber of God.” But it was well understood that convent walls did not of themselves make holy. As, before, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine had borne testimony to that effect, so now also did different voices. Ivo of Chartres (d. 1116) condemns the monks who were filled with the leaven of pride and boast of their ascetic practices and refers to such passages as 1Ti_4:8 and Rom_14:17. The solitudes of the mountains and forests, he says, will not make men holy, who do not carry with them rest of soul, the Sabbath of the heart, and elevation of mind. Peter of Cluny wrote to a hermit that his separation from the world would not profit unless he built a strong wall against evil in his own heart, and that wall was Christ the Saviour. Without this protection, retirement to solitude, mortifications of the body, and journeyings in distant lands, instead of availing, would bring temptations yet more violent. Every mode of life, lay and clerical, monastic and eremitic, has its own temptations.

But prosperity was invariably followed by rivalry, arrogance, idleness, and low morals. If Otto of Freising gives unstinted praise to the cloistral communities, his contemporary, Anselm of Havelberg, condemns the laziness and gossip of the monks within and without the convent walls. Elizabeth of Schönau and Hildegard of Bingen, while they looked upon the monastic life as the highest form of earthly existence, saw much that was far from ideal in the lives of monks and nuns. There is a chronique scandaleuse of the convents as dark and repulsive as the chronique scandaleuse of the papacy during the pornocracy, and under the last popes of the Middle Ages. In a letter to Alexander III., asking him to dissolve the abbey of Grestian, the bishop of the diocese, Arnulf, spoke of all kinds of abuses, avarice, quarrelling, murder, profligacy. William of Malmesbury, writing in 1125, gives a bad picture of the monks of Canterbury. The convent of Brittany, of which Abaelard was abbot, revealed, as he reports in his autobiography, a rude and shocking state of affairs. Things got rapidly worse after the first fervor of the orders of St. Francis and Dominic was cooled. Teachers at the universities, like William of St. Amour of Paris (d. 1270), had scathing words for the monkish insolence and profligacy of his day, as will appear when we consider the mendicant orders. Did not a bishop during the Avignon captivity of the papacy declare that from personal examination he knew a convent where all the nuns had carnal intercourse with demons? The revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1375), approved at the councils of Constance and Basel, reveal the same low condition of monastic virtue. Nicolas of Clemanges (d. 1440) wrote vigorous protests against the decay of the orders, and describes in darkest colors their waste, gluttony, idleness, and profligacy. He says a girl going into a convent might as well be regarded as an abandoned woman at once. It was true, as Caesar of Heisterbach had said in a homily several centuries before, “Religion brought riches and riches destroyed religion.”

The institution of monasticism, which had included the warmest piety and the highest intelligence of the Middle Ages in their period of glory, came to be, in the period of their decline, the synonym for superstition and the irreconcilable foe of human progress. And this was because there is something pernicious in the monastic method of attempting to secure holiness, and something false in its ideal of holiness. The monks crushed out the heretical sects and resented the Renaissance. Their example in the period of early fervor, adapted to encourage thrift, later promoted laziness and insolence. Once praiseworthy as educators, they became champions of obscurantism and ignorance. Chaucer’s prior, who went on the pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas à Becket, is a familiar illustration of the popular opinion of the monks in England in the fourteenth century: — 

“He was a lord full fat and in good point;

His eyen stepe and rolling in his head

That stemed as a fornice of a led;

His botes souple, his hors in gret estat,

Now certainly he was a sayre prelat.

He was not pale as a forpined gost;

A fat swan loved he best of any rost;

His palfrey was as broune as is a bery.”

And yet it would be most unjust to forget the services which the monastery performed at certain periods in the history of medieval Europe, or to deny the holy purpose of their founders. The hymns, the rituals, and the manuscripts prepared by medieval monks continue to make contribution to our body of literature and our Church services. An age like our own may congratulate itself upon its methods of Church activity, and yet acknowledge the utility of the different methods practised by the Church in another age. We study the movements of the past, not to find fault with methods which the best men of their time advocated and which are not our own, but to learn, and become, if possible, better fitted for grappling with the problems of our own time.


62. Monasticism and the Papacy

Monasticism and the papacy, representing the opposite extremes of abandonment of the world and lordship over the world, strange to say, entered into the closest alliance. The monks came to be the standing army of the popes, and were their obedient and valorous champions in the battles the popes waged with secular rulers. Some of the best popes were monastic in their training, or their habits, or both. Gregory VII. was trained in the Benedictine convent on the Aventine, Victor III. proceeded from Monte Cassino, Urban II. and Pascal II. from Cluny, Adrian IV. from St. Albans. Eugenius III., the pupil of St. Bernard, continued after he was made pope to wear the shirt of the monks of Citeaux next to his body. Innocent III. wrote the ascetic work, Contempt of the World.

One monastic order after the other was founded from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. The organizing instinct and a pious impulse dotted Christendom with new convents or rebuilt old ones from Mt. Carmel to northern Scotland. Innocent III., after the manner in which the modern Protestant justifies the denominational distinctions of Protestantism, likened these various orders to troops clad in different kinds of armor and belonging to the same army. “Such variety, “ he said, “does not imply any division of allegiance to Christ, but rather one mind under a diversity of form.” So Peter of Blois writing to the abbot of Eversham said, that as out of the various strings of the harp, harmony comes forth, so out of the variety of religious orders comes unity of service. One should no less expect to find unity among a number of orders than among the angels or heavenly bodies. A vineyard bears grapes both black and white. A Christian is described in Holy Writ as a cedar, a cypress, a rose, an olive tree, a palm, a terebinth, yet they form one group in the Lord’s garden.

It was the shrewd wisdom of the popes to encourage the orders, and to use them to further the centralization of ecclesiastical power in Rome. Each order had its own monastic code, its own distinctive customs. These codes, as well as the orders, were authorized and confirmed by the pope, and made, immediately or more loosely, subject to his sovereign jurisdiction. The mendicant orders of Sts. Francis and Dominic were directly amenable to the Holy See. The Fourth Lateran, in forbidding the creation of new orders, was moved to do so by the desire to avoid confusion in the Church by the multiplication of different rules. It commanded all who wished to be monks to join one of the orders already existing. The orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic, founded in the face of this rule, became the most faithful adherents the papacy ever had, until the Society of Jesus arose three centuries later.

The papal favor, shown to the monastic orders, tended to weaken the authority of the bishops, and to make the papacy independent of the episcopal system. Duns Scotus went so far as to declare that, as faith is more necessary for the world than sacramental ablution in water, so the body of monks is more important than the order of prelates. The monks constitute the heart, the substance of the Church. By preaching they start new life, and they preach without money and without price. The prelates are paid.

Papal privileges and exemptions were freely poured out upon the orders, especially upon the Mendicants. They were the pets of the popes. They were practically given freedom to preach and dispense the sacrament in all places and at all times, irrespective of the bishops and their jurisdiction. The constant complaints and clashing which resulted, led to endless appeals of monasteries against the decisions of bishops, which flowed in a constant stream to Rome, and gave the members of the curia a rare chance to ply their trade. The convents, by their organization and wealth, and by the number of their constituents, who were free to go to Rome and spend an indefinite time there, were able to harass and to wear out the patience of their opponents, the bishops, or prolong the cases till their death.

The riches, luxury, and power of the great convents became proverbial. In Lorraine and other parts of Europe they were the leading influence. Abbots often took precedence of bishops, just as the general chapters of the orders, made up of representatives from the farthest East to the Atlantic, were more imposing than the diocesan and even the provincial councils.

A little earlier than our period the abbot of Weissenburg was able to muster as many men as his diocesan bishop of Spires, and the three abbots of Reichenau, St. Gall, and Kempten, three times as many as the bishop of the extensive diocese of Constance. In the twelfth century the abbot of Fulda claimed precedence over the great archbishop of Cologne. Beginning with John XVIII. (1004-1009) the abbots were not seldom vested with the insignia of the episcopal office. The English abbots of St. Albans, Bardney, Westminster, and the heads of other English abbeys were mitred. They were great personages; they sat in ecumenical councils; the bells were rung as they passed; they engaged in the hunt, had their horses and armed retinues, and entertained on an elaborate scale. The abbot of St. Albans ate from a silver plate, and even ladies of rank were invited to share the pleasures of repasts at English abbeys.

Thus, by wealth and organization and by papal favor, the monastic orders were in a position to overshadow the episcopate. Backed by the pope they bade defiance to bishops, and in turn they enabled the papacy most effectually to exercise lordship over the episcopate.

In the struggle with the heretical sects the orders were the uncompromising champions of orthodoxy, and rendered the most effective assistance to the popes in carrying out their policy of repression. In the Inquisition they were the chief agents which the papacy had. They preached crusades against the Albigenses and were prominent in the ranks of the crusaders. In the work of bloody destruction, they were often in the lead, as was Arnold of Citeaux. Everywhere from Germany to Spain the leading Inquisitors were monks.

Again, in the relentless struggle of the papacy with princes and kings, they were always to be relied upon. Here they did valiant service for the papacy, as notably in the struggle against the emperor, Frederick II., when they sowed sedition and organized revolt in Germany and other parts of his empire.

Once more, as agents to fill the papal treasury, they did efficient and welcome service to the Holy See. In this interest they were active all over Europe. The pages of English chroniclers are filled with protests against them on the score of their exactions from the people. The pope treated the orders well, and in turn was well served by them. They received high favors, and they had the rare grace of showing gratitude.

The orders of this period may be grouped in five main families: the family which followed the Benedictine rule, the family which followed the so-called Augustinian rule, the Carmelites, the hermit orders of which the Carthusians were the chief, and the original mendicant orders, the Franciscans and Dominicans.


63. The Monks of Cluny

Literature. — See Lit. vol. IV, § 84; Mabillon: Ann. ord. S. Bened., III.-V., Paris, 1706-1708; Statuta Cluniacensia, Migne, 189, 1023-47. — Bernard et Bruel: Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Cluni, to 1300, 6 vols. Paris, 1876-93; Consuetudines monasticae, vol. I.; Consuet. Farfenses, ed. by Albers, Stuttgart, 1900. The consuetudines are statutes and customs which convents adopted supplementary to the Rules of their orders. These of Farfa, a convent in Italy, were taken down from Odilo of Cluny and enforced at Farfa.

The Lives of St. Bernard. — C. A. Wilkens: Petrus der Ehrwürdige, Leipzig, 1857, 277 pp. — M. Kerker; Wilhelm der Selige, Abt zu Hirschau, Tübingen, 1863. — Witten: Der Selige Wilhelm, Abt von Hirschau, Bonn, 1890. — Champly: Hist. de l’abbaye de Cluny, Mâcon, 1866. — L’Huillier: Vie de Hugo, Solesmes, 1887. — K. Sackur: Die Cluniacenser bis zur Mitte des 11ten Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. Halle, 1892-94. — H. Kutter: Wilhelm von St. Thierry, ein Representant der mittelalterlichen Frömmigkeit, Giessen, 1898. — Maitland: The Dark Ages, 1890, pp. 350-491. — Hauck, vol. III. — Art. Hirschau, in Herzog, VIII. 138 sqq.

The convent of Cluny, located twelve miles northwest of Mâcon, France, stood at the height of its influence in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Founded in 910 by Duke William of Aquitaine, and directed by a succession of wise abbots, it gained an eminence, second only to that of Monte Cassino among the monasteries of the West, and became the nursery of a monastic revival which spread over Europe from the Adriatic to Scotland.

No religious locality in the Latin church enjoyed a purer fame than Cluny. Four of its abbots, Odo, Majolus, Odilo, and Hugh, attained the dignity of canonized saints. Three popes were among its monks, Gregory VII., Urban II., and Pascal II., and the antipope Anacletus II. Gelasius II., driven from Rome, 1118, took refuge within its walls and died there lying on ashes and there was buried. The cardinals who elected Calixtus II., his successor, met at Cluny. Kings joined with popes in doing it honor.

The Cluniacs re-enforced the rule of St. Benedict in the direction of greater austerity. In Lorraine and Germany the Cluny influence began to be felt after the monastic reform, led by such men as Abbot Gerhard of Brogne in the tenth century, had run its course. Such monastic leaders as William, abbot of St. Benignus at Dijon, Poppo, abbot of Stablo and Limburg, and William of Hirschau represented the Benedictine rule and were in full sympathy with Cluny. Hirschau in the Black Forest became a centre of Cluniac influence in Southern Germany and one of the chief centres of intelligence of the age. Its abbot William, 1069-91, a vigorous disciplinarian and reformer, had received a thorough scholastic training at the convent of St. Emmeram, Regensburg. He was in correspondence with Anselm and visited Gregory VII. in Rome about the year 1075. The convent became a Gregorian stronghold in the controversy over the right of investiture. With the rule of Cluny before him William, in 1077, drew up a similar code for Hirschau, known as the Constitutiones Hirsaugienses, and introduced the white dress of the Cluniacs which gave rise to the sneer that the monks were cleansing their garments instead of their hearts. Under William the Conqueror the Cluniacs established themselves in England at Barnstaple. William thought so well of them that he offered to one of their number, Hugh, the supervision of the religious affairs of the realm. The second house in England was the important establishment, St. Pancras at Lewes, set up by Gundrada and the Earl of Warren, the Conqueror’s son-in-law, 1077. Bermondsey, Wenlock, and Thetford were other important houses. The Cluniac houses in England were called priories and their heads priors or deans. Hugo, who held the position of abbot of Cluny for sixty years, 1048-1109, was the friend of Gregory VII. and during his administration Cluny was visited by Urban II., one of Hugo’s disciples, after the adjournment of the synod of Clermont. Hugo began the erection of the great basilica in 1089, which was dedicated by Innocent II. in 1131. It was the next greatest church after St. Peter’s in the West.

Under Pontius, the seventh abbot, 1109-22, the current of decay ran deep and strong. The convent had become rich in lands and goods. The plain furnishings had been discarded for rich appointments, and austerity of habits gave way to self-indulgence. Papal favors were heaped upon Pontius, and Pascal, his godfather, sent him the dalmatic. Calixtus II. put his own ring on Pontius’ finger, gave him the right to exercise the prerogatives of cardinal, and the monks of Cluny the right to celebrate service with closed doors, while the interdict was in force in the diocese.

Pontius gave way completely to worldly ambition, and assumed the title of archabbot, which was the exclusive prerogative of the head of the convent of Monte Cassino. Charges were made against him by the bishop of Macon and, forced to resign, he set his face towards Jerusalem as a pilgrim. The pilgrimage did not arouse any feelings of submission, and on his return the deposed abbot made an effort to seize his former charge. He forced the convent gates and compelled the monks to swear him fealty. The sacred vessels of gold and silver were melted down and divided among the wild intruders. The devastation was then carried beyond the convent walls to the neighboring estates. The anathema was laid upon Pontius by Honorius II., and, summoned to Rome, he was thrown into prison, where he died, impenitent, 1126. This was one of the most notorious cases of monastic malversation of office in the Middle Ages.

Peter the Venerable had been elected abbot of Cluny during Pontius’ absence in the East and filled the office for nearly forty years, 1122-57. He was the friend of St. Bernard, one of the most eminent of the medieval monks and one of the most attractive ecclesiastical personages of his age. Born in Auvergne and trained in a Cistercian convent, he was only twenty-eight when he was made abbot. Under his administration Cluny regained its renown. In addition to the study of the Bible, Peter also encouraged the study of the classics, a course which drew upon him bitter attacks. He visited the Cluniac houses abroad in England and Spain.

On the tenth anniversary of his official primacy, Peter welcomed two hundred priors and twelve hundred and twelve members of the order at Cluny. Four hundred and sixty monks constituted the family of the mother house. No less than two thousand convents are said to have acknowledged the Cluniac rule, two of which were at Jerusalem and Mt. Tabor. In 1246 Peter introduced through a General Chapter seventy six new rules, re-enforcing and elaborating the Benedictine code already in force. The use of meat was entirely forbidden except to the weak and infirm, and also the use of all confections made with honey, spices, and wine.

To the labors of abbot Peter added the activity of an author. He wrote famous tracts to persuade the Jews and Mohammedans, and against the heretic Peter de Bruys. His last work was on miracles,in which many most incredible stories of the supernatural are told as having occurred in convents.

It was while this mild and wise man held office, that Abaelard knocked at Cluny for admission and by his hearty permission spent within its walls the last weary hours of his life.

During Peter’s incumbency St. Bernard made his famous attack against the self-indulgence of the Cluniacs. Robert, a young kinsman of Bernard, had transferred his allegiance from the Cistercian order to Cluny. Bernard’s request that he be given up Pontius declined to grant. What his predecessor had declined to do, Peter did. Perhaps it was not without feeling over the memory of Pontius’ action that Bernard wrote, comparing the simple life at Citeaux with the laxity and luxury prevailing at Cluny.

This tract, famous in the annals of monastic controversial literature, Bernard opened by condemning the lack of spirituality among his own brethren, the Cistercians. “How can we,” he exclaims, “with our bellies full of beans and our minds full of pride, condemn those who are full of meat, as if it were not better to eat on occasion a little fat, than be gorged even to belching with windy vegetables!” He then passed to an arraignment of the Cluniacs for self-indulgence in diet, small talk, and jocularity. At meals, he said, dish was added to dish and eggs were served, cooked in many forms, and more than one kind of wine was drunk at a sitting. The monks preferred to look on marble rather than to read the Scriptures. Candelabra and altar cloths were elaborate. The art and architecture were excessive. The outward ornamentations were the proof of avarice and love of show, not of a contrite and penitent heart. He had seen one of them followed by a retinue of sixty horsemen and having none of the appearance of a pastor of souls. He charged them with taking gifts of castles, villas, peasants, and slaves, and holding them against just complainants. In spite of these sharp criticisms Peter remained on terms of intimacy with Bernard. He replied without recrimination, and called Bernard the shining pillar of the Church. A modification of the rule of St. Benedict, when it was prompted by love, he pronounced proper. But he and Bernard, he wrote, belonged to one Master, were the soldiers of one King, confessors of one faith. As different paths lead to the same land, so different customs and costumes, with one inspiring love, lead to the Jerusalem above, the mother of us all. Cluniacs and Cistercians should admonish one another if they discerned errors one in the other, for they were pursuing after one inheritance and following one command. He called upon himself and Bernard to remember the fine words of Augustine, “have charity, and then do what you will,” habe charitatem et fac quicquid vis. What could be more admirable? Where shall we go for a finer example of Christian polemics?

After Peter’s death the glory of Cluny declined. Six hundred years later, 1790, the order was dissolved by the French Government. The Hotel de Cluny, the Cluniac house in Paris, once occupied by the abbot, now serves as a museum of Mediaeval Art and Industry under the charge of the French government.

The piety of Western Christendom owes a lasting debt to Cluny for the hymn “Jerusalem the Golden,” taken from the de contemptu mundi written by Bernard of Cluny, a contemporary of Peter the Venerable and St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Jerusalem the Golden,

With milk and honey blest,

Beneath thy contemplation

Sink heart and voice opprest.

I know not, oh, I know not

What social joys are there,

What radiancy of glory,

What light beyond compare.


64. The Cistercians

Literature. — Exordium parvum ordinis Cisterciensiae, Migne, 166. Exordium magnum ord. Cisterc., by Conrad of Eberbach, d. 1220; Migne, 185. — Manriquez: Ann. ord. Cisterc., 4 vols. Lyons, 1642. — Mabillon: Ann. ord. St. Benedict, Paris, 1706-1708. — P. Guignard: Les monuments primitifs de la règle Cistercienne, publiés d’après les manuscripts de l’abbaye de Citeaux, Dijon, 1878, pp. cxii. 656. — Pierre le Nain: Essai de l’hist. de l’ordre de Citeaux, Paris, 1696. — J. H. Newman: The Cistercian Saints of England, London, 1844. — Franz Winter: Die Cistercienser des nord-östlichen Deutschlands bis zum Auftreten der Bettelorden, 3 vols. Gotha, 1868-1871. — L. Janauschek: Origines Cisterciensium, Vienna, 1877. — B. Albers: Untersuchungen zu den ältesten Mönchsgewohnheiten. Ein Beitrag zur Benedictinerordensregel der X-XIIten Jahrhunderte, Munich, 1905. — Sharpe: Architecture of the Cisterc., London, 1874. — Cisterc. Abbeys of Yorkshire, in “Fraser’s Mag.,” September, 1876. — Dean Hodges: Fountains Abbey, The Story of a Mediaeval Monastery, London, 1904. — Deutsch: art. Cistercienser, in Herzog, IV. 116-127; art. Harding, in “Dict. Natl. Biogr.,” XXIV. 333-335; the Biographies of St. Bernard. For extended Lit. see the work of Janauschek.

With the Cluniac monks the Cistercians divide the distinction of being the most numerous and most useful monastic order of the Middle Ages, until the Mendicant Friars arose and distanced them both. They are Benedictines and claim the great name of St. Bernard, and for that reason are often called Bernardins in France. Two popes, Eugenius III. and Benedict XII., proceeded from the order. Europe owes it a large debt for its service among the half-barbarian peasants of Eastern France, Southern Germany, and especially in the provinces of Northeastern Germany. Its convents set an example of skilled industry in field and garden, in the training of the vine, the culture of fish, the cultivation of orchards, and in the care of cattle.

The founder, Robert Molêsme, was born in Champagne, 1024, and after attempting in vain to introduce a more rigorous discipline in several Benedictine convents, retired to the woods of Molêsme and in 1098 settled with twenty companions on some swampy ground near Citeaux, twelve miles from Dijon. Here Eudes, duke of Burgundy, erected a building, which went at first by the name of the New Monastery, novum monasterium.

Alberic, Robert’s successor, received for the new establishment the sanction of Pascal II., and placed it under the special care of the Virgin. She is said to have appeared to him in the white dress of the order.

Under the third abbot, Stephen Harding, an Englishman, known as St. Stephen, who filled the office twenty-five years (1110-1134), the period of prosperity set in. In 1113 Bernard with thirty companions entered the convent, and the foundation of four houses followed, 1113-1115, — La Ferté, Potigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond, — which continued to have a rank above all the other Cistercian houses subsequently founded.

New houses followed rapidly. In 1130 there were 30 Cistercian convents, in 1168, 288. A rule was framed forbidding the erection of new establishments, but without avail, and their number in the fourteenth century had risen to 738. The order, though never the recipient of such privileges as were dispensed to Cluny, was highly honored by some of the popes. Innocent III. showed them special favor, and promised them the precedence in audiences at Rome.

The carta charitatis, the Rule of Love, the code of the Cistercians, dates from Harding’s administration and was confirmed by Calixtus II. — 1119. It commanded the strict observance of the Benedictine Rule, but introduced a new method of organization for the whole body. In contrast to the relaxed habits of the Cluniacs, the mode of life was made austerely simple. The rule of silence was emphasized and flesh forbidden, except in the case of severe illness. The conventual menu was confined to two dishes. All unnecessary adornment of the churches was avoided, so that nothing should remain in the house of God which savored of pride or superfluity. The crosses were of wood till the statutes of 1157 allowed them to be of gold. Emphasis was placed upon manual labor as an essential part of monastic life. A novice at Clairvaux writes enthusiastically of the employment of the monks, whom he found with hoes in the gardens, forks and rakes in the meadows, sickles in the fields, and axes in the forest. In some parts they became large landowners and crowded out the owners of small plats. At a later period they gave themselves to copying manuscripts. Their schools in Paris, Montpellier (1252), Toulouse (1281), Oxford (1282), Metz, and other places were noted, but with the exception of Bernard they developed no distinguished Schoolmen or writers as did the mendicant orders. They were not given to the practice of preaching or other spiritual service among the people. The general chapter, 1191, forbade preaching in the parish churches and also the administration of baptism. The order became zealous servants of the pope and foes of heresy. The abbot Arnold was a fierce leader of the Crusades against the Albigenses.

Following the practice introduced at the convent of Hirschau, the Cistercians constituted an adjunct body of laymen, or conversi. They were denied the tonsure and were debarred from ever becoming monks. The Cistercian dress was at first brown and then white, whence the name Gray Monks, grisei. The brethren slept on straw in cowl and their usual day dress.

The administration of the Cistercians was an oligarchy as compared with that of the Cluniacs. The abbot of Cluny was supreme in his order, and the subordinate houses received their priors by his appointment. Among the Cistercians each convent chose its own head. At the same time the community of all the houses was insured by the observance of the Rule of 1119, and by yearly chapters, which were the ultimate arbiters of questions in dispute. The five earliest houses exercised the right of annual visitation, which was performed by their abbots over five respective groups. A General Council of twenty-five consisted of these five abbots and of four others from each of the five groups. The General Chapters were held yearly and were attended by all the abbots within a certain district. Those at remote distances attended less frequently: the abbots from Spain, every two years; from Sweden and Norway, every three years; from Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, and Greece, every four years; and from the Orient, every seven years. It became a proverb that “The gray monks were always on their feet.”

The Cistercians spread over all Western Europe. The Spanish orders of Alcantara and Calatrava adopted their rule. The first Cistercian house in Italy was founded 1120 at Tiglieto, Liguria, and in Germany at Altenkamp about 1123. In England the order got a foothold in 1128, when William Gifford, bishop of Winchester, founded the house of Waverley in Surrey. Among the prominent English houses were, Netley near Southampton, founded by Henry III., Rivaulx, and Fountains, the greatest abbey in Northern England. In 1152 there were fifty Cistercian houses in England. Melrose Abbey, Scotland, also belonged to this order.

Of all the Cistercian convents, Port Royal has the most romantic history. Founded in 1204 by Mathilda de Garlande in commemoration of the safe return of her husband from the Fourth Crusade, it became in the seventeenth century a famous centre of piety and scholarship. Its association with the tenets of the Jansenists, and the attacks of Pascal upon the Jesuits, brought on its tragic downfall. The famous hospice, among the snows of St. Gotthard, is under the care of St. Bernard monks.

In the thirteenth century the power of the Cistercians yielded to the energy of the orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic. It was not a rare thing for them to pass over to the newer monastic organizations. In 1335 Benedict XIII. enacted regulations in the interest of a severe discipline, and in 1444 Eugenius IV. felt called upon to summon the General Chapter to institute a rigid reform. With the Reformation many of the houses were lost to the order in England and Germany. The Trappists started a new movement towards severity within the order. The French Revolution suppressed the venerable organization in 1790. The buildings at Citeaux, presided over by a succession of sixty-two abbots, are now used as a reformatory institution.