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The Rule of St Benedict was the fountain of monastic discipline in the West, the source, not of a single religious order, but of religious order in the most comprehensive sense of the phrase. Composed in the beginning for a single community of cenobites, it took into account no system which involved the grouping of monasteries in an organized federation or subordinated a number of houses to one common head. The successors of St Benedict at Monte Cassino could make no claim to any but an honorary primacy among Benedictine abbots. The Benedictine monastery was a self-ruling corporation; its abbot, the father of the convent, was supreme in it and in the dependent priories which formed integral, though locally detached, portions of the organism. The Rule supplied the main principle of its life; but in details it was governed by its own customary code, the result of local conditions and individual convenience. Such bodies of customs would necessarily have strong family and local likenesses; but they would show no trace of a rigid uniformity. Relations between neighboring communities might be fraternal, but each was a separate household, recognizing a common paternity, not in any supreme monastery, but in St Benedict, the founder of the monastic order.

This autonomy of the Benedictine community, with its healthy encouragement to free development on natural lines, was nevertheless not without its drawbacks. The history of such great houses as Monte Cassino and Farfa shows, on the one hand, that a body of monks unprotected by any central authority or mutual bond of union was peculiarly liable to dispersion under the pressure of external attack. During the Lombard invasions in the sixth century, and the Saracen inroads in the ninth, both monasteries were left desolate for long periods. On the other hand, the community ran the continual risk of internal decay. The rule of a weak or careless abbot, under no effective supervision, was inevitably a source of danger; while the growth of temporal possessions, given by benefactors with the best intentions, brought with it temptations to the relaxation of religious observance and to the admission of secular customs out of keeping with the Rule. Both causes, in the disturbed condition of European society, combined against the steady maintenance of the founder's principles. A convent scattered by invaders, and forced to lead a vagrant life in search of casual hospitality, was unlikely, when it was restored to its old home, to enter upon its duties with its pristine zeal and to prefer austerity to comfort.

St Benedict of Aniane

The restoration of discipline in monasteries was a necessary accompaniment of the establishment of law and order in the Carolingian Empire. Charlemagne, with his sense of the value of learning to civilization, saw in well-ordered religious houses centres of culture and study which would be an ornament to his realm and exercise a salutary influence upon their surroundings. During his reign, an organized movement towards reform began in the Aquitanian kingdom, with the encouragement of its ruler Louis, his youngest son. The chief agent in this movement was Benedict, Abbot of Aniane. Like many of his followers in the work of monastic administration, he found himself dissatisfied with the normal routine of the religious house in which he had made his profession. As a monk at Saint-Seine, regarding the Rule of St Benedict as a system merely for beginners, he endeavored to follow the severe practices of Eastern monachism. About 780 he founded upon his inherited estates the monastery of Aniane. At first, the customs which he prescribed to his monks were too drastic; and experience probably taught him the wisdom of the Rule which, in his ardor, he had underrated. After a period of disappointment, Aniane began to flourish. Monks went out from it to spread its teaching in other parts of Gaul; old foundations received new life, and new houses were founded under its influence. Twenty monks were sent from Aniane to colonize Alcuin's monastery of Cormery; William, Duke of Aquitaine, placed others in the monastery of Saint-Guilhem-du-Désert. Benedict gained the favor of Charlemagne as a defender of orthodoxy against the adoptionist heresy of Felix, Bishop of Urgel; and Louis the Pious committed to him full authority to reform the monasteries of Aquitania. When Louis succeeded to his father's dominions in 814, this authority was extended over the whole of Gaul. Benedict was induced to follow Louis northwards, and eventually to take up his abode in the Kornelimunster, an abbey founded by him with the Emperor's help on the Inde, near Aix-la-Chapelle.   Here he died in February 822.

In his endeavors for reform, Benedict had to contend with three main abuses. The custom of granting monasteries as fiefs to lay proprietors endangered the whole system. Benedict prevailed upon Louis to appoint only regulars as abbots, and to modify the requisition of services from religious houses. Closely connected with this first abuse was the prevalent abandonment of regular observances. In some prominent houses, such as Saint-Denis at Paris and Saint-Benigne at Dijon, the inmates had abandoned the title of monks for that of clerks and canons. Saint-Benigne was brought back to discipline in Benedict's lifetime by its Abbot, Herlogaud. At Saint-Denis his efforts had little success; the monks who were introduced to leaven the house were expelled by the canons; and it was not until some years after his death that the reform was effected by Hilduin and Hincmar. But the crying evil which Benedict recognized as the root of irregularity was diversity of observance. If he was urgent in enforcing the Rule of St Benedict as the foundation of an orderly system, his panacea for disorder was uniformity of custom.

The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle

His reform was the first of a series of attempts to mould the monastic life upon a fixed pattern of observance. At the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 817 the Rule was interpreted and supplemented by a series of ordinances, the effect of which was to bind monasteries to one scale of simple living. All luxury was forbidden; monks must look after the offices of the house themselves and do their own work. While they were given a somewhat more liberal allowance of raiment than was contemplated by the Rule, they were restricted in the care of their persons. The visits of strangers to the cloister were prohibited, and even visiting monks were to be entertained in a separate dormitory. The abbot's spiritual authority was strongly upheld, but his private liberty was curtailed; he must live as one of the monks over whom he bore rule. The only children who might be taught in a monastery were those who were offered to it by their parents, and these, when they came to years of discretion, should be given a free choice between remaining with the monks or going out into the world. Where a monastery had dependent priories, each must be served by six monks at least, or entrusted to canons. The literary fruit of Benedict's studies in monastic polity is seen in the Codex Regularum, a collation of existing monastic rules, and in the Concordia Regularum, in which their precepts were applied in the form of a commentary to the governing Rule itself.

It will be noticed that the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle recognized the existence of canons, or persons leading the canonical as distinct from the monastic life, among the constituent parts of ecclesiastical machinery. St Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz (742-766), had composed a rule for the clerks of his cathedral church, by which they were given a quasi-monastic constitution embodying the principles of the common life and community of goods. His rule was the starting-point of reform in similar bodies of clergy, to whose members the title of canons was generally applied. Its origin is sometimes attributed to the canon or rule under which they lived; but it was more probably derived from the canon, the official list or matriculus of a community. Although this system was in itself an attempt to apply to corporations of secular clerks a constitution upon modified Benedictine lines, its growth presented an alternative mode of life to the inmates of monasteries. The claims of the monks of Saint-Denis and Dijon to be styled canons or regular clerks was a rejection of the mixed constitution of a monastery, in which only a certain proportion of the monks were in holy orders. It also excused the possession of private property by individuals, as the canon had his special allowance from the common fund or, where he was bound by no rule, lived upon the income derived from an individual estate. At Aix-la-Chapelle regulations were also drawn up for canons by a committee of bishops and clerks; and the code attributed to Amalarius, Dean of Metz, on the lines of the Rule of St Chrodegang, was intended for the use, not merely of cathedral and collegiate chapters, but of clerks in general. It was not until a much later date that the so-called Rule of St Augustine was formulated for the use of bodies of clerks vowed to a common life of the monastic type.

For Carolingian monasticism in its full vigour we must look to the abbeys of Gaul and Germany, to Saint-Maur, St Gall, or Fulda. In Italy such monasteries as Monte Cassino and Nonantula flourished under the Carolingian Emperors as centres of civilized and scholarly activity. But the general tendency of the Italian monasteries was towards secularization. Farfa, between the Sabine hills and the Tiber, was especially favored by Lothar, the son of Louis the Pious. Its abbot was a prince ruling over a large territory and commanding the allegiance of powerful vassals; he owned no superior but the Emperor, and was able to resist successfully the encroachments which successive Popes, grudging him the privilege of exemption from their authority, made upon his lands. The great monastery, with its circle of embattled walls, its four churches, its imperial palace and splendid monastic buildings adorned with spacious colonnades, was more like a fortified town than a place of retirement from the world. It withstood the attacks of the Saracens for seven years before its eventual fall. Such a foundation was an easy prey to the irregularities against which Benedict of Aniane had striven. Even within the main area of his reform, the dissolution of the Empire of Charlemagne, rent by intestine quarrels and harassed by the invasions of the Northmen, caused the temporary extinction of monastic life after its brief revival. The advance of the northern pirates along the Loire and Seine was marked by the abandonment and pillage of Marmoutier, the shrine of St Martin of Tours, Fleury, to which the body of St Benedict had been translated after the Lombard destruction of Monte Cassino, and Saint-Denis. The monasteries of the southern coast, such as Saint-Victor at Marseilles and Lerins, formerly a notable link between eastern and western monachism, were sacked by more than one invader during the eighth and ninth centuries. When, after the fury was past, monks returned to these sites, it was with disheartenment and little hope of safety.

Odo of Cluny

A period came, however, when the religious life, under the protection of powerful territorial magnates, had a chance of recovery. In 910 William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, founded a monastery at Cluny in the diocese of Macon, and set over it Berno, a noble Burgundian, who, as Abbot of Gigny, a house founded by himself upon territory of his own, had already given proof of reforming energy. The monastery of Baume, which had been placed under his direction and furnished with customs closely modelled upon the precepts of Benedict of Aniane, also contributed its example to the new abbey. Cluny, entrusted with the administration of other monasteries, was, before Berno’s death in 927, the head of a small congregation, the nucleus of the Cluniac order. Berno, in the last year of his life, resigned his office, and divided his monasteries between his relative Guy and Odo, a monk who had found at Baume the discipline abandoned by his earlier companions, the monks of Marmoutier. While, under the unworthy Guy, Gigny and Baume became centres of reaction, Cluny and the two other houses given to Odo persevered in the work of reform. Without Odo, indeed, the Cluniac movement might have come to nothing. During the fourteen years between 927 and 941, he earned the title of the reformer of Benedictine observance, not only in France, but in the West generally.

In France, Odo’s most remarkable success was the reform of Fleury, to which he was called in 930. At first the monks resisted his entry with violence; but his personal fearlessness overcame opposition, and, with the help of Hugh the Great, the father of Hugh Capet, he purged the convent of abuses and converted it into an active missionary centre, second only to Cluny in influence. In 936, on the invitation of Alberic, the temporal sovereign of Rome, Odo paid his first of several visits to Italy. He was given authority over the monasteries in Roman territory: St Paul's without the walls of Rome was successfully reformed, and other houses followed suit. A beginning was made at Monte Cassino; but Farfa, divided by a schism between two rival abbots who had murdered their predecessor, resisted the introduction of Cluniac monks by Odo and got rid by poison of the abbot whom Alberic installed by armed force. Yet, if Odo’s personal success in Italy was limited, he at any rate sowed the seed of a much needed revival. Neither Alberic nor his step-father and rival, King Hugh of Italy, can be credited with an ardent zeal for religion; but both, in the favor which they showed to the Abbot of Cluny, paid testimony to the importance of religious activity in the restoration of general order.

The work of Odo was continued with unabated energy by his successors. Mayeul (Maiolus), Abbot of Cluny from 954 to 994, was able, with the favor of Otto the Great and his son, to advance the Italian reform in Ravenna, Pavia, and Rome. Through the influence of the Empress Adelaide, the first offshoot of Cluny in the Burgundian king­dom was founded at Payerne (Peterlingen) in the Jura. Among the French monasteries reformed by Mayeul were Marmoutier, Saint-Maur-des-Fossées, and Saint-Benigne at Dijon. He died on his way to Saint-Denis, where his successor Odilo (994-1048) achieved some success. It was under the rule of Odilo that the position of Cluny as the supreme head of a monastic congregation was achieved.

Odo had succeeded to the headship of only half the monasteries which Berno had ruled; and his influence as Abbot of Cluny depended entirely upon his personal gifts and piety, not upon the established reputation of a community  which was as yet young and had acquired no great possessions. Most of the houses which submitted to his guidance were Benedictine monasteries with a history far older than that of Cluny. In subjecting themselves to him for a time, they did not surrender their independence. When he died, the number of houses immediately dependent on Cluny was very small. They were slightly increased under his next successor Aymard (942-954); but Mayeul, at his accession, had only five dependent monasteries under his charge. Under Mayeul, again, the work of reform did not include the principle of submission to Cluny. Several of the Benedictine foundations whose life was quickened by Odo and Mayeul initiated reforms of their own which were independent of Cluniac effort. Thus Fleury and Marmoutier had each its own congregation of reformed monasteries, which modeled their customs upon those of the reforming house, but were not members of a distinct order. The Lombard William of Volpiano, to whom Mayeul committed the government of Saint-Benigne in 990, migrated from Dijon to Normandy and introduced practices learned from Cluny into the Norman monasteries, either in person or through his disciples. Yet, though these were closely allied in ties of friendship, they owned no superior house to which obedience was due, but preserved the Benedictine principle of local autonomy.

Again, parallel movements may be traced with which Cluny was only indirectly connected. Thus the reform of monasteries in the Netherlands, under Gerard of Brogne, and that which proceeded from Gorze in the diocese of Metz, were purely spontaneous in origin. The monks of Gorze adopted certain customs which bore a strong resemblance to those of Cluny; and it is possible that the reform of the Abbey of Saint-Evre at Toul, achieved by monks of Fleury in 934, brought them into contact with Cluniac observances. Equally indigenous in its beginnings was the reform and restoration of the English monasteries, in which the prime mover was Dunstan, ably seconded by Aethelwold and Oswald. If Dunstan, during his exile from the court of Eadwig, learned much from continental monachism in the abbey of Saint-Pierre or Blandinium at Ghent, his policy had been matured in his own brain during years of quiet meditation at Glastonbury. The aid of Abbo of Fleury was subsequently invoked to kindle popular enthusiasm, when Aethelwold repeopled the ruined monasteries in the east of England, and when Oswald, in the Severn valley and at Ramsey, founded new houses in which the Benedictine Rule was strictly observed. Such movements felt the influence of the Cluniac revival, but were distinct from it. Once more, the German reform undertaken a century later by William, who, formerly a monk of St Emmeram at Ratisbon, was elected Abbot of the distracted monastery of Hirschau in the diocese of Spires in 1069, owed much to Cluny, then at the height of its power. William modeled his reform directly upon Cluniac principles; Ulrich's edition of the customs of Cluny, compiled at his request, was dedicated to him; some of his monks were sent to Cluny to learn regular observance, and the customs of Hirschau were compiled from their report. The German congregation, however, owed no allegiance to the monastery to which it was thus indebted. Similarly, the reform of Farfa, achieved by the Abbot Hugh whose purchase of his office in 997 was the unpromising beginning of a praiseworthy career, followed the Cluniac methods which the monastery had rejected at an earlier date. The customs of Farfa, compiled shortly after Hugh's death in 1039, belong, like the Ordo Cluniacensis of Bernard and Ulrich’s Antiquiores Consuetudines, to the main group of authorities for Cluniac practice, and include a most valuable description of the arrangements of a model Cluniac monastery. But Farfa remained out­side the Cluniac order.

Odilo of Cluny

Odilo’s rule at Cluny was distinguished by the intensive application of Cluniac customs to a congregation of dependent houses. Roving commissions to administer the affairs of foreign monasteries became less frequent; we hear more, on the other hand, of gifts of monasteries to Cluny, which were affiliated directly to her as their parent and mistress. The biogiapher of Odilo enumerates some of the principal churches which he ruled and enriched with possessions, buildings, and ornaments—Paverne and Romainmôtier in the diocese of Lausanne, Saint-Victor at Geneva, Charlieu and Ambierle near Lyons, Ris, Sauxillanges, Souvigny, la Ferte-Hauterive, and Saint-Saturnin in Auvergne, the priory founded by Mayeul at Pavia, and la Voulte-sur-Rhone, founded by Odilo himself in the last years of his life. He adorned the cloister of Cluny with marble columns, shipped from distant places down the Durance and the Rhone, so that he was wont to boast that he had found Cluny of wood and left it of marble.

It may be said with equal truth that he left Cluny, hitherto merely a spiritual power among Benedictine houses, the head of an order, as distinct from a mere congregation of monasteries, within the Benedictine system. Each house of the order owed absolute obedience to the sovereign abbot. Odo had acquired for Cluny the privilege of exemption from any authority but that of the Pope. Her priories, members of the mother-house and incapable of independent action apart from her, were similarly exempt from control by diocesan bishops or secular princes; in whatever country they were founded, they were subjects of Cluny, amenable only to the decrees of the annual chapter at which the priors of the order were gathered together under the presidency of the abbot. The title of abbot, accorded to the head of an old house like Vézelay, which had been drawn within the Cluniac system, did not imply independence of the central government. Certain houses had an honorary preeminence, la-Charité-sur-Loire, Saint-Martin-des-Champs at Paris, Souvigny and Sauxil­langes, and Lewes, the first Cluniac foundation in England, established in 1077. For visitatorial purposes, the order was divided into ten provinces, for each of which two visitors and other officers were appointed at   the general   chapter.  The   provincial   organization, however,   did not imply local autonomy; the visitors were responsible to the central autocracy.

This constitutional machinery was perfected during the long rule of Odilo’s successor Hugh (1049-1109). His abbacy, glorious as it was in the continual addition of monasteries to the order and in the foundation of the splendid abbey church of Cluny for the 300 or 400 monks for whom the old buildings were insufficient, was in some respects the turning-point of the history of the Cluniac movement. It covered the period of the struggle between the Emperor Henry IV and the Papacy which his father had taken action to reform. In this conflict Cluny was naturally in sympathy with the Pope. Its exemption from local authority made a strong Papacy essential to its undisturbed existence. Its early success had been largely due to its geographical position in a district little affected by the strife of the last days of the Carolingian Empire. But, with the spread of the order over Europe, and with the growth of the spirit of nationality, the safeguard of its central authority was, more than in earlier times, the protection of the supreme spiritual power. On the other hand, while the Papacy was menaced by the power which had restored it, Cluny was surrounded by enemies of the reforms demanded by Gregory VII. It is hardly surprising that its abbot preferred a cautious neutrality to a whole-hearted espousal of the cause of Gregory, and to the consequent risk of provoking the active enmity of Henry IV and the prelates whose jealousy of Cluniac privileges was ready to take advantage of Cluniac weakness. Tradition, founded upon the supposed association of Hildebrand with Cluny, has represented the order as a chief instrument of the policy which, as Pope, he sought to carry out. We may assume with justice that he looked for support to the great influence of the abbot. He found friendship and consolation; the fullness with which he poured out the anxieties of his heart in his letters to Hugh admits of no other interpretation of their spirit. But with these confidences was mingled a tone of impatient reproach which shows that Hugh's regard for him did not go to the length of overt action. The voice of the abbot was not heard in the Pope's synods; Cluny was unprepared to throw its weight into the scales upon his side. As Gregory complained, there were occasions when the abbot's holiness shunned trouble, and when he was slothful in answering the demands of serious business.

The days of Cluniac reform, in fact, were numbered with the settled organization of the Cluniac order. In a monastery which had increased in power and riches, the mistress of some two hundred priories, piety might still be found and the opus Dei still flourish; but its missionary energy had been exchanged for concentration upon internal polity. The patriarchs of Cluny had insisted upon a strict observance of the Rule, upon silence in church and cloister, upon the banishment of meat from the convent table, upon eradication of the nequissimum vitium of private property. While this was so, the success of Cluny as an agent of reform was obviously due in no small degree to its moderation and avoidance of extreme forms of asceticism. It presented an ideal which it was possible for the ordinary monk to follow. In spite of its remissness in the cause of Gregory VII, it still sent out great men to champion the papal claims. Urban II, the inheritor of the Hildebrandine policy, had been Prior of Cluny; Paschal II who followed him in the papal chair was also a Cluniac monk. It was to Cluny that Gelasius II, Paschal’s successor, came to die, and the next Pope, Calixtus II, was chosen in the abbey. Its fame suffered a temporary eclipse under the rule of Pons, who succeeded Hugh in 1109 and was obliged to resign in 1122; but the wisdom and devout learning of Peter the Venerable, who compiled a revised code of statutes, kept its reputation alive long after. Even so severe a critic as Peter Damian could refer to Cluny in the days of Hugh as “a paradise watered by the streams of the four Gospels, a garden of delights, a spiritual field where earth and heaven meet, a ground of conflict, in which, as in a wrestling-school of the spirit, the frailty of the flesh contends against the powers of the air”. St Bernard's quarrel with Cluny arose in the evil days of Pons, when his cousin Robert was enticed from Clairvaux by specious arguments, and his condemnation of the pride and magnificence of Cluny and its preference of the letter to the spirit of the Rule was doubtless affected by this circumstance. Yet this splendor and monastic luxury was not the growth of a few years of misrule; for one point which Bernard attacked, the architectural beauty of the churches and cloisters, with their profusion of ornament and sculpture, we have abundant evidence from the time of Odilo onwards. It was through the imperceptible effect of wealth and power upon a never excessively rigorous system that the state of things arose in which, as Bernard said, the welfare of the order and its observance of religious discipline were held to consist in the magnificence of its feasts, its furniture, and its buildings.

In these respects Cluny set the example to Benedictinism in general. The great revival of monastic life in England which followed the Norman Conquest was a revival of decent order rather than of stringent observance. Lanfranc, in issuing his ordinances to the monks of his metropolitan church, had in view a well-ordered community, pursuing the life of church and cloister with exemplary decorum and following the Rule without extravagant professions of asceticism. The land-owning monasteries of Domesday, the churches whose monks formed cathedral chapters, the splendid buildings which were in progress before the end of the eleventh century, were certainly not homes of an excessively severe discipline. Local instances of disorder, no doubt, occurred; and the strife between William Rufus and Anselm had dangerous effects upon the religious life, exposing monasteries to the intrusion of unworthy nominees of the Crown. It is to be noticed, however, that such movements as that which led in 1132 to the secession of the monks of Fountains from St Mary's at York were clue, not to any definite scandals but to the failure of abbots and convents to live up to the stricter precepts of the Rule.

The Order of Camaldoli

Even in the days of the greatest activity of Cluny, sporadic efforts at a high standard of asceticism are noticeable outside the main movement. In Italy the traditions of the austerities practised by the hermits and anchorites of the East were never dormant. Fonte Avellana in the diocese of Faenza, founded shortly before the year 1000, was a monastery of bare-footed anchorites. Some forty years later, under the guidance of Peter Damian, its strict practices were introduced into other houses, and daughter-monasteries were founded. The mortifications of the community provoked such criticism that the ardent abbot himself felt bound to restrain them. The enthusiasm of Peter Damian, which contributed so much to the revival of the papal authority in Italy, was fostered by the example of Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese order. The life of Romuald is an extraordinary romance of spiritual fervor. He settled in one hermitage after another, imbuing disciples with his own enthusiasm, establishing communities of hermit-monks, but constantly disappointed by their failure to reach his own almost unattainable standard. The Emperor Otto III found in him a visionary after his own heart, and placed him in charge of the abbey of Sant Apollinare in Classe near his native city of Ravenna; but here his attempt to impose his severe discipline upon the convent forced him to resign. He was, in fact, wholly unadapted for the cenobitic life; and such success as he achieved was found in solitude and desert places. After abandoning, owing to a sudden illness, a missionary expedition to Hungary, he settled at Camaldoli, near Arezzo, about 1012. Here, on a desolate mountain, he and a few brethren lived in separate cells, attending common offices in their oratory, but passing the rest of their time in silent prayer and meditation, and working on the barren soil for their living. Romuald himself left Camaldoli after a time, migrating to Sitria, near Sassoferrato, where he attracted so many followers that Sitria, says his biographer, became another Nitria, full of hermits, some living in their cells as in tombs. He died in 1027 at Valdicastro, near Camerino, where he had founded a hermitage at an earlier date.

Camaldoli survived the departure of its founder, and became the head of an order of hermit-monks, which received papal approval in 1072. The original severity of the order was modified in the direction of humanity by successive priors of Camaldoli, its permanent generals. An important step was taken in 1102 by the foundation of the monastery of Fontebuono, at the foot of the mountain of Camaldoli, a cenobite establishment which ministered to the wants of the hermits and gave them a place of retirement in case of sickness. Henceforward the double element, hermit and cenobite, existed in the order; and one of the congregations into which it was eventually divided, that of San Michele at Murano, was exclusively cenobite.

La Cava, Vallombrosa, and Grandmont

Other hermit orders and congregations came into being during the same period. La Cava, near Salerno, was famous as the retreat of St Adalferio, who, falling ill at the monastery of Chiusa in Piedmont, devoted his life to God and made his profession to Odilo at Cluny. His monastery at la Cava, however, was on the hermit model; after his death in 1050, the mountain, covered with establishments of hermits, became a second Mount Athos. Large bodies of monks were sent out to form new colonies, one of which, Monreale in Sicily, became within a few years of its foundation the seat of an archbishop and a monastic chapter. The offshoots of Cava thus reverted to the normal Benedictine model. Vallombrosa, on the other hand, founded in 1038 or 1039 by St John Gualbert on the model of Camaldoli, became the source of another distinctively hermit order. The enthusiasm of the founder was equal to that of Romuald; but his temper was more gentle, and his power of administration probably greater. In the mingling of the cenobite with the recluse element which was characteristic of Vallombrosan houses, an advance is noticeable upon the distinction between them which was preserved by the Camaldolese. At Vallombrosa also we find the first specific mention of the conversus who afterwards became a marked feature of Cistercian organization, the permanent lay brother whose part in the monastic scheme was the exercise of his craft as distinct from the occupation of the monk.

The Camaldolese and Vallombrosan orders had little success outside Italy. In France, the hermit movement developed upon individual lines, and one order, French in origin, spread its branches throughout Europe. The first distinctively French order, that of Grandmont, was inspired from Italian sources. Its founder, St Stephen, as a boy accompanied his father on a pilgrimage from their home in Auvergne to the shrine of St Nicholas at Bari in Apulia. Taken ill on the return journey, he remained in Italy under the care of the Archbishop of Benevento. The holy conversation of some Calabrian hermits impelled him to imitate their life; and, upon his patron's death, he returned, armed with the papal blessing, to his native country. Here he took up his abode on the hill of Muret, near Limoges, where, in 1076, he renounced the world for a life of solitary abstinence and poverty. The usual band of disciples gathered round him, to whom he prescribed a life entirely separate from worldly distractions, avoiding the acquisition of property, and depending upon the voluntary alms of the faithful. After his death, the desert in which he had settled was claimed by a convent at Limoges; and the new prior migrated, to avoid disputes, to a neighboring solitude at Grandmont. The rule founded upon the counsels of St Stephen, and approved by Hadrian III in 1156, was that of a cenobite community with common buildings. Each house of the order was divided into clerici and conversi, the first busied entirely with divine worship and contemplation, the second with the temporal care of the cell, the name applied collectively to the habitation of each convent.   The dependent cells, few in number when the rule was composed, were entirely subordinate to the prior of Grandmont, to whose election each sent two proctors. Thus, in general character, Grandmont closely resembled Vallombrosa; while, in its congregational organization, the method of Cluny was followed. At no time was the order large, and, during its early years, it passed almost unnoticed. But it spread beyond France: small Grandimontine houses were to be found in remote places in England, at Grosmont on the Yorkshire moors and at Craswall on the slopes of the Black mountains in the Welsh march. Its rule underwent various modifications at the hands of the Popes of the thirteenth cen­tury; and in 1317 John XXII raised the prior to the dignity of an abbot

St Bruno and the Grande-Chartreuse

The founder of the Carthusian order was Bruno, a native of Cologne, who, at the time of his conversion to the hermit life, was canon of Rheims and master of the cathedral school there. In 1084, after spending some time in a hermitage near the abbey of Molesme, he and six companions, four clerks and two conversi, besought Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, to grant them a place of settlement in his barren and mountainous diocese. Hugh amply satisfied their ambition for solitude. The desert of Chartreuse, entered by a cleft in the rocks at the top of a steep ascent, inhabited only by wild beasts and generally covered with snow, was, in the bishop's words, more like a prison or purgatory than a human dwelling-place. Bruno and his companions built their church and little cells near the summit of the site, round a spring which gave them their daily drink. The founder himself, called away to Rome by Pope Urban II, sought the congenial society of the hermits of southern Italy, and died in a monastery which he founded at la Torre in the diocese of Squillace. His departure seems to have been followed by the temporary desertion of Chartreuse, which he commended in his absence to the Abbot of la Chaise-Dieu in Auvergne; but it was restored to one of the original inmates, Landoin of Lucca, before Bruno's death in 1101.

The recognition of the Grande-Chartreuse as the head of an order was not fully achieved before 1176; but daughter-houses had come into existence by 1128, when Guigues du Chatel, prior from 1110 to 1137, drew up the Consuetudines Carthusienses, at the request of three priors of dependent convents. The essential points in the constitution of the Grande-Chartreuse, as in that of Grandmont, were isolation from worldly affaires and complete poverty. Beyond the bounds of the desert, which surrounded the monastery and afforded some scanty pasturage for a limited number of sheep and cattle, the acquisition of property was for­bidden. Any temptation to further possession was checked by the limitation of the conventual body to a prior and twelve monks, sixteen conversi, and a few hired servants, shepherds, and herdsmen. As at Camaldoli, the monastery consisted of two distinct parts, the hermitage proper with its separate cells, and the lower house, tenanted by conversi and administered by a proctor chosen from among the hermits. Dressed in habits of coarse white cloth, with hair-shirts next their skins, the brethren abstained wholly from meat, fasting three days a week on bread, salt, and water, and on other days eating only vegetables, with the occasional addition of cheese or some milk-food, and drinking watered wine. Not even the sick were permitted the use of meat; gifts of fish were allowed, but not its purchase. The lesser hours were said privately by the monks in their cells; only certain hours were said in church, and in the early days of the monastery mass seems to have been celebrated only on Sundays and feast-days, when the monks left the cells to eat together in the refectory. The life of solitary prayer, varied only by work on the plots of ground adjoining the cells, was the ideal long maintained by the Carthusian community. Guests were merely tolerated. The monastery was founded in the desert to afford refreshment to men's souls, uot to their bodies; its site furnished no conveniences for visitors and horses; as for alms to the poor, it was better to send surplus food to neighboring towns than to attract a crowd of beggars.

The spirit of the Carthusian customs and statutes is a rigorous determination to maintain the strictest self-denial. Those who framed them kept in view all the dangers which beset a nascent order. The novice was warned of the hardness of the life; if its demands were too onerous for him, he was not encouraged to persevere. The poor and compulsorily small monasteries were unattractive homes for men who wished to retire from the world with a certain degree of comfort. From the beginning, Carthusian monks recognized that their life was fit only for the few. They refused to affiliate large houses to their order. When Stephen of Obasine consulted Guigues with a view to uniting his house to some strict order, he was told that the Carthusians had no room for it, and was advised to join the Cistercians, who kept the royal road and whose statutes led to all perfection. The hermit Carthusians admired but had no desire to emulate the rapid growth of cenobite reform under the Cistercians. Their humility and rejection of ambition met with its reward in the later Middle Ages, when, amid the decay of the cenobite orders, they still preserved their pristine zeal.


Another order of a somewhat novel type was developed from experience gained in hermitages. Robert of Arbrissel, a Breton, was, like Bruno, a learned theologian, who left his lectures at Angers to become an anchorite in the forest of Craon, where he was joined by a crowd of imitators. The place was too strait for them all, and they parted to form distinct bands in neighboring forests. Their leaders seem to have learned by experience that the solitary life in separate cells could not be of the same profit to all. Robert himself founded a monastery for those who preferred a cenobite life. One of his principal followers, Vital, a canon of Mortain, founded the cenobite congregation of Savigny, afterwards merged in the order of Citeaux; another, Bernard of Abbeville, was the founder of the congregation of Thiron. Robert, however, called upon by Urban II to join in preaching the Crusade, conceived the idea of founding a house of prayer for those who, smitten with penitence but unable to take part in the holy war, might compensate for their disability by devoting themselves to God. From the first this house, established at Fontevrault about 1100, was intended to include women as well as men. Nunneries had played a very small part in the recent history of monasticism. The great abbeys ruled at an earlier date by women, such as Whitby and Chelles, had disappeared; others, like Remiremont in the Vosges, seem to have lost their regular character early, and developed as houses of secular canonesses. In 1028 Fulk the Black of Anjou had founded a nunnery at Ronceray, to which he attached four clerks or canons as chaplains: an arrangement which we find repeated in the canonries annexed to the important nunneries in the south of England, which owed their origin to the royal house of Wessex and, whatever decline they may have suffered during the period before the conquest, recovered their vigour under the Norman kings. With the approach of the twelfth century, nunneries began to assume a larger part in religious organization. The existence of communities of women, however, raised special problems. Nunneries, without adequate protection, were exposed to the risk of secular violence; they needed the ministrations of priests in spiritual things, of manservants in temporal. Thus there grew up, in more than one order, those double monasteries in which a cloister of clerks and lay brothers existed side by side with a cloister of nuns.

The symbolic idea of the double community at Fontevrault, whose patrons were St Mary and St John, was the care which the beloved disciple bestowed upon the mother of our Lord. The abbess was supreme over the monastery. The women, of whom there were 300 in the largest cloister alone, were consecrated to prayer; the men were charged with the temporal needs of the house. Cloisters, dedicated to St Lazarus and St Mary Magdalene respectively, were set apart for the diseased and the penitent. The Rule of St Benedict was stringently enforced; the use of meat was forbidden, and the community was ordered to receive no gifts of parish churches or tithes. In 1106 the new order was approved by Paschal II, and in 1113 it received the privilege of exemption. Daughter houses soon grew up in Anjou, Touraine, Berri, and Poitou; and the success of the order was so great that in 1145 there were said to be more than 5000 nuns at Fontevrault itself. Nuns were brought from it into England by Henry II to reform the abbey of Amesbury; others were settled at Nuneaton and at Westwood in Worcestershire; and the church of Fontevrault became the chosen resting-place of the Angevin royal family.

Foundation of the Cistercian Order

Hitherto, none of the organized congregations which had arisen since the days of Cluny had produced a far-reaching effect outside certain localities. Their reforms, moreover, had for the most part pointed away from the cenobite ideal.   The qualified approval which St Benedict had given to the hermit life was supplanted by a theory which regarded the cenobite system as a concession to human frailty rather than as the normal school of God's service. It was only natural that the devout reformer, face to face with the splendor of Cluny or Saint-Denis, should contrast it unfavorably with the naked simplicity of Camaldoli or the Grande-Chartreuse, and question the spirituality of the system which it represented. But the greatest of the twelfth century reforms was instituted upon strictly cenobite lines; and only in one outstanding detail did it depart from the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict. Even in this, its adoption of the congregational principle, it differed widely from the Cluniac system of centralized government under a single head.

The institution of the order of Citeaux marks the third great epoch in the history of medieval monachism. The reforms of Benedict of Aniane had been short-lived; the purity of Cluny had become alloyed by customs out of keeping with the intention of its founders. In 1098, Robert, Abbot of the Benedictine house of Molesme in the diocese of Langres, with six of his monks, dissatisfied with the imperfect observance of the Rule in their monastery, migrated, with licence from the papal legate Hugh, Archbishop of Lyons, to Citeaux, a desolate place covered with thick woods and thorn-bushes in the diocese of Chalon. Here, on Palm Sunday, 21 March 1098, the birthday of St Benedict, the Cistercian order took its beginning. The new monastery was approved by the local diocesan, and the expenses of its wooden buildings were defrayed by Eudes, Duke of Burgundy, who proved a good friend to the struggling community. Robert himself was recalled to Molesme within a year of the foundation ; and it was his successor, Alberic, who obtained papal approval of the literal observance of the Rule of St Benedict to which he and his monks devoted themselves. But the monastery was as yet insignificant; during the first years of its existence, its promise can hardly have seemed to contemporary observers as great as that of Fontevrault or Savigny. Its legislator arrived in 1109, in the person of the third abbot, the Englishman Stephen Harding. It was not, however, until 1113 that the event took place which was, within a few years, to raise Citeaux to a position of unrivalled influence in the Church at large. In that year St Bernard, with thirty companions, including his brothers, made his profession to Abbot Stephen ; and in the same year Citeaux, enlarged in numbers, sent out its first colony to la Ferté-sur-Grosne.

By the time of the promulgation of the Carta Caritatis, which was confirmed by Calixtus II at Saulieu on 23 December 1119, the wide expansion of the Cistercian order was a certainty. The foundation of la Ferte was followed by that of Pontigny in 1114. Clairvaux, with Bernard.as its abbot, and Morimond, both in the diocese of Langres, were colonized on 25 June 1115. To the abbots of these four houses special pre-eminence was given in the councils of the order; from them and from Citeaux proceeded those generations of abbeys which in quick succession rose all over Europe. At the date of the confirmation of the Charter of Charity, the order possessed twelve monasteries, of which seven were daughters of Citeaux, two of Pontigny, and two of Clairvaux. As yet, it had not extended far beyond the bounds of Burgundy and Champagne; but its circle of influence was beginning to widen, and one house, Cadouin in the distant diocese of Sarlat, which owed its foundation to Robert of Arbrissel, had been affiliated to Pontignv.

The Charter of Charity

The Charter of Charity was drawn up to ensure mutual peace and love between the houses of the order. As a constitutional document, its essential point is the position of Citeaux as the head of the family. The autocracy of Cluny was not copied. Reverence and obedience were due to Citeaux as a parent; but a certain degree of autonomy was necessary for each house. The order was not composed of an abbot and a crowd of completely dependent priors. Each monastery was ruled by its own abbot, whose responsibility to his superior was purely spiritual. The Abbot of Citeaux had the cure of souls of the order; but he might levy no temporal exactions upon his spiritual children. In the primitive inter­pretation of the Rule, in divine service, and in customs, uniformity on the pattern of Citeaux was to be kept; a monk of one house would find nothing strange or unfamiliar in another. In all houses of the order, the abbots gave place to the Abbot of Citeaux, if he happened to visit them.

On the other hand, the visitatorial power of the Abbot of Citeaux was limited. If he practically took charge of a daughter-monastery during his visitation, he might alter nothing without the consent of its abbot and the convent, and the advice of the abbot was necessary to his correction of faults. He might not receive guests in the guest-house, unless the abbot was away. Further, the visitation of each monastery, once a year, belonged to the abbot of the house which was its immediate parent. Thus, among the twelve abbeys existing at the end of 1119, Pontigny and Clairvaux were subject to visitation from Citeaux, but the Abbot of Pontigny was the visitor of Bouras and Cadouin, and the Abbot of Clairvaux of Trois-Fontaines and Fontenay; and, within a short time, the abbots of these daughters of Pontigny and Clairvaux were exercising the same right over daughters of their own. The order spread in this wav by a closely connected system of affiliated houses, each descending in a regular line of pedigree from Citeaux, the mother of all. At Citeaux the yearly chapter-general of the order was held, with the abbot as president; at such assemblies and elsewhere where they met, the precedence of abbots was determined by priority of foundation. Measures, however, were taken for holding the power of the Abbot of Citeaux in check. He himself was subject to visitation by the four prime abbots of the order; if he was unsatisfactory, they were charged with special powers of correction, short of deposition or excommunication, which were reserved to the decision of the chapter-general. Similarly, the settlement of controversies between abbeys belonged to the Abbot of Citeaux, but not without the choice of such assessors as he might think fit. The removal of other abbots was delegated to the abbot of the parent house with others to help him; while a similar committee presided over the elections of abbots and guided the decision of the convents concerned. To sum up, each house of the order had its place in an hierarchy at the apex of which was Citeaux; each was under some degree of supervision exercised by the abbot from whose monastery it took birth. The primacy of the whole order was secured for Citeaux, which had the immeasurable advantage of being the regular seat of the chapters-general; but the monarchy of the Abbot of Citeaux was limited by necessary safeguards, and his autocracy was impossible without complete subversion of the constitution.

The Cistercian Constitution

To Stephen Harding, who thus gave the order its constitution, are ascribed also the earliest of its institutes. In enforcing uniformity of custom, he aimed at the removal of all superfluous splendor of furniture and ritual. Gold and silver ornaments were forbidden; only the vessels of the altar were to be of silver or silver gilt. Crosses were to be of painted wood, candlesticks of iron, censers of copper or iron. The vestments were of the most simple kind and material; copes, dalmatics, and tunicles were banished, and the altar coverings were of plain linen without embroidery. The series of Cistercian statutes of which the text has been preserved to us represents a growth of many years and successive codifications from the time of Raynard, who succeeded Stephen in 1134. The body of Cistercian statutes, approved and added to by successive chapters-general, formed no Rule; one essential precept of the order was the uniform interpretation of and loyalty to the Rule of St Benedict. The systematic arrangement of the statutes under inclusive headings was begun in 1203, and the Institutiones, revised in 1240 and again in 1256, give a more detailed and comprehensive view of Cistercian customs than the earliest series. Even at the later date, the puritanism of the order and its avoidance of all ostentation were strongly maintained. The choice of remote sites for abbeys, the abstinence from superfluous and curious ornament, were still insisted on. Stained-glass windows and stone bell-towers were forbidden as non-essentials; wooden bell-towers must not be of immoderate height. It is possible to trace some modifications in the later statutes; the prohibition of gold and silver crosses was confined to crosses of large size, and the limitation of the use of meat to the infirmary buildings was not accompanied by its specific limitation to infirm persons. In the dignified simplicity of the services, for which elaborate regulations existed in the early Liber Usuum, there was no important change. In theory, at any rate, the Cistercian of the thirteenth century still adhered to the example bequeathed to him by Stephen Harding and Bernard.

The regulations for the foundation of new abbeys implicitly prevented the growth of subordinate priories. When a new house was founded to the honor of St Mary, to whom, in memory of the beginnings of the order in St Mary’s at Molesme, all its monasteries were dedicated, the head of the thirteen monks sent out to colonize it was the abbot. Each monastery had its granges, divided from one another by specified minimum distances; but every care was taken that the grange should not become the permanent abode of a small body of religious. No monk save the cellarer, the temporal officer of the abbey, might have charge of it. If monks went, as in harvest-time, to work at the granges, they might pass the night there only in cases of absolute necessity. No churchyards were to be made or burials take place at granges. Such places, in fact, were intended for the support, not for the residence of the community; and their care was entrusted to the conversi or lay-brothers.

The conversus or laicus barbatus was by no means a peculiarly Cistercian institution; but it was in this order that his position was most clearly defined. In a self-supporting community, far from populous places, it was necessary to have workmen on the spot. Although the Rule prescribed manual labor to its followers, the prime duty of a monk was prayer and his proper place was the cloister, not the field or workshop. Thus, when Alberic undertook the rule of Citeaux, he and his monks decided to receive conversi, whom they would treat as themselves in life and death, save that they were not to be admitted as monks. The hire of workmen, however, was also contemplated; and hired artificers and laborers are mentioned in the early statutes. We have no means of estimating how many conversi Citeaux supported at first, or how many were sent out to la Ferté in 1113. It is certainly probable that this consecration of labor received some stimulus from non-Cistercian sources. The community of Thiron, established in the diocese of Chartres about 1114, consisted largely of men who were encouraged by Bernard of Abbeville to exercise in their monastery the trades to which they had been trained; and the enlistment of these tirones in the service of God appears to have given Thiron its name. But there can be no doubt that, with the rapid development of Cistercianism after the foundation of Clairvaux and Morimond in 1115, conversi entered the order in large numbers. They were admitted purely as laborers; they took the vows, but were prohibited from learning to read or write. They were lodged in the cellarer's building on the west side of the cloister, which frequently, as at Fountains, Ourscamp, and Vauclair, testifies to the very ample accommodation which their numbers required. Their simple offices, consisting of repetitions of prescribed prayers, were said in the nave of the church, before they went out, early in the morning, to the workshops and granges. At the granges, they had intervals at the canonical hours for devotions, led by their appointed overseers. Their chapter-meeting was held every Sunday by the abbot or his deputy. From the early Usus Conversorunu which prescribes their manner of life, it is clear that they were intended mainly for field-work, and that batches of them resided temporarily on the granges; while the directions for their habit had field-work mainly in view. There can be little doubt, however, that they made themselves useful in the various offices and workshops which, as at Clairvaux, filled the outer court of the monastery; and, if Cistercian architecture, the natural consequence and appropriate expression of the devotion of the order to ideals which excluded all flattery of the senses, cannot be proved to owe anything to the brain of the conversus, it was certainly aided by his hands.

One principle, laid down in the preamble to the Charter of Charity, was the necessity of episcopal consent to the establishment of a Cistercian house in any diocese. In this, no doubt, the collisions between the exempt Cluniacs and the ordinary authority were remembered. The order, however, was exempted in process of time from diocesan authority; and the later statutes uphold its freedom from episcopal visitation. Relations between bishops and Cistercian monasteries were generally friendly: the Cistercian abbot received benediction from the local diocesan or his suffragan, and bishops on their primary visitation tours claimed the right of a night's hospitality as guests in the houses where they could not sit as judges. The secluded sites of Cistercian abbeys brought them seldom, in the ordinary course of things, into conflict with parochial authorities. Their own churches were entirely reserved for the purposes of their communities; the parish altars, found in many Benedictine and Augustinian churches, had no place in their naves. The examples of St Benedict gave no precedent for the possession of appropriated parish churches or tithes, and the founders of the order rejected such gifts. Although their successors abandoned this principle, the appropriation of churches and tithes was less eagerly sought by the Cistercian order than by others; and, at the suppression, Fountains, the best endowed of English Cistercian houses, derived a mere fraction of its income from this source.

The call of the Cistercian order to men to save their souls by retirement from the world to a life of voluntary abstinence and prayer in uninhabited valleys had an extraordinary power. Citeaux, by virtue of its compact organization, and with the aid of the missionary zeal and ubiquitous energy of St Bernard, outstripped all other congregations in the rapidity of its growth. In 1120 it set foot in Italy, at Tiglieto in Liguria, founded from la Ferté; while Morimond made its first step eastwards to Bellevaux in Franche-Comte. In 1123 and 1127 Morimond established two important colonizing centres in Germany, Camp in the diocese of Cologne and Ebrach in Franconia; from Camp the movement spread into the central and north-western districts of Germany, while the first daughter of Ebrach was Reun in Styria. Meanwhile, in 1128, through l'Aumône in the diocese of Chartres, a daughter of Citeaux, the Cistercians reached England at Waverley in Hampshire; and the same house in 1131 sent another colony to Tintern, quickly followed in 1132 by Rievaulx, of the family of Clairvaux. In the previous year Clairvaux had established houses in Franche-Comté and the dioceses of Geneva and Mayence. In 1132 she founded Moreruela in the kingdom of Leon, the earliest monastery of the order in Spain.  Rievaulx in 1136 became the mother of the first Scottish house at Melrose. Clairvaux reached Flanders at les Dunes and Portugal at Alofoes in 1138, and founded Whitland in South Wales in 1140. In 1142 Irish Cistercianism began at Mellifont, which, through the friendship of Malachy O'Morgair for Bernard, joined the family of Clairvaux; and in 1143 the same family was increased by two Swedish houses, at Alvastra and Nydala. In 1144 Denmark was entered by Citeaux at Herrevad; and in 1146 and 1147 two English monasteries of the line of Clairvaux, Fountains and its daughter Kirkstead, colonized Lysa and Hovedo in Norway. Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia received their earliest colonists from monasteries of the line of Morimond in 1142 and 1143; and in 1150 Clairvaux founded a house at Cabuabbas in Sardinia.

Many other monasteries were founded during this period; and, apart from the great activity of Clairvaux and Morimond, the younger houses, especially in England, were very prolific. Waverley and Rievaulx produced large families; and Fountains, which, after its secession from St Mary's at York in 1132, joined the order in 1135, owned no less than eight daughters at the beginning of 1151. In Ireland also Mellifont owned five daughter-houses within eight years of its foundation. Progress in the German and Austrian provinces, through Morimond and its offshoots, was remarkable. Throughout the Spanish peninsula the line of Clairvaux spread, monopolizing Portugal, Gallicia, and Leon; while the Gascon foundations of Morimond colonized Navarre and Castile, and shared Aragon and Catalonia with the children of Clairvaux, who eventually reached Valencia and Majorca, as the Christian arms advanced against the Moors. In Italy progress was slower; but all the chief houses established their lines in various parts of the country, and that of Clairvaux grew with fair rapidity. St Bernard himself was present at the foundation of Chiaravalle in Lombardy in 1136, and the first abbot of the monastery of SS. Vincenzo ed Anastasio at Rome, Bernard of Pisa, was raised to the Papacy in 1145 as Eugenius III. From 1145 to 1153 the Church was virtually ruled from Clairvaux; and with the deaths of St Bernard and Eugenius in 1153, the great age of Cistercian activity ended.

Canons regular

At the end of 1151 the order numbered 330 monasteries; and the general chapter of 1152 passed a decree that no more were to be founded. Nevertheless, at St Bernard's death on 20 August 1153, the number had risen to 343. Three more were founded within the next month ; and the increase, though at a less phenomenal rate, was so steady that, by the end of the thirteenth century, this total of 346 was more than doubled. With the exception of Citeaux itself, these houses had come into being in little more than forty years. It should be remembered, however, that the process of colonization was aided by the accession of houses like Fountains, which had begun life by initiating reform on their own lines. The monastery of Savigny, soon after the time of its foundation about 1112, had become the head of a reformed congregation, much on the lines of Citeaux. In 1147 Savigny, with twenty-seven daughter-houses in France and the British Isles, was united bodily to the Cistercian order and affiliated to Clairvaux. In the same year the small congregation of Obasine in the Limousin was united to Citeaux; and later, in 1162, the monastery of Dalon in the same district, with six daughters, joined the line of Pontigny. The wisdom of Cistercian polity was shown in these cases by the fact that the abbots of the chief monasteries of these affiliated congregations remained the visitors of their daughter-houses, and some indulgence was allowed to existing practices not in harmony with Cistercian customs. Although, in the bull of Eugenius III which united the Savigniac houses to the order of Citeaux, they are identified with those of the obedience of Thiron, Thiron and its daughters, among which were Kelso and Arbroath in Scotland, remained apart, and eventually were referred to habitually as Benedictine, differing only from Benedictine monks in their grey habit. Similarly, the congregation of Val-des-Choux in Burgundy, founded in 1193, had much in common with the Cistercians and wore a white habit; but their customs were largely derived by their founder, a conversus of the Charterhouse of Louvigny, from Carthusian sources, and their priories were subordinated to the parent house on the Cluniac model. Of some thirty priories, three were in Scotland ; and the beautiful remains of Pluscarden in the diocese of Moray show considerable influence, both in plan and architecture, from Cistercian houses.

The immediate influence of Citeaux affected the movement which took place during the first half of the twelfth century among regular canons. The attempt to enforce a rule of life upon clerks, of which we have seen the beginning, was hampered by the secular preferences both of themselves and of the monks who sought to emulate their comparative freedom from restraint. In 1059 Nicholas II, at the instigation of Peter Damian, held a council at which the duty of the common life and the renunciation of private property were made obligatory upon corporations of canons; and in 1063 these principles were reasserted by Alexander II, who introduced canons of the reformed congregation of San Frediano at Lucca into his metropolitan church of St John Lateran. We have signs of the influence of these reforms in England, in indications of provisions for the common life at Beverley and Southwell in the time of the Confessor, and in the establishment of the Lotharingian system of communal chapters at Exeter and Wells. Mentions of the Rule of St Augustine begin to appear soon after the council of 1063. This Rule, founded upon the famous letter of St Augustine to a congregation of religious women, was supposed to embody the principles upon which he had constituted the common life of. his clerks at Hippo. The English churches which have been mentioned never received it; and the normal cathedral and collegiate chapters of canons, both here and abroad, consisted of secular clerks, holding separate prebends of varying value, possessing their own houses, and, if they chose to reside in person, receiving additional allowances from the common fund. But the Augustinian reform had its result, early in the twelfth century, in the frequent substitution of regular for secular canons in churches where the canonical life had fallen into decay, and in the foundation of communities of clerks on what was really a monastic basis, although the Rule which they followed was lighter and admitted of a more liberal interpretation than that of St Benedict. The Rule was enforced upon all canons regular by Innocent II in 1139; but, before this date, houses had come into existence in large numbers in England and France. In France Ivo, Bishop of Chartres, who had received a monastic training at Bee under Lanfranc, promoted the formation of such bodies. In England canons regular of St Augustine seem to have appeared first in 1106 at St Botolph’s, Colchester; the order spread within the next few years, and in 1133 the priory church of Carlisle was converted into the cathedral church of a new diocese.

Augustinian canons

Augustinian, like Benedictine, houses were autonomous communities following their own local customs. As among Benedictines, so here, certain centres of activity, such as the famous house of Saint-Victor at Paris, Saint-Ruf at Avignon, and the Holy Cross at Coimbra, which adopted the customs of Saint-Ruf, formed local congregations with common observances, and occasionally, as in the congregations of Saint-Victor and Arrouaise, with distinctive habits. Some communities from the first appear to have sought a quasi-monastic seclusion; but one powerful reason for the establishment of communities of clerks had been the forma­tion of centres from which neighboring parish churches could be served. There is abundant evidence in Domesday Book of the presence in England of small “minsters” of secular clerks on these lines. Some of these disappeared, some were continued as secular colleges, and some in process of time adopted the Augustinian Rule; the continuance of the system in Augustinian houses is indicated by the number of parish churches which, in many instances, formed a prominent factor in their early endowments. In later times, ecclesiastical legislation leaned to the natural view that the dispersion of canons in appropriated churches was incompatible with the maintenance of divine service in their monasteries. From the beginning of the thirteenth to the middle of the fourteenth century the practice, although it survived in certain privileged cases, or where custom was too strong to be checked by legislation, was largely discontinued and was discouraged by diocesan authorities. It revived in England during the dearth of priests caused by the great pestilence of 1349, and was very general during the fifteenth century; but by that time the distinction between canons and monks was almost obliterated, and it is probable that the institution of a canon to the vicarage of a church meant little more than that the endowment of the vicarage was ear-marked for his maintenance in his monastery, and that the cure of souls was served for a small wage by a stipendiary chaplain. The privilege, however, of serving parish churches, though generally withdrawn from Augustinians by Canon Law, was constantly maintained by the order of Premontré, which laid the strictest interpretation upon the Rule.

The Premonstratensian Order

The founder of the Premonstratensian order, Norbert, a native of Xanten, underwent the experience, so usual at that epoch, of sudden conversion from a worldly life to evangelical penitence. As a secular canon at Xanten, and afterwards as an inmate of regular houses, his austerities and exhortations made him unpopular. Surrendering his benefices and despoiling himself of worldly goods, he journeyed to Saint-Gilles in Languedoc, and there obtained from Gelasius II a general licence to preach repentance. Travelling northward again with a few disciples, he found a friend in Bartholomew, Bishop of Laon, who offered him the church of Saint-Martin in his episcopal city. The canons of Saint-Martin, however, refused to conform to his strict way of life; and Bartholomew, unwilling to lose his services, gave him his choice of a site in the diocese on which he might found a new church. The place was found in 1120 at Prémontré, over which the Cistercian owners relinquished their claims. Here he and his followers determined to adopt the Rule of St Augustine, with a severity of observance strongly coloured by customs derived from Citeaux. The constitution of the new order was on the model of the Charter of Charity, with its system of a limited monarchy, affiliated houses, and chapters-general at the parent monastery. In the white habit, in simplicity of dress, ritual, and architecture, in abstinence from flesh-meat and in long fasts, it followed the Cistercian example. Norbert and Bernard of Clairvaux, though not without differences of opinion, were closely united in friendship; and, if Bernard rejected Norbert’s views on the reign of Anti-Christ as a present fact, they found common ground in their opposition to the more obvious danger represented by Abailard.

Some twenty years after the order of Prémontré had come into being, Laurence of Liege likened the two orders to the cherubim, spreading out their wings in the midst of the tabernacle on either side of the mercy-seat, and to the two witnesses of the Apocalypse, sent by God at the end of the world, and clothed in the sackcloth of penitence. The repression of the heresy of Tanchelin at Antwerp by Norbert brought the order into the Low Countries; and his promotion to the archbishopric of Magdeburg in 1126 ensured its success in Germany. In 1127, when Honorius II confirmed the order in its possessions, it had nine abbeys, Prémontré, Saint-Martin at Laon, Saint-Michael at Antwerp, two in the diocese of Munster, and one in each of the dioceses of Soissons, Liege, Mayence, and Metz. By 1144, ten years after Norbert's death, the nine had grown to seventy. Some nine years later, the order was to be found in almost every country in Europe and had reached Palestine. The eventual number of its houses is somewhat variously stated, and some estimates appear to be extravagant. The first English monastery, Newhouse in Lincolnshire, was colonized from Licques in the Boulonais in 1143; and eventually the order could count some thirty houses in England and Wales. The establishment of dependent priories, a natural consequence of the connection of the canons with parish churches, marks a point of divergence from Cistercian custom. There were also several cathedral churches with Premonstratensian chapters, of which we have one British example at Whithorn in Galloway.

In  another respect also this  order, in its early days, presented a contrast  to   Citeaux. The   Fontevraldine   experiment   of monasteries combining monks with nuns was never contemplated by the Cistercians. Women, indeed, soon embraced the Cistercian interpretation of the Rule of St Benedict; and Stephen Harding founded the first Cistercian nunnery in 1120, at Tart in the diocese of Langres.   Such nunneries took their place in the line of affiliation; but abbesses were not admitted to chapters-general, and, in time, the nunneries of certain countries held their own general chapters.

In England no affiliation between Cistercian nunneries can be traced : these small and poor houses, like Benedictine nunneries, sprang up independently; their connection with the order was simply their adoption of Cistercian customs:  and, like Benedictine nunneries again, their visitors were the diocesan bishops.   Where the original link to the main order was closer, the alliance tended to become little more than nominal; and the difficulty of supervision is illustrated by the fact that it  was possible in 1210 for the Infanta Constance to usurp  the functions of an abbot in the nunnery of las Huelgas at Burgos, founded by her father Alfonso VIII, blessing and instructing novices and hearing confessions.   It was perhaps to meet the problems of the effective supervision of nunneries and the proper provision for them of priestly ministrations that the order of Prémontré, at its beginning, admitted women to its houses.   

 It may be noticed, however, that the statute of the general chapter of 1138, which forbade the admission of women, appears to deal primarily with lay-sisters or conversae, and refers to separate nunneries of “singing sisters”.  Be this as it may, the custom of receiving women did not last long. Of the very few Premonstratensian nunneries  in England, Irford in Lincolnshire appears to have been always regarded as a dependent cell of the abbey of Newhouse; and similarly the obscure nunnery at Guyzance in Northumberland was under the charge of the canons of Alnwick. The nuns of Swine in Yorkshire, regarded as a Cistercian house, were served by Premonstratensian canons during a considerable period.

The double system was also attempted by Augustinian canons. It is found for a short time in one small Yorkshire house, Marton in the forest of Galtres; but here the nuns, who followed Cistercian customs, were transferred to Moxby, not far away. Again, it played a part in the early constitution of the congregation of Arrouaise, which had some houses in England, and preserved a separate, though somewhat nominal, existence until the later part of the fifteenth century. In this instance, as in that of Prémontré, the system was not long-lived.   Its success, however, was achieved in England, though upon a small scale, by the order of Sempringham, which was founded for nuns in 1131 by Gilbert, rector of Sempringham in Lincolnshire. He endeavored without success in 1147 to induce the chapter-general of Citeaux to receive his nuns into its order. St Bernard and Eugenius III, however, interested themselves in his venture; and it was with the aid of St Bernard that the Gilbertine statutes were compiled. Canons, following the Rule of St Augustine, and converse dwelling in a separate cloister, formed after this date an integral portion of each convent. Before Gilbert's death in 1188, thirteen houses had been founded, all in the .dioceses of Lincoln and York. Subsequently, the number grew to twenty-six; but, although the double constitution of most of the earlier houses continued until the suppression, all but two of those established after 1188 were for canons only. The prior of the canons in each house, where they were limited to a maximum of thirteen, was the head of the monastery, in direct contrast to the Fontevraldine arrangement. The order was exempt from episcopal visitation and held its chapter-general yearly at Sempringham ; but the office of master or general was not attached to the headship of one particular monastery, and might fall by election on any prior or canon who was placed on the list of suitable candidates. Outside England, the order possessed no house, with the exception of one short-lived establishment in Scotland; and its English houses were few outside Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Cistercian nunneries to which conversi were attached were numerous in the same districts; and there are indications that for some of these, like Swine, already mentioned, a constitution resembling that of Sempringham may have been intended. In some, a monk or canon was frequently put in charge of affairs, with the title of master or warden.

Military Orders and Orders of canons

At the Council of Troyes in 1128, St Bernard provided the initial suggestions for the Rule adopted by the Knights Templars, a community established at Jerusalem ten years earlier for the defence of pilgrims. The older military order, the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, had some years earlier adopted a Rule modeled on that of St Augustine, which in 1114 had been introduced into the chapter of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Military orders, while adopting the three substantial vows, were not strictly monastic; the business of the knights was warfare against infidels and heathen, and the preceptories or commanderies in which they were dispersed in Europe and the East were either castles or small manor-houses with little likeness to monasteries. In 1147 the castle of Calatrava in Castile, captured from the Moors, was given to the Templars. They were unable to hold it, and for some years it was defended by Cistercians, chiefly conversi, from the Abbey of Fitero in Navarre. This was the origin of the Knights of Calatrava, whose order was approved by Alexander III in 1164, and in 1187 was submitted to the visitation of the Abbot of Morimond.  From Calatrava arose the Knights of Alcantara, formed by the reconstitution on Cistercian lines of an order founded earlier at Pereyro in the diocese of Ciudad Rodrigo. The Portuguese order, known from 1181 as the Knights of Avis, was under the visitation of the Cistercian Abbot of Tarouca; in 1213 it was subordinated to Calatrava, but re-established its independence after the victory of Aljubarrota in 1385. Two other Portuguese orders, those of the Wing of St Michael and of Christ, the latter founded in 1317, were under the jurisdiction of the Abbot of Alcobaca; while the Valencian Knights of Montesa in 1316 received their constitution from Calatrava and were submitted to Cistercian abbots. On the other hand, the Knights of Santiago, founded in 1171, adopted the Rule of St Augustine, which was also the model for the northern order of the Teutonic Knights and the order, which they absorbed, of the Knights of the Sword in Livonia. Various congregations of hospitallers, which afforded lodging to pilgrims on European roads, and in some cases had originally a semi-military character, such as the canons of Saint-Antoine in the diocese of Vienne and of Altopascio near Lucca, and the canons and knights of the united hospitals of the Holy Spirit at Montpellier and Santo Spirito in Sassia at Rome, followed the Augustinian Rule.

It may be noted here that the same Rule, applicable to many diverse communities, was employed by St Dominic in the constitution of the order of Friars Preachers, and was followed by the order of Hermits known popularly as Austin friars. Some orders also, which are occasionally reckoned among friars, were in practice hardly to be differentiated from Austin canons. Such was the Trinitarian order for the redemption of captives, founded at the close of the twelfth century by St John of Matha and St Felix of Valois; the minister and brethren of their chief English house, St Robert’s at Knaresborough, were regarded as Austin canons, and were allowed to hold and serve parish churches. Likewise, the Bons-hommes of Ashridge and Edington, of whose ultimate origin nothing is known, were not friars, as is sometimes said, but Austin canons; their name appears again in the fifteenth century in Portugal, with customs and a blue habit derived from the secular canons of San Giorgio in Alga at Venice, and was applied later to the Minims in France. Originally they were apparently a congregation which, observing the Rule of St Augustine, maintained a certain individuality in habit and customs.

From the days of Benedict of Aniane to the epoch of the Cistercian movement, the ideal at which monastic reformers aimed was uniformity of practice by means of the congregational system. In France and Italy, at frequent intervals, the customs of individual monasteries had been extended to others, until groups of houses, sometimes attaining to large numbers, had been formed. To speak of such groups as orders is hardly accurate; medieval references to the orders of Thiron or Arrouaise may be found, but the term can only be loosely applied to congregations whose polity was incomplete and the members of which had no very binding connection with the house whose customs they followed. On the other hand, the congregations of Cluny and Citeaux, with their definite organization, became orders in the true sense of the word; Prémontré, Sempringham, the orders of hermits and anchorites who adopted the cenobite life in a modified form, were more than ordinary congregations. The history of the Cistercian order shows clearly how a body with a complete political system was capable of absorbing congregations whose constitution was less sharply defined. Nevertheless, these orders, governed by their own statutes, had no actual rule of their own. Their object was the strict observance of the Rule of St Benedict or of St Augustine; and outside them were the numerous monasteries which followed both these Rules, without ties which bound them to any congregation. The abbey of Saint-Denis might receive the customs of Cluny for a time; its great abbot, Suger, might undertake its reform as the result of the objurgations of St Bernard; but it remained a Benedictine house, without entering the Cluniac or Cistercian systems. Great English abbeys like Peterborough and Ramsey might enter into an alliance of mutual fraternity; the customs of Westminster might be nearly identical with those of St Augustine's at Canterbury; but such monasteries were autonomous bodies. It was also among these houses that the most influential and well-endowed monasteries were to be found in the later Middle Ages. If the wealth of Cluny was great, few of its dependencies could boast more than a modest income. Cistercian abbeys, to judge from the revenues of English houses at the suppression, were seldom well-to-do; and even Fountains or Furness could not compare in income with the great Benedictine houses. The riches of Augustinian canons, many of whose monasteries were small and poor, were certainly not excessive; and their ecclesiastical and political importance was small in proportion to their numbers. But such com­munities as Cirencester and Bridlington greatly exceeded any Premonstratensian house in wealth. While the papal grant of the use of the mitre to abbots and priors was a privilege which might be conferred irrespective of orders, it was to the heads of prominent autonomous houses that it usually fell. Again, though in the early days of the English parliament Cistercian and Premonstratensian abbots were summoned side by side with Benedictines and Augustinians, the eventual body of spiritual peers, in addition to the bishops, consisted, with some four exceptions, of the chief Benedictine abbots.

Speaking generally, Benedictine and Augustinian houses were subject to episcopal control. The local bishop confirmed elections of abbots and priors, and held periodical visitations. A few important monasteries were subject immediately to the Pope and had quasi-episcopal jurisdiction within their own liberties; in England, St Augustine's at Canterbury, St Alban's, St Edmund's at Bury, Westminster, and Evesham, of the Benedictines, and of the Augustinians, Waltham and St Botolph’s at Colchester, enjoyed exemption. The exercise of control, whether by papal legates or bishops, over monasteries in which the abbot or prior was supreme, was always a difficult problem. The head of the house was a constant factor in its administration; the visitor was an occasional intruder, not always welcome, and sometimes resented by communities which, like St Mary's at York and Glastonbury, attempted more than once to assert that they were exempt. His injunctions had statutory force; but bishops often found that, between visitations, their most careful provisions for the good order of a monastery had been treated as a dead letter.

The Fourth Lateran Council, 1215        

The famous injunctions addressed by Innocent III to the Abbot and convent of Subiaco, and preserved in the body of the Canon Law, give a comprehensive view of the breaches of monastic order which visitors discovered early in the thirteenth century; and their time-honored language was employed again and again, during the next three centuries, to clothe similar ordinances where they were necessary. To remedy such irregularities, Innocent III, at the Lateran Council of 1215, resorted to an application of the congregational system. Reform which could not be successfully effected by the ordinarius loci might be achieved by a closer association of monasteries. Triennial chapters for Benedictines and Augustinians respectively were established in every kingdom or separate province, at which, on the model of Cistercian chapters-general, statutes were to be drawn up and reforms undertaken, under the presidency of abbots elected by the assembly. Visitors were to be appointed by the chapters, not to supersede the ordinary visitor, but to ensure the supervision of monasteries by a central authority of their own.

At the same time, while the help of Cistercian abbots was recommended in the formation of provincial chapters, no attempt at a subversion of the autonomy of monasteries was contemplated. A federal bond was established in each province, for the sake of greater uniformity; but there was no permanent president or general of the federation, no affiliation to any particular house whose abbot was endowed with primacy. No effort was made to check local customs. The provincial chapter added a new feature to the recognized order of things; the best prospect of its success was the hope that its meetings might do something to raise and maintain at a high level the standard of life prescribed by both Rules. It is possible to criticize the constitutions of Cluny and Citeaux as foreign to the principle of self-government implied in the Rule of St Benedict. The decree of the Lateran Council, on the other hand, contained no revolutionary element.

Of the internal state of Benedictine and Augustinian houses in England during the thirteenth century we have abundant information in the episcopal registers of its second half; while the Regestrum Visitationum of Eudes Rigaud, in the middle of the century, gives a detailed picture of the life of Norman monasteries. The evidential value of episcopal injunctions has often been disputed, on the ground of the formal language in which they are cast, and in the absence of reports of the visitations after which they were issued. More material is available now than formerly for the critical study of their texts; and it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that their language refers to faults which had actually been discovered in the monasteries to which they were addressed. Precautionary injunctions to a monastery against abuses from which it was entirely free exist only in imaginations which picture medieval institutions as superior to the ordinary rules of common sense. There is abundant proof that these injunctions were composed, as Rigaud wrote of the typical series directed to the monks of Saint-Ouen at Rouen in December 1249.

The decrees of the Lateran Council were followed within little more than a quarter of a century by the statutes of Gregory IX for the reform of the Benedictine order. These, involving detailed regulations on points of discipline and prescribing fixed penalties for their breach, were certainly not very sedulously regarded. Rigaud, in his visitations, frequently found that monasteries were without copies of them; and in 1253 the Abbot and convent of Jumieges, complaining to Innocent IV that they found the difficulties in maintaining the order of their house much increased by the rigid wording of the Gregorian statutes, were dispensed from observing their contents, so far as they were not of the substance of the Rule. Such a permission might lend itself to a very liberal interpretation. Any attempt, indeed, to curb laxness of discipline in monasteries by hard-and-fast legislation was impossible. The natural tendency of establishments of old foundation was to that type of life which the monks of Fountains in 1132 had found inadequate for their spiritual needs at York. It was only here and there that visitors discovered monasteries which were in a really scandalous condition. Selby, in the second half of the thirteenth century, under the rule of unsatisfactory abbots, was anything but a pattern of a respectable and God-fearing life to the neighboring parts of Yorkshire. Some of the nunneries of the diocese of Rouen had succumbed to the temptations to which undefended communities of women were peculiarly liable. Other instances could be cited; but the typical faults of monasteries were failures to comply with the standard demanded by the Rule. Heads of houses, moved by family considerations or other inducements, admitted unsuitable persons to the novitiate and profession. Accounts were negligently rendered; the common seal of the house was not securely kept; slackness in the services of the church was observable; silence was not kept in cloister and the common buildings; fasting and the prohibition of meat were constantly disregarded. The conduct of the scattered cells or priories attached to the greater abbeys was a difficult problem. These, for the most part, were small establishments without conventual buildings, committed to the charge of a prior and one or two monks, whose main duty was that of looking after the local estates of their house and collecting their fruits. Such, with few exceptions, were the numerous priories in England possessed by French monasteries. Some­times, in direct contravention of the Rule, a single religious without a companion was in charge of a priory; and, even where the requisite pair of monks was in residence, fasts were not kept and flesh-meat was in general use.

Causes of the decline of discipline        

Monastic rules, however, are counsels of perfection; and St Benedict had foreseen that his disciples would have to reckon with the constant recalcitrance of human nature. It was inevitable that some monasteries should sink into decay and abandon discipline altogether, and that small breaches of the Rule should become habitual in others. Of the crowds of men and women who flocked into monasteries during the periods of Cluniac and Cistercian reform, many were doubtless prompted by a merely temporary emotion to escape from the world to refuges in the quiet of which they hoped to save their souls, while to others the comparative ease of a life of prayer may have outweighed its prospective hardships. It was certain, at any rate, that no monastery could hope to be without some unfit persons, whom it would tax the energy of the abbot to control. Where the abbot himself was ineffective or engrossed with temporal affairs, the sin of acedia was sure to make headway. Grumbling and internal discord were a sure evidence of decline; if, as Rigaud found, the custom of making open complaints in chapter had fallen into disuse, private animosities flourished instead; and where, as at Bardney, in the last years of the thirteenth century, a convent was openly at war with a tactless and overbearing abbot, and the strife became matter of common talk, or where, as at Fountains in the same period, the house was so deeply in debt that the Crown found it necessary to appoint an official receiver, the reputation of a monastery was seriously injured.

The growth of the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century diverted popular enthusiasm from the monastic orders proper. While the Cistercians continued, year after year, to found new monasteries, their rate of progress was much slower than it had been at first; and the other orders were much less active. They had become part of the established condition of things; and the benefactions which had placed them in possession of lands and churches were less numerous than formerly, and were being diverted into other channels. The popularity of the friars was not likely to leave the conduct of the older orders without criticism : it is significant that the two visitors of monasteries at this time from whom we have the most ample records, Archbishops Rigaud and Peckham, were both Franciscans whose zeal in commenting upon monastic abuses can hardly, with the best intentions, have been free from the prejudices of their early training.

By this time, great and far-reaching reforms like those of Cluny and Citeaux were no longer to be contemplated. The unsettled state of society which had contributed to their success was at an end; with the growth of national institutions and sentiment, the development of another worldwide order, breaking down the barriers of race under the protection of a universal Church, was as impossible as a new crusade. The old quarrel between the keys and the sword was to enter upon a new phase as a merely political contest, the points at issue in which were to be debated by jurists and publicists, and were not to be decided by the missionaries of religion. Henceforward, new orders were of a purely local character, and their outposts beyond the country in which they took birth were few. Reform, moreover, acquired a tendency to lay stress on certain definite points, such as strict enclosure and the change of heads of houses at regularly recurring intervals, which indicate a movement in a different direction from that of the older reforms.

From time to time, new movements, somewhat on the lines of Camaldoli and Vallombrosa, achieved some success in Italy. In the early part of the twelfth century the hermit John of Matera founded the order of Pulsano in Apulia; and his friend and companion, William of Vercelli, the founder of Monte Vergine, became the first general of an order which, with the encouragement of King Roger, was well received in Sicily. The monasteries founded in Calabria and the Basilicata from Flora, the retreat of the famous hermit Gioacchino (Joachim) before 1192, were affected by the influence of the Cistercian monasteries in which he had lived, and interpreted the Rule of St Benedict with such austerity that Gregory IX forbade migrations from them to Cistercian houses, as in­fringing the prohibition to monks to pass from one order to another of less strict observance. The Rule of St Benedict was also adopted in 1231 at Monte Fano by Silvestro Gozzolini, the founder of the Silvestrines or Blue Benedictines. Rather more than twenty years later, another order of Benedictinised hermits gathered together under Peter of Morrone. After his election to the Papacy in 1294, his monks took the name of Celestines. During his short and inglorious tenure of his office as Pope, he introduced Celestines into Monte Cassino, from which they were quickly removed by Boniface VIII. The order, however, survived its founder and established houses in France and Germany. All these orders were Neapolitan in origin; but in 1313 another was born further north, at Acona in the diocese of Arezzo, to which Bernardo Tolomei and two Sienese noblemen retired. This was the beginning of the strict order of Monte Oliveto, the name given to Acona from the olive-groves which recalled the memory of our Lord's agony in Gethsemane. It had a considerable vogue in Italy, and was permitted to receive members from other orders, the Carthusian excepted.

The Benedictine Constitutions, 1336 and 1339       

A comprehensive attempt at monastic reform was made by the Cistercian Benedict XII, formerly Abbot of Fontfroide in the diocese of Narbonne. His constitutions for the Cistercian order, Fulgens sicut stella, issued in July 1335, are chiefly remarkable for their regulations against the indiscriminate use of flesh-meat, which had been introduced into certain monasteries, on the plea of custom, upon certain days in the week. It was now banished from the refectory, but permitted, with no very stringent restrictions, in the common hall of the infirmary and at the abbot's table in his lodging; while all flesh-meat was to be cooked in the special kitchen attached to the infirmary. Benedict also attempted to check the construction of private rooms or cells, which led to irregularities. A separate lodging for the abbot had become, in all orders, a permissible transgression of the Rule, due to the necessities of his office; and separate chambers in the infirmary were a convenience that could not easily be disallowed. The division of the dormitory into cubicles was absolutely prohibited; but the prohibition, if observed for a time, was soon disregarded. Clauses against private allowances to monks and the distribution of dividends between the abbot and convent were directed against the growth of proprietor; and safeguards were enforced for the financial administration of monasteries.

The constitutions for Black monks (Benedictines and Cluniacs), issued in 1336, and for Austin canons, in 1339, re-enacted the order for triennial chapters, establishing thirty-nine Benedictine and twenty-two Augustinian provinces. These constitutions formed the chief basis on which later visitors of  monasteries framed their enquiries.  With  regard  to  such customs as the use of flesh-meat their provisions were cautious and lenient; but cells in the dormitory, except for the old and infirm, were as strictly forbidden as in Cistercian houses. The maintenance of the common life and the expulsion of customs tending to the acquisition of private property were insisted upon.   Secular persons were, as far as possible, to be banished from the company of the brethren ; and monks and canons were not per­mitted to go outside their monasteries without reasonable cause or without a companion. The integrity of monastic property might not be broken without the deliberation and consent of the whole or a majority of the community; the danger of indiscriminate or improperly conducted sales and leases of land was, as contemporary and later documents show, one that could not be too sedulously anticipated. While, especially in the case of canons, residence outside monasteries on benefices or in priories was recognized as part of the order of things, it was essential that the numbers of each community should be kept up to their full strength. For monasteries which might decay in observance or in financial resources, regulations were made for bringing in new blood in the first case, and for union with other houses in the second.

State of learning in monasteries

Most important are the long and full chapters providing for the support of student monks and canons at universities. Each house of twenty members was to send one; each of above twenty, one or more, according to its resources. Already the Benedictine house at Oxford, Gloucester Hall, had been founded for English monks; and, after the publication of these constitutions, the house for Durham monks came into existence.  At Cambridge, no special Benedictine college was founded till the next century; but monks from various East Anglian houses went there earlier, and Benedictines from Norwich, for example, were to be found at Edmund Gonville’s Hall of the Annunciation. If these provisions were adhered to, the ordinary monastery of any size would usually contain a few monks who had made a study of theology or Canon Law under qualified teachers; and in later years we frequently find abbots and priors with university degrees, such as William Welles, Abbot of St Mary's, York, who was one of the English envoys to the Council of Basle. Welles and two other abbots of St Mary's with similar qualifications were promoted to bishoprics; St Albans, Gloucester, and other houses also furnished bishops from among their abbots. On the other hand, fifteenth-century visitors in England found this statute often neglected; and in 1438 there occurs the case of a young monk of Spalding who, sent to the university, found his means of support withheld, and was obliged to maintain himself by pawning the books which he had borrowed for his studies from the convent library. Similarly, the constitution which ordained that a teacher should be provided in the monastery for novices and others who wished to learn was often imperfectly observed. If there were learned men in monasteries in the later Middle Ages, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that monasteries as a whole were not homes of learning. The remarkable activity of monastic chroniclers ceases, with a few exceptions, as the fourteenth century advances; and, if libraries were still enriched with manuscripts and churches with splendid office-books like the Westminster and Sherborne missals, there is no indication that the gifts of writing and illuminating were general. The detailed reports of visitations of monasteries by Bishop Alnwick of Lincoln (1436-1449) leave the impression that learning in religious houses was somewhat deficient. In only three houses was a monk or canon invited to deliver the visitation sermon; and it is significant that when some monks at Bardney wished to draw up a charter, for which they had fraudulently procured the common seal, none of them knew how to do it, and the blank parchment had to be sent to a notary in Lincoln. Neither the Benedictine constitutions nor visitation documents contain information which warrants the supposition, often stated as a fact, that monasteries undertook the education of the children of the neighbourhood. Both are explicit upon the undesirability of admitting secular persons into a monastery; episcopal visitors sedulously strove to limit the admission of children as boarders in nunneries, which was a source of pecuniary profit to the house, as such children generally came from well-to-do families, and afforded more distraction to the nuns than benefit to their young lodgers. So far as the maintenance and education of poor children in the almonries of monasteries was concerned, the custom was gradually falling into disuse in the fifteenth century. Alnwick found, in more than one instance, that their numbers were smaller than those which monasteries could afford to support; and the few maintained at Leicester simply acted as errand-boys for the canons.

Visitation reports and injunctions also disclose that the Benedictine constitutions were constantly transgressed by convents in need of ready money. The bad habit of granting corrodies or allowances in money and victuals to secular persons was forced upon monasteries by patrons who wished to provide for clerks or old servants at a minimum of expense to themselves. But corrodies could also be sold to applicants, and thus a convent was often burdened with a number of lodgers and pensioners who had paid a lump sum for their privileges and became the actual profiters by the speculation.

Property suffered by sales and disadvantageous leases; timber was cut down and sold before it was ready for felling. In these circumstances, monastic finance became a difficult problem; the status domus often showed a deficit, and efforts to cut down expenses, where habits of life had become fixed, were unavailing. The evidence shows that the management of finance constantly fell into the hands of a few, who did much as they chose; a masterful abbot or prior could obtain possession of the purse of the convent, or a weak one could leave it to the control of obedientiaries who squandered money and rendered few or no accounts. Petitions for the appropriation of churches contain statements of poverty brought about by the decay of property, rises in prices, heavy taxation, and the exercise of the duty of hospitality to all and sundry, a duty which was profitable where a monastery was a centre of pilgrimage, but irksome where it merely was a resort of casual travelers.

But there is no doubt that poverty was the result of careless finance, and, as was natural, brought general negligence and other evils in its train. Even in well-managed and prosperous monasteries, the state of things offered a strange contrast to the requirements of the Rule. The appropriation of a considerable part of the common fund to the abbot, who kept a large household of knights, squires, and grooms, and had his own staff of obedientiaries chosen from the monks, his frequent journeys to London and his manor-houses, were incentives to his monks to live luxuriously, to acquire private property, and to stray outside their house at pleasure. Too much stress may be laid upon the faults of individuals; for a visitor's business was to lay stress on such faults, and he did not waste time in praising cloistered virtue. It was rarely in England that a great monastery was found in such a lamentable state of disorder as existed at Ramsey in 1437, though serious irregularities in smaller houses were not uncommon. It may certainly, however, be said that the patriarchs of western monachism, if they could have visited such eminent houses as Westminster, Durham, or Glastonbury in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, would hardly have concluded that they were fulfilling their vocation.

In England, however, from which these general considerations are drawn, conditions were comparatively favorable. If the Benedictine constitutions were not carefully observed, triennial chapters of monks and canons were held, and there was no general call for monastic reform. The pestilences of the fourteenth century worked havoc in many houses and depreciated the value of their property; at this date it seems certain that the great mortality among Cistercian conversi eliminated this element from the order, and necessitated the leasing of granges to farmers or their cultivation by hired labor.

On the other hand, during the Hundred Years War, the wisdom of Cistercian polity was exemplified; while Cluniac priories, in common with the small alien cells, were seized by the Crown as members of a foreign order, Cistercian abbeys, with their less exacting bond to Citeaux, were left untouched. The orthodox Lancastrian kings favored monasteries, and, even in suppressing alien priories and granting them to non-monastic foundations, they were careful to dis­tinguish between conventual priories, which were preserved, and those which were merely manors belonging to foreign houses. The Wars of the Roses, if they did not encourage monastic discipline, at any rate spared monasteries. Even in face of the serious charges laid to the account of the monks of St Albans by Archbishop Morton, it cannot be said that, in the period immediately preceding the suppression, decline was more evident than it had been at a much earlier date. Abbots were still regulars; the custom, so disastrous in other countries, of granting abbeys in commendam, never prevailed in England to any noticeable extent. At the same time, the foundation of monasteries, rare in the fourteenth century, ceased altogether in the fifteenth. Of the few monasteries founded after the beginning of the reign of Edward III, the most important were the seven Charterhouses added to the two previously existing. William de la Pole hesitated over the form of his proposed foundation at Hull, which his son Michael gave to the Carthusians. It was in the prayers of this strictest of orders, living apart from the world in silence and poverty, that the courtiers of the last Plantagenet kings saw the best assurance of salvation. The last monasteries of any importance to be founded in England were Henry V’s Charterhouse of Shene and the double house of nuns and canons of the Brigitine order at Syon.

In France, the disasters of the Hundred Years War, with the prevalence of anarchy, not only destroyed monastic discipline, but left monasteries incapable of recovery. Similarly, in Italy and Germany, disturbed by party factions and intestine warfare, and shaken by the strife of Pope and Emperor and by the great schism in the Church, monastic life was at a low ebb, the Benedictine constitutions were a dead letter, and monasteries ruled by commendatory abbots were virtually secularized.

Enthusiasts, however, were not wanting in Italy who sought to establish congregations on lines of strict observance of the Benedictine Rule. Carthusians and Olivetans still set an example of discipline; and Cistercians seem for a time to have remained superior to the general apathy. The small order of Corpus Christi, founded at Gualdo in Umbria in 1318, established the abbey of Santa Maria dei Campi near Foligno in 1373, to which its priories were subordinated. Approved by Gregory XI and by Boniface IX it was affiliated to the Cistercians in 1393. Twenty years later it was freed from this nominal dependence, and, preserving Cistercian customs, remained independent until, late in the sixteenth century, it was merged in the order of Monte Oliveto.

Development of the congregational system 

The ruin and revival of the older monasteries is well illustrated by the history of the abbey of Santa Giustina at Padua, which in 140T contained only three religious. Gregory XII gave it in commendam to the Cardinal of Bologna, who attempted to restore it with the aid of Olivetans. The old monks, however, were brought back by the influence of the Venetian republic; and in 1408 Lodovico Barbo, Prior of the canons of San Giorgio in Alga, was appointed Abbot, became a Benedictine, and reinforced the house with two of his canons and two Camaldolese from Murano. From this germ began the reformed congregation of Santa Giustina, which, coming into life in 1421, held its first chapter-general in 1424, and gradually included the older Benedictine monasteries of Italy within its limits. This congregation, which, after the union of Monte Cassino with it in 1504, adopted the title Cassinese, marks the beginning of modern monasticism. Its fundamental principle was essentially different from that of the provincial federations ordered by the Benedictine constitutions. Its chapters were not mere assemblies of a consultative body charged with the preservation of unity between bodies which, for all practical purposes, were self-ruling; they were meetings of a central executive which controlled the congregation as though it were a single monastery. So far, it resembled the Cluniac system; but that system, with a permanent autocrat at its head, was open to abuse, especially in an age when the custom of granting the dignity of abbot in commendam to some wealthy ecclesiastic who was not even a monk had done so much to disorganize regular observance. The congregation changed its president, abbots, and other officers at every chapter. Thus not only the individuality of monasteries was suppressed, but their right of free election was taken away; the supremacy of the abbot over the Benedictine house was practically abandoned, and the abbots became merely the obedientiaries of the general chapter.

While the congregational system involved this important change in the Benedictine system of government, it supplied an adequate method for dealing with the critical condition of monastic life in an age which called for wholesale reform. Its rise was contemporary with the conciliar movement; and it was the Pope elected by the Council of Constance who, at the request of Albert of Austria, sent commissaries to reform the monasteries in his dominions. From this source came the reform of Melk in the diocese of Passau, which, beginning in 1418, spread to other Austrian houses. Neither Melk, however, nor Castel in the diocese of Eichstadt, which set the example of reform in Bavaria, organized congregations on the strict model; and their position with regard to the monasteries which imitated them resembled that of the so-called heads of congregations at an earlier date. The reform of Bursfeld in the duchy of Brunswick led in 1464 to the establishment of the first regular congregation in Germany.

The Congregation of Windesheim

One of the most remarkable reforms of this later period sprang from the house of canons regular at Windesheim near Zwolle in Friesland. Its founder, Florens Radewin, was a disciple of Gerhard Groot of Deventer; he after 1374 had gathered round him a body of clerks who, without formal monastic organization, were called the Brethren of the Common Life and are famous in the annals of Christian mysticism. After Gerhard’s death in 1384 his work was carried on by Radewin; and the foundation of Windesheim shortly afterwards fulfilled his ultimate aims. In 1395 a congregation was formed consisting of Windesheim and three other houses ; and statutes were promulgated in 1402. In this union the autonomy of the constituent members was respected; the prior-superior of Windesheim was merely a moderator, nor was the expedient of annual or triennial elections of priors adopted. The congregation, however, held tenaciously to uniformity of habit and customs, and was slow to admit monasteries which did not readily conform to its rules. It was only by a compromise on the question of habit that the monastery of Neuss, with some allied houses, was united to Windesheim in 1430. Its influence, however, worked wonders in the Low Countries and in Germany; and one of its sons, Johann Busch, was among the most prominent reformers of claustral discipline in his age. Of the difficulties with which he had to contend and the stern determination with which he met them he has left us a full record. In house after house of canons and nuns, in which the substantial vows were neglected or wholly abandoned, he met with fear, suspicion, or active hostility. His efforts, however, attended with not a little danger, had at least a temporary success, and were undertaken with the concurrence of diocesan authorities who recognized the importance of the restoration of order in the cloister. The congregation of Windesheim maintained the high spiritual ideals of its founder; in some of its houses a Carthusian severity of life was pursued. Groenendael in Brabant, of which the famous mystic Jan Ruysbroek had been prior in the fourteenth century, joined its stricter observance in 1448; and the reputed author of the Imitatio Christi was a canon of its monastery at Kempen.

The house of Jesus of Bethlehem at Syon, already mentioned, belonged to an order, established in Sweden in the middle of the fourteenth century, which was in part an Augustinian reform. The order of the Saviour, founded by the Swedish princess St Bridget, was the last attempt at a community of both sexes in one monastery. Side by side with a cloister of sixty nuns there was another, in which thirteen priest-canons, four deacons, and eight conversi lived. Thus, as in previous attempts of a similar kind, the spiritual and temporal needs of the nuns were supplied by a male convent; the abbess, as at Fontevrault, being the head of the whole community. The order was approved by Urban V; and, although its monasteries were not numerous, the magnificent endowment of Syon, which at the suppression was among the most prosperous of English houses, gives it a special importance.

Fifteenth-century attempts at reform 

No congregational movement was initiated by the Benedictines and canons regular of England before the suppression; and the events of the Reformation period put an end to the congregation of Bursfeld in Germany. In Spain, the gradual growth of a Benedictine congregation proceeded from the priory of San Benito el Real at Valladolid, founded by John I of Castile towards the close of the fourteenth century, which attracted other monasteries into union with it. The congregation, with its system of perpetual enclosure and frequent change of priors, was recognized by Innocent VIII, and the Prior of Valladolid was made an abbot by Alexander VI. If the Papacy throughout the fifteenth century was more remarkable for political than for religious zeal, successive Popes at any rate countenanced the restoration of order in monasteries. Eugenius IV, in his early years one of the founders of the reformed house of secular canons at San Giorgio in Alga, displayed an activity in furthering reform which contrasted favorably with the divided efforts of the Council of Basle to assert its authority against the Pope's. The zeal of Ambrogio of Camaldoli, the faithful henchman of Eugenius, restored discipline in his own order and was used to stir up the flagging energy of others. In 1444 Eugenius, acting upon information from France and Spain, urged the Cistercian chapter-general to take measures to combat slackness. The Cistercians had revised their constitutions in 1350 ; but growing disunion was felt in their ranks, and in 1426 the forward spirits of the order in Spain had formed a separate congregation under the headship of the Abbot of Poblet, which was eventually recognized by one chapter-general and disowned by the next. The arrest of decline was impossible; when, in 1475, Sixtus IV revived the constitution of Benedict XII against the promiscuous use of flesh-meat, the power of dispensation permitted to abbots led to the complete loss of that uniformity of practice which was a substantive principle of the order. In 1485 came the decision of the chapter-general to allow flesh-meat on three days a week in a separate refectory as the general practice. This concession, however, was no avenue to reform; and in 1487 Innocent VIII issued fresh constitutions for the improvement of monasteries. Early in 1494 a number of French abbots met at the college of the order in Paris and drew up articles of reform which show that its shortcomings were those habitual in monasteries of other bodies. Monks roamed outside their houses in secular habits; within the monastery they lived too comfortably; the gates were not closed at the proper hours; there was unchecked communication with secular persons, and women were allowed to enter the cloister. It is significant of the strength of the opposition that these articles were quashed on petition by the Parlement of Dijon, on the ground that they had not been drawn up at Citeaux. within its jurisdiction. The order was saved from extinction only by the perseverance of the Spanish congregation in face of rebuffs, and by the activity of a group of new monasteries in the Low Countries and western Germany. In 1497 a congregation was formed in Tuscany and Lombardy; and, in the century following the Council of Trent, the congregational system was extended to the whole order.

To the same period belongs the extension of the system to France; for, although sporadic reforms had taken place there about the end of the fifteenth century, like that of Chezal-Benoit in the diocese of Bourges, recognized in 1516 as the head of a small congregation, the sufferings of France during the long wars with England, and the civil strife of Burgundians and Armagnacs, had vitally injured her religious life. The growth, however, of later congregations is beyond the scope of this chapter. The Reformation, bringing complete extinction to the monasteries of countries and provinces which rejected the papal authority, put an end to the medieval monastic system. Monasticism, in the later centuries of the Middle Ages, had lost touch with the main currents of progress; once the vital force at the back of ecclesiastical reform, it had now become merely a department of ecclesiastical affairs which exercised little influence. It had long lost the position in which it could control the Papacy and command the reverence of the secular power. Such incidents as the suppression of the Templars, the seizure of the alien priories in England, the summary dissolution of small and inactive houses by papal bulls, were evidences of monastic weakness and precedents for wholesale acts of confiscation and destruction. While Henry VIII took advantage of his breach with Rome to put an end to the English monasteries, the monasteries and military orders of Spain were equally at the mercy of the most Catholic king, if it had been to his advantage to pursue the same line of policy. The monastery, however, is an institution which in every age meets a certain class of human needs. Though deprived of its old prominence, it survived the troubles of the Reformation. Under the fostering care of national congregations, it entered upon a new phase of existence; and, if it was still subject to the inevitable alternation of lapse and revival, such bodies as the congregation of Saint-Maur were still to exhibit a pious fervor comparable to that of Cluny and Citeaux in their best days, and a learning which more than equalled the best traditions of Monte Cassino and Saint-Victor. If the ordinary medieval monastery has been somewhat overrated as a centre of learning and education, the later achievements of Benedictinism in this direction have renewed the lustre of the age when religious houses, in the midst of a chaotic society, were chief among the formative influences of European civilization.