What Set The Cistercian Order Apart From Other Monastic Movements In The Twelfth Century?

2523 words - 10 pages

The speed, extent and tenacity of Cistercian expansion was by all accounts extraordinary, and one that seemed to differ greatly from the other monastic movements of the twelfth century. Their growth from one to seven foundations, to more than three hundred in the space of fifty years was almost entirely unexpected by contemporary standards. However, when one delves into the history of the order and looks at the factors that differentiated it from other similar monastic institutions of the same period one begins to see a number of portentous factors that undoubtedly contributed to such explosive growth.
Perhaps one reason for Cistercian expansion was the “Social Catholicity” of it’s appeal. This was something that differed greatly from other Benedictine establishments of the time, for example Cluny. Early Cistercians wished to roll back the centuries of monastic development that had, in their view, tarnished Benedictine rule. Cistercians had a unwavering belief in the pure simplicity of St. Benedict’s plan, something that was simply not present in other monastic institutions of the twelfth century who wished to embrace the changes that had taken place. This stance was applied to all aspects of life, such as dress, food, buildings and furniture. Cistercian conviction was entirely steadfast. St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s main complaint against Peter the Venerable (and the Cluniacs in a more general sense) was that they simply did not adhere strictly enough to the rule of St. Benedict. Something one could certainly argue was true. The Cistercian statues decreed that the rule of St. Benedict was nothing other than the pure gospel of Christ , as such it was crucial that the original ideal was kept as free from the ideological erosion that had taken place as possible. Cistercian emphasis was on the imitation of Christ through the rule of St. Benedict, and in this emphasis the Franciscans are seen as their spiritual heirs. “The severity of their internal discipline, the discouragement of learning, the plainness of ritual, the absence of relics, were all calculated to discourage visitors and..gifts of benefactors” - and it is a description such as this, that I feel best describes the intentions of the early Cistercians. It was the aim of the Cistercians to run counter to the established habits and intellectual developments of western Christendom.
Another feature of the Cistercians that was certainly different to other twelfth century monastic movements was in it’s organisation and structure. In Western Society and the Church in the middle ages, Southern comments that Cistercian organisation was “one of the masterpieces of medieval planning”. He also goes on to write that the “Cistercians achieved iin one stroke the kind of organisation that every ruler would wish to have” . Essentially, in structure the Cistercian model was a sigle strong chain of authority from top to bottom. One could even comment that it was more effective than papal organisation in...

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