Find a Security Clearance Job!

Military


Cistercian

The historical work of St. Bernard may be summed up in a few words. He continued, in every way, the reform of the Church, directed the papacy, in order to save it from schism, fought for the unity of the faith, and caused a second movement of Europe against Asia. The Middle Ages do not offer another example of an activity so prodigious, and of a moral power so universally accepted. Bernard was born at Fontaines, near Dijon, of a family of the higher nobility, and as a mere youth attempted to convert his own kinsmen and the people about them. In his retreat at Chatillon, " he became the terror of mothers and of young women; friends were frightened when they saw him accosting their friends." He was an impassioned evangelist and could comprehend no life except that of the cloister, and he induced his brothers, in succession, to follow him into the abbey of Citeaux (1113-1114).

He was an admirable monk, it might be said the ideal monk, working at the same time with mind and body, wielding the sickle with a skill which won him the reputation " of an excellent harvester. But he was determined to create a peculiar system of monastic life, and, on June 25, 1114, he settled in the uncultivated and wild valley of Clairvaux. " The cell which he occupied in the new monastery resembled," in the words of his most recent biographer, " a prison. A corner was left under the curving stairway. In this angle he placed his bed, on which a bit of wood, covered with straw, served as his pillow. Under the mansard roof, in the wall which supported it, was cut the only seat in the cell, elevated a foot from the floor. When he wished to sit down or get up, he had to bend his head in order not to hit the beams. A tiny opening formed the window." The ruler of Christian Europe lived there more than thirty years, and died there.

The greatest work of St. Bernard is the Cistercian Monk and the rule of Citeaux. The Cistercian monk ought to have the least possible contact with the outer world. An abbey of this order is constructed by preference far from cities, in a wild spot difficult of access. Clairvaux cannot, like Cluny, own all kinds of property. The rule forbids the acquisition of churches, villages, serfs, ovens, mills, in short, everything that constitutes a feudal domain and a source of political authority. A Cistercian abbey legally exploits only property useful for the manual labor of the monks, fields, vineyards, meadows, and woods. The monks are absolutely interdicted from carrying on business and selling at retail the products of their lands. They are not less rigorously interdicted from taking the cure of souls, that is to say, from officiating in a church or parochial chapel. As they did not desire the presence of laymen, the Cistercians were careful not to open a school and admit students. Here again there is a striking contrast to the Cluniac system. They were afraid of everything which directed the mind toward the outer world and toward profane things. They were suspicious of books, literature and science. A monk guilty of making verses was sent to another house. The servants, who were not, however, true monks, could not have books in their hands. The Cistercians were satisfied to have the servants learn by heart the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Miserere and the Ave Maria. Faith is enough for pure souls.

A return to asceticism characterizes the rule of Clairvaux, just as it does the rules of the other congregations which sprang from the reform movement. Chastity, obedience, silence, individual poverty, are inviolable obligations. One of the most heinous crimes that a Cistercian monk can commit is to be a proprietor; the monk who is a proprietor, like the incendiary or the thief, is subject to excommunication. At Clairvaux, not merely was meat prohibited, but vegetables fried in fat were not permitted, and even the sick did not eat meat in Lent or on Saturday. No white bread, no spices, fish only occasionally, and very little wine were allowed. The first associates of St. Bernard often ate beech leaves. They lived on peas, lentils, and other vegetables, without seasoning; and these poor meals were prepared by the monks themselves, each one in his turn serving as cook. The additions to the repasts or the pittances, which were customary at Cluny on certain days of the week, were formally forbidden. When they retired, the Cistercians threw themselves upon their beds, all clothed, in a dormitory without cells, and which, of course, was not warmed. The bed was composed of a pillow, two covers, and a straw tick. The mattress was a Cluniac institution: at Clairvaux, it was allowed the sick, in exceptional cases.

The garment of the Cistercian differs from the black robe of the Cluniac: it is gray, the natural color of wool which has not been dyed. The Cistercians were absolutely forbidden to wear furred robes, woolen shirts, hoods, gloves and boots, as so many of the abbots and monks of the older congregations did. The same severity of principles extends to the ceremonies of worship. The Cistercians chant in unison without an organ. In their churches, there is a pitiless proscription of everything which appeals to the eyes or the senses, of everything which may distract the monk from contemplation and prayer. The walls are bare; there are no ornamented pavements, no mosaics, no colored-glass windows, no mural paintings; there are no statues, and only the cross is tolerated, and even then no large gilded or silvered crosses. Silk ornaments are prohibited, even for the grand ceremonies. On the exterior, stone towers are forbidden : they must be built of wood and be of small size. Little bells alone are authorized. Finally, in abbatial churches, no outsiders are to be buried except kings, queens, archbishops, and bishops.

Fundamentally, Clairvaux in its early days was a living satire on Cluny. Clairvaux is the model abbey, the new creation opposed to the ancient monastic system. Moral preponderance and religious prestige soon passed from the Cluniacs to the Cistercians. Bernard contributed to Clairvaux's victory by the fervor of his propaganda, working with all his might to drive out strange monks, and filling the episcopal seats with Cistercians. After all, it was a legitimate rivalry; he acted in this, as always, merely under the sway of his Christian conviction.





NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list