Article

The Cistercians

Marsha L. Dutton and Tyler Sergent

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online March 2018 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0250
The Cistercians

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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Cistercian monasticism began when in 1098 twenty-one monks from the wealthy Burgundian monastery of Molesme undertook to create a new monastery in which they would live in voluntary poverty, “poor with the poor Christ,” and in literal adherence to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Over the next millennium, in their habits of undyed wool (whence the term White Monks), increasing numbers of inhabitants of the New Monastery—later called Cîteaux from its location in the swampy area near Dijon known as Cistercium—spread across the world, developing new pastoral and agricultural methods and creating a distinctive architecture. While the Rule of Saint Benedict provided the essential regulations for Cistercian life, Cistercian polity derived from the Order’s early documents, beginning with the Charter of Charity, which defines the relationship among all members of the Order as grounded in charity, with all “united in spirit.” That principle underlies the horizontal links among the monasteries, as all abbots and abbesses meet regularly in a General Chapter to deliberate constitutional questions. A vertical relationship among the houses also exists, however, as superiors of founding—mother—houses carry out annual visitation of all their daughter houses and abbots of daughter houses visit their mother houses each year. As the young order did not accept child oblates, Cistercian communities drew their population from adult men, a fact that probably contributed to the number of distinguished early Cistercian writers and preachers. Medieval authors, beginning with Bernard, the influential 12th-century abbot of Clairvaux, wrote numerous commentaries, sermons, and treatises explicating the spiritual life as founded in the love of God and God’s love of the human soul, so formulating a recognizable Cistercian spirituality and theology. Cistercian libraries were rich in classical, patristic, and medieval works, and a desire to return to earlier traditions of hymnody and liturgy led to the initial musical development. In the mid-12th century other monastic groups began to desire to share the Cistercian life; in 1147 the Cistercian General Chapter admitted the entire orders of Savigny and of Obazine, the latter with both men’s and women’s houses. Today the appeal of Cistercian life and spirituality has led to both a number of affiliated monasteries and a growing movement of laity in the Association of Lay Cistercians, which maintains close ties with Cistercian monasteries. In the 19th century, descendants of the 17th-century monks at the French abbey of La Trappe formed a separate Cistercian branch, the Order of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O), also called Trappists. The original branch is known as the Order of the Common Observance (O.Cist.).

Article.  15380 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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