In the middle of the 6th century St Benedict drew up regulations, Rules for monks. These regulations that were formulated with wisdom, moderation and a good insight into character, had been accepted everywhere in the western Church by the end of the 8th century. The personality and Rules of St Benedict are based on a religion of deep faith, meekness and strength, simplicity and seriousness, prayer and the love of work. The lives of the monks who followed him had three main elements: praise of God, that is joint prayer (psalms, the Divine Office); everyday work that is performed for the benefit of the community and of the Church; and private prayerful spiritual and mental education. The superior of the community is the abbot whom the monks choose. He is the head of the monastic family, the monks obey him, as the representative of Christ. There were several thousand monastic houses, monasteries, abbeys founded in countries of the western Church, which followed the Rules of St Benedict. Monarchs and society appreciated the monks, they provided their houses with gifts and various incomes. This esteem, however, had some drawbacks. The founders, donors, patrons often interfered with the internal life of the abbeys, in the choice of abbots, the management, on the other hand the comparative wealth made life for the monks more leisurely, they left the work to be done by employees. Frequent visits by relatives and benefactors, the presence of secular employees interfered with the monks' silence, solitude, concentration.
Monastic renewal - Cistercium
In the 11th century several movements started among the western monks. The initiators and parttakers of these wanted to be freed of the restrictions of the feudal society, they turned their backs to the world, abandoned all the benefits and comforts that their predecessors acquired. Following the apostles they wanted to live in poverty, simplicity, seclusion, in a community of brotherly love. To prove the validity of their endeavours they referred to the Bible, and the Rules. Among the new monastic movements the most sucessful and most enduring proved to be the venture of the founders of Cistercium. The French abbot Robert with the hermits who followed the Rules of St Benedict, in 1075 founded the Abbey of Molesme in Burgundy. Within a few years, however, the donations, the tithes which would have been difficult to refuse, caused this abbey also to become wealthy, so Robert, with a group of the monks once again decided to create a new foundation. In 1098 some 110 kms south of Molesme with twenty monks he founded the New Monastery, and this Cistercium by the name of Cîteaux in French, became well known, situated 23 kms south of Dijon. The monks left behind at Molesme could not do without Robert, however, and so with several monks he soon returned to them. He was canonized in 1222. In Cîteaux from among the founding companions of Robert the monks chose for their abbot first Alberik (+1109) then the outstandingly cultured English Stephen Harding (+1134). Stephen determined the future of Cistercium in three directions. He endeavoured to collect the most authentic wording in the worship, the Divine Office and to reinstate these; for the deepening of spiritual life he copied, and had copied artistically ornamented kodices; and most of all he created and established Cîtaeux, and the life and organisation of the new abbeys that were founded from it. In 1119 they already had their own regulations. Later, probably it was abbot Stephen who summarized the resolutions made at the meeting of the abbots, that is at their Chapter in a document of love called the Charta Caritatis, which ensured a sence of belonging for the monasteries that followed the Cistercium, and which became the foundation document of the Cistercian Order. It is the merit of this document that through the requirement of General Chapters (capitulum generale) and visitations it secured the unity between abbeys and at the same time eliminated both the isolation and the excessive centralisation. Cîteaux became the heart of the Order, the sign of unity, but the legislative power and disciplinary measures remained with the annual meeting of the abbots, the General Chapter, which every abbot had to attend. Only the abbots of the most distant monasteries received permission to miss attendance, so the abbots of Hungary had to be present at the Chapter every third year. The other uniting link was the visitation: those abbots out of whose monasteries one or more new abbeys were founded, were obliged annually to visit in person or through a representative all the abbeys that were linked with them, and to check on discipline.
The life principle of "ora et labora"
The Cistercians reinstated the balance of prayer and work in the order of their inner life. They rejected every comfort and concession that disagreed with the poverty and simplicity that the Rule required. They wanted to make a living by the work of their own hands. For this reason at the beginning they refused every income, allowance or tithe for which they hadn't worked themselves. They built their monasteries far from populated areas and they often made productive such lands that had not been tilled before. Those monks who prayed the Divine Office (monachi) were able to work on the land or around the house only part-time, so they enrolled laymen (conversi), mostly illiterate men who were able to say prayers only through memorising them. Laymen were able to work on the farms (grangia), in the workshops, on buildings. Their numbers at the beginning far exceeded those of the monachi. st bernard; painting of the abbey of zirc More and more people took note of the serious monastic disciplinary life at Cîteaux. Men of strong character applied for acceptance. Due to lack of space and provisions it was soon necessary to build a new abbey. In the spring of 1113 La Ferte was founded south of Cîteaux. In the same year Bernard, the offspring of a noble family from Burgundy, applied for acceptance into Cîteaux with his brothers, relatives and friends. In 1114 Pontigny, 1115 Morimond and Clairvaux abbeys were founded. Bernard was 25 years old when he became the founding abbot of Clairvaux. With his words, speeches, letters he made a great impact on his contemporaries, his books were read for centuries. Even during his life he was regarded as an example for monks and a saint. Within a few decades in every country of the western, Latin speaking Church a Cistercian monastery was established from Ireland to Hungary, from Portugal to Sweden. For the establishment of the new abbeys at least 12 monks plus working brothers were sent under the leadership of an appointed abbot. They could take with them from their mother-monastery all the necessary books for worship and the most important tools. Between 1129 and 1153 (the year of St Bernard's death), in 25 years 278 new Cistercian abbeys came into being, and besides those 32 already existing monasteries joined the Order as well. After that the number of new foundations decreased but almost in every year there were several new abbeys of the Order established for nearly one hundred years. From 1250 the new foundations were less and less and after 1487 they were at a standstill for a some time. In the middle of the 13th century enquiries were directed toward the begging orders: the Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians. Those Cistercian abbeys established in the middle ages, numbering 736, remained in existence, with few exceptions, until the beginning of the 16th century, up to the start of the reformation, although the number of monks declined.
The "sphere" of Cistercian life
The contemporary monks of St Bernard and the heirs of his spirituality brought into being in the 12th century the Cistercian spiritual writings. The regulations of the Order excluded the unnecessary and expensive decorations from churches and from worship, therefore the churches of the Cistercians in their noble proportions of simplicity and practicality tried to create something great, which we can admire today. The church was the monastery's most carefully built part. The churches of the male monasteries always easterly, were built on the Latin cross shaped foundations, mostly straight, that is at right angles to the sanctuary wall, with a nave, two side-aisles and a transept. On the east side of the transept chapels opened in order to enable more side-altars to be erected for holy masses. When, due to the large number of monks even more altars were necessary, then they extended the sanctuary, and along its wall, in a straight or semi-circular row they opened chapels. They built no towers and there was no need for these because the abbeys were situated far from populated areas, it was sufficient for the bell to be heard within the abbey precinct. noir-lac apátsági templom For this purpose they placed a small wooden tower, the so-called hussar-tower, on the roof above the crossing of the nave and the trancept, to house two small bells. In the main part of the nave were the stalls for the conversi (laymen) who took part in the mass on Sundays and feastdays with the monachi. The monachi prayed the Divine Office in eight sections: the first during the night between 2 and 4 am, the morning praise they said at dawn, then one or two shorter prayers were said at sunrise, before the mass at 9 am, 12 noon and 3 pm. They sung evening praise before sundown, and just before going to bed they said the closing prayer. noir-lac apátság refektóriuma The cloister was most often built to the southern side of the church, but south of the Alps it was more likely to be found on the north side of the church. In the first instance the strong, tall walls of the church protected the monks from the north winds and cold, in the second instance protection was given from the Mediterranean hot sunshine. The Cistercians found appropriate places for their abbeys in the valleys. They used the water that flowed in the valleys in many different ways. They mostly built on the left side of the river so on the south side of the cloister water could easily be lead into the kitchen, the workshops and finally, to the sewage drains. The rooms of the cloister could be accessed from a passage, one side open, enclosing a square shaped inner garden or yard. In the eastern wing found place the sacristy, the chapter room (capitulum), the conversation room (parlatorium), the passage and the communal activity room (auditorium, frateria). On the first floor of the eastern wing was the monachus' large bedroom, and at the end of this the toilets. The south and west wings were usually built without an upper floor. Midway along the south wing, diagonally to the cloister was the refectory (refectorium), and on one side of it the warming room (calefactorium), on the other side was the kitchen. In the west wing the lay brothers lived. Close to the east wing in a separate building was the infirmary (infirmarium). The inner area of the monastery was surrounded by a wall (praecinctum). Beside the gate house was the guest accommodation (hospitale) and chapel or a smaller church. Within the surrounding wall could be found the workshops: the mill, the forge, bakery, brewery in those regions where they didn't produce wine. There were the gardens and farm-buildings as well. A large number of the lay brothers lived on the farms which were distant from the monastery, and were employed in farming. Through their activities the abbeys, which were often established on lands that had not been worked before, had brought into being flourishing agriculture. From the second half of the 13th century, however, the number of lay brothers has much decreased. It was troublesome to employ workers and so the greater portion of the estates were leased out. The monks ate no meat, therefore rivers, lakes, or man-made ponds had great importance for fish-farming. Several monasteries were also engaged in sheep-rearing, wool production, wine making, fruit farming, salt distilling, and many other branches of farming.
In those families where one or more boys had chosen for their vocation the noble, hard life of the Cistercians, it was easy to find girls also who wanted to follow their brothers in the cloistered life. St Bernard's sister, Humbelina became a nun in the Benedictine convent of Jully. But already at the time of Harding St Stephen, third abbot of Cîteaux, there were girls and women who wanted to follow the Cistercians' rigorous style of life. They established the first Cistercian nunnery at Tart, some 15 kms from Cîteaux. Following their example further convents came into being without lawfully gaining acceptance into the Cistercian Order. This was achieved only at the end of the 12th century. The number of their nunneries at the end of the middle ages was very nearly the same as the mail monasteries', but they were not evenly distributed. In the densely populated regions, such as the Flanders, Rheinland in the German regions their numbers far exceeded that of the monks; elsewhere, as in Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Bohemia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, they had hardly one or two establishments. The constitution of the Cistercian Order admitted a part of the female nunneries: they received the benefits of the Order, abbot fathers were assigned to them who would visit their communities, who took the chair when they chose the abbess, provided spiritual leaders and assistants to help with financial matters. The rest of the female convents followed the custom and lifestyle of the monks, but they legally remained under the diocesan bishop. On their farms male lay brothers also worked, and these placed their vows in the hand of the abbess.
Obligations and concessions
Due to inadequate provisions some abbots were obliged already in the 12th century to accept such incomes and allowances that had not been gained from the work of the monks. These were incomes from the mills, churches, duties, tithes. The general chapter had to ease the severity of everyday life, too. On some days of the week the consumption of meat was permitted, the bedroom was divided into cells by plank walls, within the abbey they employed secular employees. The founders of Cistercium sought silence and solitude, and so they did not take on outside work. The Church soon realized, however, what spiritual and mental powers are hidden in the Cistercians and so requested them to perform various tasks. Up to 1230 some 90 Cistercians, mostly abbots were invited, chosen to fill the chairs of bishop or archbishop. Cistercians helped the crusades, they received papal delegations for the conversion of the heretics of southern France. They supported the knights engaged on the Iberian peninsula to drive back the Moors. They started to convert to Christianity the Livek and Prussians on the north-eastern boundaries of Europe, around the Baltics. These tasks involved only a small portion of the community, but they engaged a lot of eminent monks. Besides these many abbots received delegations from pope Ince III. and his successors to act in various disputes and litigation that emerged between Church leaders. From the middle of the 13th century these matters were mostly dealt with by the Dominicans and the Franciscans.
During the 14-15th centuries a lot of trials fell on the Cistercian abbeys. In France during the hundred-year war that was waged against the English (1337-1453) many abbeys were ravaged and pillaged. The bubonic plague that swepped across the whole of Europe (1347-52) decimated the inhabitants of the cloisters. The schism in the western Church (1387+1417) caused the Cistercian Order to split into two as well: the French obeyed the popes of Avignon, the rest obeyed the pope of Rome. The Hussite army in Bohemia and the neighbouring regions ravaged nearly 30 abbeys between 1419 and 1436. Six of the Bohemian abbeys could never stand up on their feet again. But even greater blow to the Order was caused by the appointment of commendatory abbots instead of those freely chosen by the monks. The popes reserved for themselves the right of filling more and more abbots' chairs, and those commendatory abbots appointed by them, who were not monks, decided over the incomes of the abbeys. The popes used this income to cover their expenses, to reward the clerks of the Holy See, and those who earned special merits, often secular persons. The secular rulers also followed the example of the popes in this respect. They used income from the monasteries to pay their favourite people, and asked the popes to support them in their action. Usually the commendators hardly left anything for the upkeep of the monks. Therefore the number of monks decreased.
In the 16th century in those countries and principalities that joined the reformation: Holland, Saxonworld, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Pomeran, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, the rulers abolished all monastic orders and houses. Cistercian life stopped altogether in these countries. In Ireland and Scotland that fell under the rule of England monastic life was stifled also. On the lands of current-day Germany out of the 73 male monasteries only 30 remained; out of 8 in Switzerland only 3. In the Catholic countries: France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, life continued, however, in the monasteries founded during the centuries of the middle ages. Most of these, however, suffered under the commendatory abbots. To offset the disadvantages under the commendators, the abbeys formed congregations in the Castile, the Aragon, Portugal, Italy and Southern Germany, and together endeavoured to defend their rights, to eliminate abuses. Their rules and constitutions were approved by the Holy See. The first congregation was formed in 1425 in the Castile. The congregations were also necessary because inspections and visitations of the abbeys had become impossible due to the political circumstances. zirci apátság bazilikája - jelenleg felújítás alatt The father-abbots could not enter into foreign land any more, and only French and German abbots were able to attend the general chapters.
Under the influence of baroque culture, a specific style of life developed in the Cistercian abbeys of Austria, Germany, the Flanders and Silesia. As a result of good management, they reclad their churches of the middle ages in the baroque style, or built magnificent new churches. Artistic chalices, monstrances, rich decorations, statues and paintings raised the glow of the services. Within the huge convent buildings artistic stairway, wide dining room, ceremonial hall, abbot's apartment (praelature), splendid library room found places. Besides the large organs, brass band and string orchestra raised the festive atmosphere. At the same time the monks kept exemplary discipline rising before dawn, praying the Divine Office, eating and living simply. During the day they quietly immersed into their prayer and work.
According to the directions of St Benedict the Cistercians received guests, pilgrims and the poor with great attention. They regularly distributed groceries among the needy. Several abbeys took on themselves the upkeep of hospitals. In the middle ages they were not involved in priestly duties except in regard to the lay brothers (conversi) who were employed on the farms and in the abbey. In the village churches diocesan priests were involved. In the 15th century the monks of the abbeys of Silesia were the first to accept work at parishes because, due to the destructions by the Hussites the income of their abbeys were insufficient for their livelihood. The lack of Catholic priests resulting from the Reformation in the 17th century drove the monks of Austrian abbeys also to join into the priestly ministries. Today the monks of two Cistercian abbeys in Austria serve 91 parishes. In the first two centuries of the Order only the monks received training in the monasteries, they did not maintain schools, but the lay brothers working on the farms and in the workshops were able to acquire many useful innovations. The first schools of the Cistercians appear during the 14th-15th centuries. However, up to the 18th century they were engaged in education and training only as an exception. Today the following abbeys maintain secondary schools: in Austria: Mehrerau, Wilhering, Schlierbach and Stams; in Germany: Marienstatt and Seligenthal (nuns); in Italy Casamari; in the United States Dallas; while in Hungary the abbey of Zirc maintains four grammar schools.
Battles with discipline in France
The 240 male and 160 female monasteries established in earlier centuries in France, with few exceptions, remained legally in existence until the French Revolution, that is 1789, but out of them only every fifth counted at least ten or more monks or nuns. At the beginning of the 17th century in some French abbeys a new movement started whereby some of its followers returned to the old strict monastic lifestyle, and even stepped beyond it. Their most important decision was to eat no meat at all. For this reason they were referred to as abstainers. Rancé was their most determined representative, he stood at the helm of the movement, as the abbot of the La Trappe monastery, and he implemented the reform first of all at his abbey. Opposite them were the "oldies" who were relegated to extinction. Neither took part in priestly ministries or education. The strict observance by the abstainers was kept up until 1789, the Revolution in France, and only in one or two instances spread beyond the country's borders.
The French Revolution put an end to all monasteries within two years. In 1791 they auctioned off the Cistercian abbeys and their properties, as "national assets", and they forced the monks to swear allegiance to the revolutionary constitution. In the great commotion only one organized group remained together to save the Cistercian lifestyle for the future. The novice master, Augustin de Lestrange of the abbey of La Trappe, with 24 monks escaped to Switzerland, and in an abandoned convent there they led a very strict, penitent life. The numbers in the community, in spite of this, rose by severalfold. A few years later they had to escape further afield because the French occupied Switzerland as well. The Cistercians met with almost deathly losses at the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries even beyond France. Within the empire of József II. the enlightened ruler disbanded most of the convents and ordered that their possessions be used for purposes of the Church. Following his short reign a portion of the Cistercian abbeys were able to stand on their feet again, but in the Czech Republic only two of them managed to do so. In 1784-85 in the Belgium of today, in 1803 in Germany the French Revolution or rather Napoleon put an end to the abbeys. In Italy that was also cut to pieces, it was also the armies of Napoleon that stifled the last remnants of the abbeys of the Order. In 1810 in Silesia the protestant Prussian government, in 1834 in Portugal, and in 1835 in Spain the liberal governments took the monasteries into state ownership and dispersed the monks. In the cut-up Poland in 1819 the Russian, 1831/36 the Prussian government blotted out the light of life in the Cistercian abbeys. In 1841-48 in Switzerland they disbanded the last three Cistercian abbeys remaining after the Reformation. The female monasteries were allowed to function in Spain, Lausitz and a few cantons of Switzerland, but the major part of their properties were lost. In Italy following the disbandings of the early 19th century, a few communities were able to continue their life a few years later.
Taking the Order as a whole, out of the male monasteries only eight Austrian, two-two Czech Republican and Polish abbeys could maintain, with small breaks, continuation of life from their establishment in the middle ages to the present day. Despite great losses the Cistercians proved to be vigorous because they regained several of their abbeys in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, and founded new ones also in Europe and overseas in Vietnam, Brazil, Erithrea, Canada and the United States. After the revolution and the fall of Napoleon in 1814 those monks who followed the strict observance of La Trappe returned to France. Up to 1848 they founded new, or revived 17 monasteries. They put down roots in France, Belgium, England, Ireland, the United States, Canada and in Spain also. In 1892 the followers of the reform of Rancé broke off from the other parts of the Order and formed an independent monastic order with the approval of the pope, called the Reformed Cistercian Order of La Trappe. They were popularly referred to as the Trappists. Their current official name is the Stricter Observer Cistercian Order (Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae (OCSO). Their lifestyle is characterized by centralization and unification. They have not formed congregations, the monasteries are supervised by father-abbots. They do not work in parishes. They have a secondary school in Ireland. As from 1892, therefore, there are two Cistercian orders, just as the Franciscans and Carmelites also have more orders.
In the Cistercian Order (Ordo Cisterciensis, OCist) today 13 congregations hold together the monasteries. The monasteries of the congregations - with few exceptions - lie within the sphere of a country or language. In 2003 the male monks live in 88 communities or houses, and the female sisters live in 64. Those monks who have made their ceremonial final vows number 1030 in the year 2003, the nuns number 898. Following the II Vatican Council (1962-65) most of the monasteries use the vernacular instead of Latin in the Mass and in the Divine Office. This made it possible for the lay brothers to join the choir prayers. Thus lay brothers and sisters can be found only at one or two abbeys now, however one quarter of the monks are choir monks but have not received priestly ordination. The Stricter Observers (Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae, OCSO) in the year 2000 on five continents numbered 98 male monasteries with 1750 monks who had made their ceremonial final vows, and 67 female monasteries with 1472 nuns who had made their ceremonial final vows. After 1945 they extended their foundations over every part of the world: they established 34 male and 27 female monasteries overseas. They have much eased the earlier strictness in lifestyle. They give opportunity for private retreats in their guesthouses for those who request spiritual assistance. In both orders there are abbeys which choose their abbots for a fixed period, and others that choose them for an unspecified period of time.