The Order of Cîteaux (Ocist, Official Catholic Directory #0340), a Roman Catholic monastic order based on the Rule of St. Benedict, originated in 1098, and was named after the first establishment, Cîteaux, in Burgundy, France (Latin Cistercium ).
Cîteaux was founded by (St.) robert of molesme (d. 1111). As Benedictine abbot of molesme he had failed to achieve real monastic reform, so he left that abbey with 21 of his adherents, and in 1098 founded cÎteaux in a wooded wilderness near Dijon. The purpose of the new establishment was the instituting of a life of poverty, simplicity, and eremitical solitude, under the guidance of the Rule of St. Benedict in its strictest interpretation. Such a program was no novelty at the end of the 11th century, but Cîteaux found itself exposed to the hostile criticism of neighboring monasteries. In July 1099, through the intervention of higher ecclesiastical authority, Molesme enforced the return of Robert; (St.) Alberic (1099–1109) succeeded him at Cîteaux. In 1100 Pope Paschal II approved the new foundation and placed Cîteaux under papal protection. According to tradition, it was under Alberic that the monks adopted their distinctive white or gray habit under a black scapular; hence the popular name, White Monks.
After Alberic's death the Englishman (St.) stephen harding, an organizer of broad vision and experience, was elected abbot (1109–33). Although there were still many problems to be solved, a sound program and able leadership assured the survival of Cîteaux. The first regulations, passed either under Alberic or Stephen, revealed Cîteaux's uniqueness, for unlike other reformed Benedictine houses, the statutes rejected all feudal revenues, and based the monastic economy on the manual labor of the monks themselves, assisted by lay brothers. Other measures simplified the overgrown monastic liturgy then customary in Benedictine houses, and prescribed austere simplicity both in church vestments and in church furnishings.
Expansion. As early as 1113 a small band of monks was ready to leave Cîteaux for the foundation of her first "daughter," La Ferté. Yet, the dramatic growth and extraordinary popularity of the order was due to (St.) bernard, who in 1113, with about 30 companions, applied for admission at Cîteaux. It was his example and magnetic personality that drew thousands of others to Cîteaux, and to the rapidly multiplying new establishments. La Ferté was followed by the foundation of pontigny in 1114, and in 1115 Bernard became the founder and first abbot of clairvaux. It was largely through Bernard's international fame that the order spread with unprecedented rapidity throughout foreign lands as well as France. In 1120 Cistercians founded their first establishment in Italy, in 1123 they settled in Germany, in 1128 in England, in 1130 in Austria, in 1132 in Spain, and foundations in all other countries of Western Christendom followed. Bernard was personally responsible for the organization of 65 new houses in France and abroad. At his death in 1153 the order possessed more than 300 monasteries, and toward the end of the same century the number exceeded 500. The rise of the mendicant orders reduced monastic vocations considerably, but growth continued at a slower pace until, before the Reformation, there were 742 Cistercian houses, with 246 abbeys in France alone. At the peak of their popularity, the monastic population of many abbeys amounted to several hundred, although these figures included a large number of lay brothers.
As another result of Bernard's example, the order gradually became involved in activities beyond the scope of a purely contemplative life. Abbots served as papal diplomats, others combated Albigensian heretics, participated in the Crusades, and served as missionaries in Eastern Europe and in the Baltic lands. Cistercians were responsible for the organization of several military orders in Spain. The greatest of them, calatrava, was founded in 1158, and, in spiritual matters, was under the control of the Abbey of morimond. An increasing number of monks were engaged in pastoral activities, and by the 16th century most houses took care of the spiritual needs of the surrounding population. All this was a departure from the original ideals of Cîteaux, although each incident occurred as a response to a particular contemporary need, or as an act of obedience to higher authorities.
Decline. The decline of the order, well in evidence in the 15th century, was caused not so much by external engagements nor by the impact of the Renaissance, as by outside intervention originating during the Avignon papacy. The right of monastic communities to elect their abbots was superseded by a commendatory system (see commendation), in which abbots were appointed either by the pope or by secular rulers. Such appointees were not members of the order but usually secular prelates who received the title for other than monastic virtues. Commendatory abbots rarely lived in their monasteries and were concerned mostly with the collection of abbatial revenues. The result was devastating. Lacking the guidance and control of their abbots, the communities became impoverished, discipline deteriorated, churches and monasteries became dilapidated, and eventually many houses were virtually deserted. The damage was particularly severe in Italy and France, where by the end of the 16th century nearly all abbeys were in commendam. The subsequent religious and civil wars of the Reformation era threatened the order with annihilation. Within a few decades Cistercians disappeared in England and Scotland, in the Scandinavian countries, and in the greater part of Germany. Meanwhile, the central administration of the order broke down and each abbey struggled alone for bare survival.
Reform. Nevertheless, the 16th century witnessed vigorous attempts at reform, which, in the absence of initiative from Cîteaux, originated on a local or regional basis and resulted in the formation of more or less independent congregations, each differing in customs and discipline. One such reform was that of the feuillants, initiated by Jean de la barriÈre (1544–1600), abbot of Les Feuillants in France. The congregation united a number of monasteries in France and Italy, was approved in 1586 by Sixtus V, and became entirely independent; it was noted for extraordinary severity of discipline. The Feuillants, however, failed to survive the French Revolution. Still more significant was the reform of the Strict Observance, for it resulted in a permanent schism within the order. This movement combined the efforts of several reformed communities in France early in the 17th century, and aimed at the restoration of the initial discipline of Cîteaux. The reform was spreading on a voluntary basis when, between 1623 and 1635, Cardinal François de La Rochefoucauld (1558–1645), as visitor of the order, repeatedly attempted to enforce the same discipline over all houses in France. His violent measures encountered embittered resistance on the part of the reluctant Common Observance. The same method was adopted by Cardinal Armand richelieu, who in 1635, enforced his own election as abbot of Cîteaux. At the time of his death (1642) only 30 monasteries belonged to the reform, but by the end of the same century the Strict Observance was followed in 60 houses. Because of its leaders' Gallican bent the Strict Observance received no support from the papacy; instead, a more moderate reform of the Common Observance was launched by Alexander VII in 1666.
Although the enlightenment undermined the foundations of monasticism, the fatal blow was struck in 1791 by the French revolutionary government. In that year all Cistercian establishments in France were dissolved and later, in the wake of Napoleon's armies, nearly all abbeys were secularized elsewhere in Europe. The end of the revolutionary area found only a dozen surviving houses, scattered throughout the Hapsburg Empire.
La Trappe. After the Bourbon restoration, the Strict Observance was successfully revived by former members of La Trappe, hence their popular name, trappists. The Common Observance was reorganized in Italy under papal auspices, and having made considerable gains elsewhere, by 1891 numbered 30 monasteries with nearly 1,000 monks. During the 19th century the difference between the two observances became more pronounced. The Trappists insisted on a strictly contemplative life according to the interpretation of the reformer of La Trappe, the Abbé Armand-Jean de Rance (1626–1700), while the Common Observance assumed an increasing load of teaching and pastoral duties. The final break took place in 1892, when the Trappist congregation became independent as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, while the Common Observance has been known as the Sacred Order of Cistercians.
The growth of both groups continued in the 20th century, and establishments were made in nearly every Christian land. The end of World War II found Eastern and Central Europe under communist control. The satellite governments, with the exception of the Polish, suppressed all Cistercian houses, among them the most populous congregation of the order, the Hungarian.
U.S. Foundations. The first house of the Sacred Order of Cistercians in the United States, Our Lady of Spring Bank, in Okauchee, Wisconsin, was founded in 1928 by Austrian monks. The same group added to its possessions in 1935 a small residence, Our Lady of Gerowvall, in Paulding, Mississippi. In 1955 refugees from Hungary established Our Lady of Dallas monastery near Dallas, Texas. The latter is a teaching community, furnishing a part of the faculty of the diocesan University of Dallas.
The founders of Cîteaux had no intention of establishing a new order. It was called, in its early years, simply the "New Monastery," one among many reformed communities, all following, more or less closely, the Rule of St. Benedict. The peculiar significance of Cîteaux lay in the fact that in a time of crisis, when the great cluny had lost much of its luster, and Oriental ideas had infiltrated the Western monastic world, the New Monastery reaffirmed in uncompromising terms the authority of the benedictine rule. The problem of a distinct central organization, i.e., the foundation of an order, emerged only when Cîteaux had established her first daughterhouses.
Charta Caritatis. The document aiming at the maintenance of uniform customs and discipline for all houses, known as the Charta Caritatis or Charter of Charity, was the work of Stephen Harding. The precise date of its composition, and the exact nature of the text has been a much debated question. Undoubtedly, during the course of the 12th century, the initial document was repeatedly revised and modified before it reached its final form. An early version of the charter, approved by Pope Callixtus II in 1119, already had incorporated the basic concept of the Cistercian constitution. It represented a compromise between the isolated independence of the earliest Benedictine houses, and the excessive centralization of the congregation of Cluny. While insisting on uniformity of liturgy and discipline, the charter granted extensive autonomy to individual establishments under the surveillance of the abbot responsible for the foundation, who was expected to visit such affiliations annually. The abbot of Cîteaux claimed no jurisdiction over the whole order. Both legislative and judicial power was entrusted to the general chapter composed of all abbots, meeting annually at Cîteaux. The abbot of Cîteaux convoked the chapter and presided over the gathering, but except for the direct affiliations of Cîteaux, he could act only as an agent of the chapter. Cîteaux itself was subject to annual visitation, made jointly by the abbots of her first four daughters, La Ferté, Pontigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond, the so-called protoabbots. In time of material need, mutual assistance was decreed.
Modifications. The first major modification of the Charter of Charity occurred in 1265, when Pope Clement IV issued the apostolic constitution Parvus Fons. This document, in an attempt to curb the influence of the protoabbots and to expedite the proceedings of the chapters, created an advisory council of 25 abbots, the definitorium. As the attendance at the general chapters decreased, however, this advisory council came to exercise a decisive influence over the chapters. Another papal constitution, the Fulgens Sicut Stella, issued in 1335 by the Cistercian Benedict XII, further modified the charter. It decreed the formal scholastic education of young monks, and put fiscal administration on a business basis. The turbulent era shortly before and after the Reformation witnessed the breakdown of central administration. Independent reform congregations refused to obey orders from Cîteaux and, especially in Italy and Spain, adopted mendicant customs and discipline, remaining Cistercian in name only. For the same reason, chapters were no longer held annually. Nicholas Boucherat I (1571–84), abbot of Cîteaux, in an attempt to fill the gap, assumed the title of abbot general. The same title has been used by all his successors, although the abbot's legal position has not been altered.
During the course of the 17th century, central control was reestablished over France, Belgium, the German-speaking countries, and Poland. Even the Strict Observance had to submit to Cîteaux's authority. In 1666 a new constitution by Pope Alexander VII, In Suprema, enforced a moderate reform of uniform discipline that remained in effect until the French Revolution. After the dissolution of Cîteaux in 1791, attempts to restore the unity of the scattered remains of the order were fruitless until 1869, when a general chapter finally initiated an effective reorganization. The modern Cistercian constitution calls for chapters in every fifth year, while in the chapterless years the definitorium holds meetings. The abbot general, considered the legal heir of the abbot of Cîteaux, is elected for life by the general chapter, and resides in Rome. The abbey of Cîteaux was successfully revived by the Trappists in 1898, but their abbot general, too, resides in Rome.
The basis of Cistercian piety was the Rule of St. Benedict, but the greatest contribution of Bernard and his school to medieval spirituality was the revival of a mysticism having the sacred humanity of Christ and the Blessed Virgin as its center of devotion. The most eminent of Bernard's followers were william of saintthierry (d. 1148), guerric of igny (d. 1157), St. aelred of Rievaulx (d. 1167), isaac of stella (d. 1169), gilbert of holland (d. 1172), and later adam of perseigne (d. 1221).
Letters. Early Cistercian monastic training did not emphasize education. Those, however, who had received their education before entering the order continued their literary activity. Stephen Harding (d. 1134) composed a lucid and well-documented history of early Cîteaux, the Exordium Parvum. Otto of Freising (d. 1158) was certainly the greatest historian of his century. Toward the end of the 12th century, Conrad of Eberbach compiled a collection of Cistercian legends, the Exordium Magnum. Caesar of Heisterbach (d. 1240) was responsible for an even more popular book of similar nature, the Dialogus Miraculorum. scholasticism was eventually adopted under the influence of the mendicants. A general house of studies in Paris, the Bernardinum, founded in 1245, was followed by a number of other colleges elsewhere. Teaching in secondary schools became the profession of several communities in Austria and Hungary, when under governmental pressure they took over abandoned Jesuit schools after the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773.
Arts. The characteristic mark of early Cistercian art was austere simplicity (see cistercian art and architecture). The best-preserved example of this style is Fontenay in France. By the middle of the 13th century the rules of simplicity were much relaxed. Royaumont near Paris, Fountains and rievaulx in England, and melrose in Scotland, are only a few examples of many splendid monuments of the most elaborate Gothic. The Renaissance added little to the existing monastic plants, but the era of Baroque was characterized by a feverish building activity, especially in Southern Germany and Austria. The history of economy praises Cistercians as the most accomplished agriculturists of the Middle Ages. Their spectacular achievements in clearing forests and reclaiming wasteland, however, were results not of revolutionary techniques, but rather of the intelligent employment of hundreds of lay brothers under central direction. In the middle of the 13th century the sharply declining number of lay brother vocations ended the era of Cistercian prosperity.
Bibliography: Sources. p. guignard, Les Monuments primitifs de la règle cistercienne (Dijon 1878). h. sÈjalon, Nomasticon cisterciense, editio nova (Solesmes 1892). j. canivez, Statuta Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis, ab anno 1116 ad annum 1786, 8 v. (Louvain 1933–41). j. turk, Cistercii Statuta Antiquissima (Rome 1949). b. griesser, Exordium Magnum Cisterciense (Rome 1961). b. lucet, La Codification cistercienne de 1202 et son évolution ultérieure (Rome 1964). General. l. janauschek, Origines Cistercienses, v. 1 (Vienna 1877). h. rose, Die Baukunst der Cistercienser (Munich 1916). g. mÜller, Vom Cistercienser Orden (Bregenz 1927). m. aubert, L'Architecture cistercienne en France, 2 v. (Paris 1943). a. dimier, Recueil de plans d'églises cisterciennes, 2 v. (Paris 1949). j. b. mahn, L'Ordre cistercien et son gouvernement, des origines au milieu du XIII e siècle (new ed. Paris 1951). j. canivez, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 12:852–997. Menologium Cisterciense (Westmalle 1952). l. j. lekai, The White Monks (Okauchee, Wis. 1953). a. a. king, Cîteaux and Her Elder Daughters (London 1954). c. bock, Les Codifications du droit cistercien (Westmalle 1955). l. bouyer, The Cistercian Heritage, tr. e. a. livingstone (Westminster, Md.1958). v. hermans, Commentarium cisterciense historicopracticum in Codicis Canones de Religiosis (Rome 1961). a. dimier and j. porcher, L'Art cistercien (Abbaye Ste-Marie de la Pierre-Qui-Vire 1962). h. daniel-rops, Bernard of Clairvaux, tr. e. abbott (New York 1964). The following periodicals are dedicated exclusively to Cistercian history and spirituality: Cistercienser-Chronik (1889–). Collectanea Ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum (1934–). Analecta Sacri Ordinis Cisterciensis (1945–). Cîteaux. Commentarii cistercienses (Belgium 1950–). For further bibliography see: u. chevalier, Répertoire des sources historiques du moyen-âge. Topobibliographie, 2 v. (Paris 1894–1903) 1:721–722. m. heimbucher, Die Orden und Kongregationen der katholischen Kirche, 2 v. (3d ed. Paderborn 1932–34) 1:330–356. l. h. cottineau, Répertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieurés, 2 v. (Mâcon 1935–39) 1:787–790.
[l. j. lekai/eds.]
CISTERCIANS . The Cistercians are an order of monks and nuns that arose in the twelfth century to foster the integral observance of the rule of Benedict of Nursia (d. 525). The order takes its name from the first community to adopt the reform, the Abbey of Cïteaux in Burgundy, France. Benedict's Rule for Monasteries, written around the year 500, became virtually the exclusive rule for monasteries in western Europe after the time of Charlemagne (d. 814). With the foundation of Cluny in 909, a reform to bring about a more observant monastic practice was effectively forwarded by a succession of great, holy, and long-lived abbots; however, this was achieved at the cost of local autonomy and the balance of liturgy, sacred reading, personal prayer, and manual work that is so characteristic of Benedict's Rule. At Cluny and many of its dependent monasteries, the liturgy was celebrated with great splendor and duration, while manual labor became for the monks a nominal exercise.
In the time of the Gregorian reform, many monastic founders arose who drew their inspiration from the Gospels, monastic traditions, and in some cases Benedict's Rule. They laid great stress on poverty, solitude, and simplicity of lifestyle. Most notable among these monks was Robert of Molesme (d. 1110), who, after entering the order at Moutier-la-Celle, near Troyes, attempted reforms in various monasteries and finally succeeded in gathering the hermits of Collan into a notable Benedictine community at Molesmes. The community's fervor brought fame and fortune, and then a more relaxed observance of the rule. Again Robert, with the permission of the legate, Hugh of Die, set out to seek the fullness of the Benedictine way of life, establishing the New Monastery at Cîteaux in 1098. He was accompanied by the prior and subprior from Molesmes, and nineteen others.
Within two years Robert was required by papal authority to return to Molesmes, but the reform was carried forward by Alberic, his prior (d. 1109), and then by Stephen Harding (d. 1135), who had been his subprior. Under the latter, an expansion began that accelerated rapidly with the arrival of Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153).
To Stephen is largely attributed the Charter of Charity, which bound together Cîteaux and the many monasteries that would spring from it directly or indirectly, forming them into an order. The federated nature of this order respected the autonomy of the local community, while ensuring ongoing regularity of observance by an annual gathering of the college of abbots in a chapter and by a system of annual visitation of all the monasteries. As early as the 1130s these successful elements of the Cistercian reform began to find their way into other Benedictine federations; later, in various forms, chapters and visitation became part of the structure of almost every religious order.
While the concern of the Cistercian reformers to live to the full Benedict's rule too often descended to bickering over observances (see A Dialogue between a Cluniac and a Cistercian ), its true aim as powerfully expressed by the leading Cistercian fathers—Bernard of Clairvaux, William of Saint-Thierry (d. 1148), Guerric of Igny (d. 1157), and Ælred of Rievaulx (d. 1169)—was to attain to the experience of God through mystical love, the goal pointed to by Benedict in the prologue and epilogue to his Rule and in its central chapter, the seventh, "On Humility."
The Cistercian order experienced very rapid expansion with the founding or affiliation of over three hundred monasteries in all parts of western Europe prior to the death of Bernard of Clairvaux. This expansion continued through the following centuries until there were over seven hundred Cistercian abbeys of monks, as well as innumerable convents of nuns following their observance. The order was slow to incorporate communities of women; only in the wake of the Second Vatican Council have the abbesses emerged as fully equal members of the college of superiors.
In order that monks might have the opportunity to live the Benedictine rule to the full and strive after a truly contemplative life, the lay-brother vocation was promoted; this system provided larger workforces to build the monasteries and care for the order's ever-growing landholdings. The tensions that inevitably arose between the increasingly clericalized choir monks and the hardworking brothers could even erupt at times into violence.
Through the influence of the schools, scholastic scholarship began to replace a contemplative patristic theology. With the great geographical expansion of the order, the reform structure began to break down, and observance declined. The unlettered who had been attracted to the Cistercian lay brotherhood began, in the thirteenth century, to turn to the new fervent mendicant orders. The Cistercians began to fragment into national or regional congregations. The Protestant Reformation wiped out monastic life in many countries. An attempted reform within the order in the seventeenth century led to a "war of observances" and the emergence of the Strict Observance, prior to further losses through the French Revolution and other secularizing movements. The policies of Emperor Franz Josef forced the monks in the Austrian Empire to take up tasks left off by the Jesuits when they were temporarily suppressed.
The Cistercians experienced a renewal in France in the nineteenth century that spilled over to the rest of the world in the next century. In 1892 Leo XIII sought to reunite all the Cistercians, but the pope's efforts resulted instead in the formation of two Cistercian orders, one now known as the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappist), which includes both monks and nuns, and another composed of twelve congregations of monks and over eighty convents of nuns. A number of these congregations suffered extensively at the hands of the Communists in Eastern Europe and Vietnam and found refuge in other countries.
The Strict Observance was brought to new prominence by the writings of one of its members, Thomas Merton (Father Louis of Gethsemani Abbey, Trappist, Kentucky). As the largest order of contemplative men in the church today, it has played an increasingly significant role in the contemporary spiritual renewal of the Roman Catholic Church.
The most complete work on the Cistercians is that of Louis J. Lekai, The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality (Kent, Ohio, 1977). For a complementary study from the point of view of the Strict Observance, see Jean de la Croix Bouton's Histoire de l'Ordre de Cîteaux, 3 vols. (Westmalle, Belgium, 1959–1968). However, the most extensive study of the origins of the Strict Observance is Lekai's The Rise of the Cistercian Strict Observance in Seventeenth Century France (Washington, D.C., 1968). Its later development is found in Anselme Le Bail's L'Ordre de Cîteaux (Paris, 1924). Thomas Merton in Waters of Siloe (New York, 1949) treats the American segment of Cistercian history most completely. For a deep and authoritative presentation of the spirituality that animates the Cistercian life, see Jean Leclercq's Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian Spirit (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1976). Louis Bouyer's The Cistercian Heritage (London, 1958) is a more comprehensive and popular presentation of the spirituality of the order. A Dialogue between a Cluniac and a Cistercian can be found in Cistercians and Cluniacs: Documents in the Feud between White Monks and Black Monks, translated by Jeremiah F. O'Sullivan and Irene Edmonds (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1986).
Berman, Constance H. The Cistercian Evolution. Philadelphia, 1999.
Elder, E. Rozanne, ed. New Monastery: Texts and Studies on the Early Cistercians. Kalamazoo, Mich., 1998.
McGuire, Brian Patrick. Friendship and Faith: Cistercian Men, Women, and their Stories, 1100-1200. Aldershot, U.K., 2002.
Newman, Martha G. The Boundaries of Charity: Cistercian Culture and Ecclesiastical Reform, 1098-1180. Stanford, Calif, 1996.
Pennington, M. Basil. The Cistercians. Collegeville, Minn., 1992.
Pennington, M. Basil. The School of Love: The Cistercian Way to Holiness. Harrisburg, Pa., 2001.
Scholl, Edith, ed. In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts. Kalamazoo, Mich., 2000.
Tobin, Stephen. The Cistercians: Monks and Monasteries of Europe. Woodstock, N.Y., 1996.
M. Basil Pennington (1987)
In England and Wales the first abbey was founded at Waverley (Surrey) in 1128, followed shortly afterwards by Tintern and Rievaulx. By 1152 there were about 40, as well as communities in Scotland (such as Melrose) and Ireland. Moreover, there were several nunneries following Cistercian customs, as well as thirteen abbeys of the order of Savigny which were taken over by Cîteaux in 1147. In the later Middle Ages Cistercian influence declined, though there were a few new, urban foundations (e.g. at Oxford and London). Their economy underwent drastic changes following the Black Death.
P. Braunfels (1972);
C. Norton & and Park (1986);
In the 17th cent. a party of ‘Strict Observance’ emerged, advocating, among other rigours, total abstinence from meat. Its most important figure was A. de Rancé (d. 1700), abbot of La Trappe, whence is derived the name Trappists, applied from the 19th cent. onward to Cistercians of the Strict Observance.
The name comes (via French) from Cistercium, the Latin name of Cteaux near Dijon in France, where the order was founded.
Cis·ter·cian / sisˈtərshən/ • n. a monk or nun of an order founded in 1098 as a stricter branch of the Benedictines. The monks are now divided into two observances, the strict observance, whose adherents are known popularly as Trappists, and the common observance, which has certain relaxations.• adj. of or relating to this order: a Cistercian abbey.