The Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (OCSO), popularly known as Trappists, originated in 1098, when SS. robert of molesme, Alberic, and stephen harding led a group from the flourishing Benedictine Abbey at molesme to the wilds of cÎteaux in the Diocese of Chalon-sur-Saone (Dijon), France. These men were determined to seek God by following the Rule of St. Benedict in its fullness.
Early History. For the first 200 years of the order, Cistercian saints and writers played an important role in Christendom. Many abbots were called forth from their cloisters to be consecrated bishops, including Saint William of Bourges and Saint Amadeus of Lausanne. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was the spiritual leader of the twelfth century; his spiritual son became Pope Eugene III. Saint Aelred of Reivaulx, Blessed Guerric of Igny and William of Saint Theirry, among other early Cistercian writers, are still popularly read today (see cistercians). But as monastic wealth increased, abbots and monks became more and more involved in secular affairs, and the original Cistercian spirit weakened. Extrinsic contributing factors were the Hundred Years' War, the Black Death, the Western Schism, and the in commendam system, whereby laymen were often granted the title and insignia of abbots with rights to all the revenues of abbeys (see commendation). These factors led to a neglect of general chapters, annual visitations, and discipline in general.
During the long period of decline various attempts at a stricter observance were made. The most noteworthy, since it actually brought about a split in observance that endures to this day, began at Charmoye, France, in 1598, when Abbot Octave Arnolphini reintroduced the traditional monastic practice of total abstinence from flesh meat. This movement toward a return to the early austerities of Cîteaux gained momentum in 1615 when Abbot Denis Largentier of clairvaux led a group of his monks back to more of the primitive observances. The abbot of Cîteaux approved this reform and gave it the name of the Congregation of St. Bernard of the Strict Observance. By 1660, 62 monasteries of men and seven of women were living this reform, though not without opposition from those who considered these "Abstainers" misguided enthusiasts who were disregarding higher authority that had approved a mitigated way of life.
In 1664 Alexander VII issued a brief In Suprema, which, while maintaining the unity of the order, acknowledged the existence of two observances: one called "Common," the other "Strict,".
Abbot Armand Jean de rancÉ of la trappe, was successful in restoring within his community silence, enclosure, manual labor, and seclusion from the world.
In 1791, just before the French Revolution closed the last Cistercian monastery in France, Augustine de Lestrange took 21 monks from La Trappe to a refuge in La Val Sainte, Switzerland. So many applicants flocked to this monastery that De Lestrange sent groups of monks to Spain, Belgium, England, and Italy. In approving this observance, Pius VI named it the Congregation of Trappists. Two years later Dom Augustine founded the first convent of Trappistines at Saint-Branchier, wherein women observed the same regulations as the monks.
When Napoleon invaded Switzerland (1798), Dom Augustine led his 244 charges on a "monastic Odyssey" through Germany, Bavaria, and Austria, into Russian Poland. In 1803 he sent a contingent to the U.S.
After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the monks were able to return to France and repopulated La Trappe. A new fervor was experienced. Within a few years the Rancean regulations were being observed in 14 houses, while those of Cîteaux were being practiced in 20 houses. The Trappists in Belgium increased also, making five foundations. In 1888 Leo XIII invited the superiors to Rome. At this meeting he constituted the three observances as an autonomous order under the title of the Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe. Dom Sebastian Wyart, Abbot of Sept-Fons, was elected the first abbot general. In 1902 Leo XIII dropped La Trappe from the title and named the order the Reformed Cistercians, or Cistercians of the Strict Observance.
Rule and Constitutions. The order follows the Rule of St. Benedict. Its constitutions and statutes are based on Saint Stephen's Charta Caritatis, and the ancient usages and definitions of the general chapters of Cîteaux. Supreme authority resides in the general chapter, composed of abbots actually in office, titular priors, and provisional superiors of houses. The chapter meets every third year under the presidency of the abbot general. After Vatican Council II the abbesses were allowed to form a general chapter. This chapter usually meets at the same time as the monks' chapter and the two chapters meet together in a mixed general meeting to elect an abbot general. When the chapters are not in session the abbot general has the necessary authority to lead the Order with the aid of his council which is elected by the general chapter.
Following the prescriptions of the Charta Caritatis, the order is divided not into provinces, but into motherhouses and the houses founded from them, called daughterhouses. In recent years regional meetings have developed and are gradually taking on a more important role in the Order. Nonetheless each monastery is autonomous. The abbots of motherhouses visit the daughterhouses regularly to help each community maintain a high level of fervor and regularity. Thus a unity of spirit is maintained.
Like all other monastic orders, after Vatican Council II the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, as it is now named, undertook to write new constitutions and statutes, a work which was completed at Holyoke, Mass. in 1983. The Order has continued to grow and by the year 2000 had over 100 houses of men and almost 70 of women, with most of the new foundations being made in Africa and Latin America. The Order maintains its strictly contemplative orientation, while at the same time sharing its contemplative heritage through its guesthouses, associate programs, and the Contemplative Outreach as well as through its many writers, most notably Dom chautard, Father M. raymond, Thomas merton, Thomas Keating, and M. Basil Pennington.
Trappists begin their day while it is still dark, at 3 or 4 in the morning, and end it around 7 or 8 in the evening. Several hours each day are devoted to the Opus Dei (the Divine Office or Liturgical Hours and Community Mass). Four to six hours are given to manual labor to enable them to be self-supporting. The rest of the 17-hour day is devoted to contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and study. The Trappists lead a strictly coenobitical life. Silence is held in high honor and prevails in their monasteries. A very simple diet excludes meat and encourages fasting. Simplicity, the Trappists' characteristic virtue, marks everything in their life, a hallmark of their beautiful abbeys.
After a two-year novitiate (usually preceded by a postulancy) the monks take simple vows for a period of three years or more, then solemn perpetual vows of obedience, stability, and the monastic way of life (conversatio morum). Some monks pursue further studies to prepare themselves to serve their community in the ministerial priesthood.
Trappists in America. The first group of Trappists arrived in Baltimore, Md., in 1803. Led by Dom Urban Guillet, who had been commissioned by Dom Augustine de Lestrange to find a refuge in the New World, these monks first established themselves at Pigeon Hill, near Hanover, Pa. Two years later, they established themselves on Casey Creek, Ky., where they enjoyed four years of relative prosperity. Despite their success, Dom Urban removed to Monks Mound, near Cahokia, Ill. Miseries of every sort then plagued them for almost four years until Dom Augustine summoned them to New York City where they set up a monastery on the Fifth Avenue site now occupied by St. Patrick's Cathedral. When Napoleon fell in 1814, the monks returned to France with the exception of Father Vincent de Paul Merle, who founded the monastery of Petit Clairvaux at Tracadie, Antigonish, Canada (1825). During a period of growth this community made a foundation in Quebec which in turn made a foundation in Old Monroe, Mo. in 1872. In 1900 the short-lived Tracadie community transferred to to Lonsdale, R.I, in the United States. After a fire in 1950, it moved to Spencer, Mass. and was renamed St. Joseph Abbey. By that time two other Cistercian houses had been in existence in the United States for more than 100 years.
The first of these was made in 1848 at Gethsemani, Ky., when a group from Melleray, France settled in Nelson County. The following year, Mt. Melleray in Ireland, a daughterhouse of Melleray in France, sent a band to Dubuque, Iowa, where the Abbey of New Melleray was established. For the most part these three houses had to struggle for their existence, but in the late 1930s, just before World War II, the tide changed, ushering in a period of steady growth and success.
In 1944 gethsemani abbey made the first foundation from an American house by opening Our Lady of Holy Spirit Abbey at Conyers, Ga. Three years later it again established a daughterhouse, Our Lady of the Trinity, Huntsville, Utah. In 1949, it founded Our Lady of Mepkin, at Moncks Corner, S.C., and two years later that of Our Lady of the Genesee, at Piffard, N.Y. In 1955 it sent a group to Vina, Calif., to found Our Lady of New Clairvaux. Since 1947, when Saint Joseph's Abbey made a first foundation, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, at Pecos, N. Mex. (later transferred to Lafayette, Ore.), it has made four other foundations— two in the United States (Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, Va., in 1950, and St. Benedict's Monastery, Snowmass, Colo. in 1956) and the first Trappist monasteries in South America (Our Lady of the Angels, Argentina, in 1959 and Our Lady of the Andes, Chile, in 1960). In 1951 New Melleray Abbey sent a group to begin Assumption Abbey in Ava, Mo. For some years annexes existed in Oxford, South Carolina and Belleville, Miss.
In 1949 Saint Joseph's Abbey brought a group of Trappistine nuns from Glencarin in Ireland to establish Mount Saint Mary's Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts. This abbey in turn sent nuns to establish Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey (1964) in Dubuque, Iowa; Santa Rita Abbey (1972) in Senoita, Ariz., and Our Lady of the Angels Abbey (1987) in Crozet, Va. In 1962 nuns came from Nazareth in Belgium to establish Redwoods Abbey in Whitethorn, Calif.
Bibliography: l. janauschek, Origines Cistercienses v. 1 (Vienna 1877). j. m. canivez, ed., Statuta capitulorum generalium Ordinis cisterciensis ab anno 1116 ad annum 1786, 8 v. (Louvain 1933–41). h. sÉjalon, ed., Nomasticon cisterciense (Solesmes 1892). a. manrique, Cisterciensium seu verius ecclesiasticorum annalium a condito Cistercio, 4 v. (Lyons 1642–49). t. merton, Waters of Siloe (New York 1949). c. f. r. de tryon, comte de montalembert, The Monks of the West From St. Benedict to St. Bernard, 6 v. (New York 1896). m. heimbucher, Die Orden und Kongregationen der katholischen Kirche, 2 v. (Paderborn 1932–34) 1:363–373. Periodicals. Collectanea Ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum (1934-). Cistercienser Chronik (1889-). Analecta Sacri Ordinis Cisterciensis (Rome 1945-). benedict of nursia, The Rule of St. Benedict 1980 (Collegeville, Minn., 1980). Cistercian Fathers Series, e. r. elder et al., ed. (Spencer, Mass./Kalamazoo 1970—). Cistercian Studies Series, e. r. elder et al., ed. (Spencer, Mass./Kalamazoo 1969—). c. cummings, Monastic Practices (Kalamazoo 1986). j. leclercq, Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian Spirit (Kalamazoo 1976). l. i. lekai, The Cistercians. Ideals and Reality (Kent, Ohio 1977). a. louf, The Cistercian Way (Kalamazoo 1980). t. merton, The Waters of Siloe (New York 1949). t. merton, trans. and ed., The Spirit of Simplicity Characteristic of the Cistercian Order (Trappist, Ky. 1948). m. b. pennington, Bernard of Clairvaux. A Saint's Life in Word and Image (Huntington, Ind. 1994). The Cistercians (Collegeville, Minn.1992). The Last of the Fathers. The Cistercian Fathers of the Twelfth Century. A Collection of Essays (Still River, Mass. 1983).
[m. r. flanagan/
[m. b. pennington]