Robert of Molesme, St.
ROBERT OF MOLESME, ST.
Founder of cÎteaux; b. near Troyes in Champagne, France, c. 1027; d. Molesme, 1110. He was the Benedictine prior of Moutier-la-Celle, near Troyes, when he was elected abbot of Saint-Michel-de-Tonnerre, near Langres. Unable to effect the much-needed reform of discipline, he left. From 1072–73 he was prior of Saint-Ayoul in Provins. But a group of hermits at Collan, near Tonnerre, wanted him as their spiritual director, and with Pope alexander ii's approval he took up residence with them. Their place of abode was most unhealthy so they moved to molesme in 1075. But Molesme, originally poor in wealth, but rich in regular observance of the benedictine rule, in a short time became rich in property and correspondingly poor in its regular life. The community split and monks under the leadership of Robert who desired the strict monastic observance withdrew from the community. They went to hugh of die, the legatus natus, who was prominent in the gregorian reform movement and thus welcomed Robert's request for the opportunity to live according to the strict interpretation of the Benedictine rule. In his letter confirming the demands made by Robert, Hugh mentions the laxity of observance at Molesme and the impossibility of Robert and his monks attaining their objectives there. Thus they were given permission to seek another place. Twenty-one monks joined Robert in the exodus from Molesme to Cîteaux, which was then a swamp. The bishop of Chalon-sur-Saône canonically installed Robert at Cîteaux, or, as it was called, "New Monastery" (1098). On Robert's departure the monks at Molesme elected Godfrey as their abbot, but he was uneasy about his status and journeyed to Rome. It was at his request that the pope directed Hugh of Die to see that Robert returned to Molesme. A provincial council was called, and it decided that Robert should return to his former abbey. Robert had been at Cîteaux only a year and a half. Henceforth the two abbeys remained peacefully independent. Thus, although Robert founded the abbey, it was Alberic, stephen harding, and St. bernard who respectively built, organized, and propagated the cistercians. Robert was a part of the 11th-century movement that sought not only to reform but to renovate monasticism. This same century produced the Carthusians, Camaldolese, and Vallombrosans as well as such congregations as Tiron, Bec, and Savigny.
The basic document concerning Robert's place in the foundation of Cîteaux is the Exordium parvum.
Feast: April 29.
Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum April (Paris 1863–) 3:670–685. Exordium parvum in Les Monuments primitifs de la règle cistercienne, ed. p. guignard (Dijon 1878). u. berliÈre, "Les Origines de Cîteaux," Revue d'histoire eccléstique 1 (1900) 448–471; 2 (1901) 253–290. w. a. parker mason, "The Beginnings of the Cistercian Order," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, NS 19 (1905) 169–207. j. laurent, Cartulaires de l'abbaye de Molesme, 2 v. (Paris 1907–19); "Le Problème des commencements de Cîteaux," Annales de Bourgogne 6 (1934) 213–229; 12 (1940) 31–36. j. othon ducourneau, "Les Origines cisterciennes," Revue Mabillon 23 (1933) 153–189. w. williams, Journal of Theological Studies 37 (1936) 404–412. k. spahr, Das Leben des hl. Robert von Molesme (Fribourg 1947). s. lenssen, "S. Robert, fondateur de Cîteaux," Collectanea ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum 4 (Rome-Westmalle 1937–38) 2–16, 81–96, 161–177, 241–253. f. delahaye, "Un Moine: S. Robert …," ibid. 14 (1952) 83–106. j. a. lefÈvre, "S. R. de Molesme dans l'opinion monastique …," Analecta Bollandiana 74 (Brussels 1956) 50–83. n. kinsella, "S. R.: A Monk in a Changing World," ibid. 24 (1962) 3–10. j. b. van damme, Les trois fondateurs de Cîteaux (Roybon 1966). m. raymond, Three Religious Rebels: The Forefathers of the Trappists (Boston 1986).
[j. f. o'sullivan]