The Cistercians

  • Patricia Ranft
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the century between 1050 and 1150 the West witnessed the end of Benedictine monasticism’s virtual monopoly in religious life and the beginning of innumerable new orders, the two most popular being canons and Cistercians. We have seen how extensively the canons’ attitude toward work influenced their lives; we will now proceed to examine the Cistercians and see if the same conclusion holds true for them as for the canons.


Religious Life Twelfth Century Eternal Life Brute Beast Town House 
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  1. 1.
    Berman, Cistercian Evolution, pp. 2 and 48, offers Louis Lekai, The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1977) as a history which accepts Cistercian foundation mythology without a critical eye.Google Scholar
  2. See also Berman , “Cistercian Ideals verus Reality: 1134 Reconsidered,” Cîteaux 39 (1988): 217–30;Google Scholar
  3. and Constance Bouchard, Holy Entrepreneurs (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Epistle of Thurstan, Archbishop of York, to William of Corbeil, 3, in M. Basil Pennington, The Cistercians (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Southern , Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (London: Penguin, 1970), pp. 251–52, describes the implications of these choices in reference to Cistercians and canons with great clarity: “The Cistercians thought themselves the only true followers of the Benedictine Rule, and in the name of the Rule set themselves against the tradition and customs of the Benedictine Order; the Augustinian canons found an alternative to the Rule of St. Benedict, but they had no quarrel with Benedictine customs and were content to follow them at a distance.”Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Idung of Prüfening, Cistercians and Cluniacs. The Case for Cîteaux, trans. Jeremiah O’Sullivan (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1977), 1:5.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Guerric of Igny, Liturgical Sermons, 2 vols. trans. a monk of Mt. St. Bernard (Spencer, MA: Cistercian Publications, 1970), sermon 5.1. Henceforth Guerric’s sermons will be cited in text.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Baldwin of Ford, Spiritual Tractates, 2 vols., trans. David Bell (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1986), 5. Henceforth Baldwin’s tracts will be cited in text. See also Constable , Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 17.
    Isaac of Stella, Sermons on the Christian Year, 2 vols., trans. Hugh McCaffery, intro. Bernard McGinn (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1979), 23.13. Henceforth, Isaac’s sermons will be cited in text.Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    See, for example, Bruce Vawter, “Gospel according to John,” 114, in Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Roland Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 63:443; and The Navarre Bible: Saint John’s Gospel, ed. J. Casciaro, trans. Brian McCarthy (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1987), p. 134.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on Conversion, trans. Marie-Bernard Said (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 8.17.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    Bernard of Clairvaux, The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, trans. Bruno Scott James (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery, 1953), letter 105.Google Scholar
  13. 29.
    PL 182, 883. Bernard’s works are so voluminous and are written for so many different purposes that it is beyond the scope of this study to synthesize his comments on work into a coherent theology. For example, in De consideratione, he wrote about the dangers of too much work, too much emphasis on action. His guidance here addresses the specific situation and Bernard’s call for less work was a solution to that problem. On the other hand, Bernard’s In Praise of the New Knighthood emphasizes the good that is begotten from the temporal labor of the knights. Cf Thomas Merton, The Last of the Fathers (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954), pp. 47–67.Google Scholar
  14. 30.
    Aelred , Speculum caritatis 1.9, in Aelredi Rievallensis Opera omnia, 1, ed. A. Hoste and C. Talbot (Turnhout: Brepols, 1961), 16.Google Scholar
  15. 32.
    The Life of Aelred of Rievaulx, ed. F. M. Powicke (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), p. 22.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Gilbert of Hoyland, Sermons on the Song of Songs, 3 vols. trans. Lawrence Braceland (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1979), sermon 23.4.Google Scholar
  17. 36.
    See Berman’s “Medieval Agriculture, the Southern Countryside and the Early Cistercians,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 76:5 (1986); Janet Burton, Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain 1000–1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 71;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. George Zarnecki, The Monastic Achievement (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), p. 70; Little, Religious Poverty, p. 93; and Southern, Western Society, p. 269, who calls the Cistercian organization “the first effective international organization in Europe” (p. 255).Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Martha Newman, The Boundaries of Charity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  20. 41.
    James France, The Cistercians in Scandinavia (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1992), pp. 255–258.Google Scholar
  21. 44.
    David Williams, The Cistercians in the Early Middle Ages (Leominster: Fowler Wright Books, 1998), p. 346.Google Scholar
  22. 48.
    Little , Religious Poverty, and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978) p. 93.Google Scholar
  23. 49.
    James Madden, “Business Monks, Banker Monks, Bankrupt Monks: The English Cistercians in the Thirteenth Century,” Catholic Historical Review 49 (1963–1964): 341–364.Google Scholar

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© Patricia Ranft 2006

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  • Patricia Ranft

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