The Monastic Crisis of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

  • Jean Leclercq
Part of the Readings in European History book series (SEURH)


The earliest documentary evidence of monasticism in the west shows it already existing in two distinct forms, urban and rural: the secluded life was led either in or near a town, or, on the other hand, deep in the country. Both forms were considered authentic, and they had in common the fundamental characteristic of the vocation of certain Christians — separation from the world, in order to seek God wholeheartedly and love him alone. In a text attributed to St Valéry of Bierzo, a Spanish ascetic of the seventh century, the two forms of monasticism are described and carefully differentiated. The author makes no secret of the fact that he considers the life of town monks more meritorious, for though they live near other men, and even right amongst them, they manage to avoid being contaminated by worldly thoughts.2


Twelfth Century Eleventh Century Solitary Life General Chapter Powerful Voice 
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  1. 2.
    S. Valerio (Obras) De monachis perfectis, ed. R. Fernandez-Pousa (Madrid, 1942) pp. 124–8. Ought not the ambiguity of the term ‘eremitic’ to be recognised once and for all? At the period with which this paper is concerned expressions such as eremus, eremita, solitudo, vita solitaria were used in different ways, and the meaning must be determined for each particular text. These terms were used of cenobitic monasteries situated far away from urban life, of groups of hermitages such as those St Peter Damian was to organise at Fonte Avellano, of isolated hermitages like those attached to Cluny, which were praised by Peter the Venerable; of hermitages unconnected with each other or with any monastery. But in every case the vocabulary refers to a form of rural monasticism characterised by withdrawal from civilisation and by a special emphasis on a simple, poor and austere manner of life as opposed to urban monasticism in the sense described above.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    On St Riquier, see the interesting study by J. Hubert, ‘Saint-Riquier et le monachisme bénédictin en Gaule à l’époque carolingienne’, in Il monachesimo nell’alto medioevo e la formazione della civiltd occidentale (Spoleto, 1957) pp. 293–309.Google Scholar
  3. On monastic burgs, see E. Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique en France, VI (Lille, 1943) pp. 414–24.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    See, for example, the texts studied by L. Gougaud, ‘Les critiques formulées contre les premiers moines d’Occident’, in RM XXIV (1934) 145–63.Google Scholar
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    Ed. G. A. Hückel, Les poèmes satiriques d’Adalbéron (‘Bibliothèque de la Faculté des lettres de Paris’, XIII, 1901) pp. 129–67.Google Scholar
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  7. 1.
    See P. Héliot, ‘Sur les résidences princières bâties en France du Xe au XIIe siècle’, in Moyen Âge, LXI (1955) 27–61, 291–7.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    Letter ‘Tuae quidem’, ed. J. Leclercq and L. P. Bonnes, Un maître de la vie spirituelle au XIe siècle, eaz de Fécamp (Paris, 1946) pp. 201–3.Google Scholar
  9. 3.
    Ed. F. Ughelli, Italia Sacra, 11 (Venice, 1717) pp. 355–9.Google Scholar
  10. 2.
    Ed. G. Tabacco, Petri Damiani Vita Beati Romualdi (Rome, 1957); in the notes of this valuable edition the editor suggests useful references concerning what Peter Damian said in this work and elsewhere.Google Scholar
  11. In S. Pierre Damien, ermite et homme d’Église (ed. ‘Storia e letteratura’, Rome, 1960) I have tried to pick out the characteristics of the work of St Romuald and St Peter Damian.Google Scholar
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    Ed. Mittarelli-Costadoni, Annales Camaldulenses (Venice, 1755) 111, cols 512–51.Google Scholar
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    See J. Leclercq, ‘Le poème de Payen Bolotin contre les faux ermites’, in RB LXVIII (1958) 52–86, where a bibliography is given and an attempt has been made to analyse the characteristics of this religious movement.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    Apologia ad Guilelmum abbatem, nn. 28–9: PL 182, 914–15; ed. J. Leclercq and H. M. Rochais, S. Bernardi Opera, 111 (Rome, 1963) pp. 105–6.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. The first phrase is inspired by St Jerome, Epist. XIV 8, ed. I. Hilberg, CSEL 54 (1910) 55–6.Google Scholar
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    See J. Leclercq, ‘Une nouvelle réponse de l’ancien monachisme aux critiques des cisterciens’, in RB LXVII (1957) 77094., where a bibliography is given.Google Scholar
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    Ed. C. Noschitzka, in Analecta Ordinis Cisterciensis, VI (1950) 8 and 24.Google Scholar
  19. 4.
    This has been established by R. Fossier, ‘L’essor économique de Clairvaux’, in Bernard de Clairvaux (Paris, 1955) p. 109.Google Scholar
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    Ed. E. du Meril, Poésies inedites du moyen âge (Paris, 1854) pp. 319–25.Google Scholar
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    Ed. G. Constable, ‘The Letter from Peter of St John to Hatto of Troyes’, in Petrus Venerabilis ( ‘Studia Anselmiana’, XL, Rome, 1956) pp. 38–53.Google Scholar
  22. 1.
    Ed. A. Wilmart, ‘Une riposte de l’ancien monachisme au manifeste de saint Bernard’, in RB XLVI (1934.) 296–544; on the author, see C. H. Talbot, ‘The date and author of the Riposte’, in Petrus Venerabilis, pp. 72–80.Google Scholar
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    See my J. Leclercq of this text, ‘Nouvelle réponse de l’ancien monachisme aux critiques des cisterciens’, in RB LXVII (1957) 77–94.Google Scholar
  24. 3.
    See J. Leclercq and R. Foreville, who have edited or indicated several of these texts in the following articles. Foreville, who have edited or indicated several of these texts in the following articles: ‘La vêture ad succurrendum d’après le moine Raoul’, in Analecta Monastica, 111 (‘Studia Anselmiana’, XXXVII, Rome, 1955) pp. 158–68; and ‘Un débat sur le sacerdoce des moines au XIIe siècle’, ibid. IV (XLI, 1955) pp. 8–118.Google Scholar
  25. 1.
    Text in PL 189, 1023–48, esp. n. 52, col. 1040. I have J. Leclercq the character of these reform decrees in Pierre le Vénérable (St Wandrille, 1946) pp. 148–53.Google Scholar
  26. 4.
    Epist. I 23: PL 189, 102: also Giles Constable, The Letters of Peter the Venerable (Cambridge, Mass., 1967) 143.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1971

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  • Jean Leclercq

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