The conventual establishment was intended to be a self-sufficient corporation, a sort of socialistic community doing all its own work and supplying all its own stuffs and food. 569 The altruistic principle was supposed to rule. They had their orchards and fields, and owned their own cattle. Some of them gathered honey from their own hives, had the fattest fish ponds, sheared and spun their own wool, made their own wine, and brewed their own beer. In their best days the monks set a good example of thrift. The list of minor officials in a convent was complete, from the cellarer to look after the cooking and the chamberlain to look after the dress of the brethren, to the cantor to direct the singing and the sacristan to care for the church ornaments. In the eleventh century the custom was introduced of associating lay brethren with the monasteries, so that in all particulars these institutions might be completely independent. Nor was the convent always indifferent to the poor. 570 But the tendency was for it to centre attention upon itself, rather than to seek the regeneration and prosperity of those outside its walls.
Like many other earthly ideals, the ideal of peace, virtue, and happy contentment aimed at by the convent was not reached, or, if approached in the first moments of overflowing ardor, was soon forfeited. For the method of monasticism is radically wrong. Here and there the cloister was the "audience chamber of God." But it was well understood that convent walls did not of themselves make holy. As, before, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine had borne testimony to that effect, so now also did different voices. Ivo of Chartres (d. 1116) condemns the monks who were filled with the leaven of pride and boast of their ascetic practices and refers to such passages as 1 Tim. 4:8 and Rom. 14:17. The solitudes of the mountains and forests, he says, will not make men holy, who do not carry with them rest of soul, the Sabbath of the heart, and elevation of mind. Peter of Cluny wrote to a hermit that his separation from the world would not profit unless he built a strong wall against evil in his own heart, and that wall was Christ the Saviour. Without this protection, retirement to solitude, mortifications of the body, and journeyings in distant lands, instead of availing, would bring temptations yet more violent. Every mode of life, lay and clerical, monastic and eremitic, has its own temptations.
But prosperity was invariably followed by rivalry, arrogance, idleness, and low morals. If Otto of Freising gives unstinted praise to the cloistral communities, his contemporary, Anselm of Havelberg, 571condemns the laziness and gossip of the monks within and without the convent walls. Elizabeth of Schoenau and Hildegard of Bingen, while they looked upon the monastic life as the highest form of earthly existence, saw much that was far from ideal in the lives of monks and nuns. 572 There is a chronique scandaleuse of the convents as dark and repulsive as the chronique scandaleuse of the papacy during the pornocracy, and under the last popes of the Middle Ages. In a letter to Alexander III., asking him to dissolve the abbey of Grestian, the bishop of the diocese, Arnulf, spoke of all kinds of abuses, avarice, quarrelling, murder, profligacy. William of Malmesbury, 573writing in 1125, gives a bad picture of the monks of Canterbury. The convent of Brittany, of which Abaelard was abbot, revealed, as he reports in his autobiography, a rude and shocking state of affairs. Things got rapidly worse after the first fervor of the orders of St. Francis and Dominic was cooled. Teachers at the universities, like William of St. Amour of Paris (d. 1270), had scathing words for the monkish insolence and profligacy of his day, as will appear when we consider the mendicant orders. Did not a bishop during the Avignon captivity of the papacy declare that from personal examination he knew a convent where all the nuns had carnal intercourse with demons? The revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1375), approved at the councils of Constance and Basel, reveal the same low condition of monastic virtue. Nicolas of Clemanges (d. 1440) wrote vigorous protests against the decay of the orders, and describes in darkest colors their waste, gluttony, idleness, and profligacy. He says a girl going into a convent might as well be regarded as an abandoned woman at once. It was true, as Caesar of Heisterbach had said in a homily several centuries before, "Religion brought riches and riches destroyed religion." 574
The institution of monasticism, which had included the warmest piety and the highest intelligence of the Middle Ages in their period of glory, came to be, in the period of their decline, the synonym for superstition and the irreconcilable foe of human progress. And this was because there is something pernicious in the monastic method of attempting to secure holiness, and something false in its ideal of holiness. The monks crushed out the heretical sects and resented the Renaissance. Their example in the period of early fervor, adapted to encourage thrift, later promoted laziness and insolence. Once praiseworthy as educators, they became champions of obscurantism and ignorance. Chaucer’s prior, who went on the pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas à Becket, is a familiar illustration of the popular opinion of the monks in England in the fourteenth century: —
"He was a lord full fat and in good point;
His eyen stepe and rolling in his head
That stemed as a fornice of a led;
His botes souple, his hors in gret estat,
Now certainly he was a sayre prelat.
He was not pale as a forpined gost;
A fat swan loved he best of any rost;
His palfrey was as broune as is a bery."
And yet it would be most unjust to forget the services which the monastery performed at certain periods in the history of mediaeval Europe, or to deny the holy purpose of their founders. The hymns, the rituals, and the manuscripts prepared by mediaeval monks continue to make contribution to our body of literature and our Church services. An age like our own may congratulate itself upon its methods of Church activity, and yet acknowledge the utility of the different methods practised by the Church in another age. We study the movements of the past, not to find fault with methods which the best men of their time advocated and which are not our own, but to learn, and become, if possible, better fitted for grappling with the problems of our own time.
§ 62. Monasticism and the Papacy.
Monasticism and the papacy, representing the opposite extremes of abandonment of the world and lordship over the world, strange to say, entered into the closest alliance. The monks came to be the standing army of the popes, and were their obedient and valorous champions in the battles the popes waged with secular rulers. Some of the best popes were monastic in their training, or their habits, or both. Gregory VII. was trained in the Benedictine convent on the Aventine, Victor III. proceeded from Monte Cassino, Urban II. and Pascal II. from Cluny, Adrian IV. from St. Albans. Eugenius III., the pupil of St. Bernard, continued after he was made pope to wear the shirt of the monks of Citeaux next to his body. Innocent III. wrote the ascetic work, Contempt of the World.5
One monastic order after the other was founded from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. The organizing instinct and a pious impulse dotted Christendom with new convents or rebuilt old ones from Mt. Carmel to northern Scotland.6 Innocent III., after the manner in which the modern Protestant justifies the denominational distinctions of Protestantism, likened these various orders to troops clad in different kinds of armor and belonging to the same army. "Such variety, " he said, "does not imply any division of allegiance to Christ, but rather one mind under a diversity of form." 577 So Peter of Blois writing to the abbot of Eversham said, that as out of the various strings of the harp, harmony comes forth, so out of the variety of religious orders comes unity of service. One should no less expect to find unity among a number of orders than among the angels or heavenly bodies. A vineyard bears grapes both black and white. A Christian is described in Holy Writ as a cedar, a cypress, a rose, an olive tree, a palm, a terebinth, yet they form one group in the Lord’s garden. 578
It was the shrewd wisdom of the popes to encourage the orders, and to use them to further the centralization of ecclesiastical power in Rome. Each order had its own monastic code, its own distinctive customs. These codes, as well as the orders, were authorized and confirmed by the pope, and made, immediately or more loosely, subject to his sovereign jurisdiction. The mendicant orders of Sts. Francis and Dominic were directly amenable to the Holy See. The Fourth Lateran, in forbidding the creation of new orders, was moved to do so by the desire to avoid confusion in the Church by the multiplication of different rules. It commanded all who wished to be monks to join one of the orders already existing. The orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic, founded in the face of this rule, became the most faithful adherents the papacy ever had, until the Society of Jesus arose three centuries later.
The papal favor, shown to the monastic orders, tended to weaken the authority of the bishops, and to make the papacy independent of the episcopal system. Duns Scotus went so far as to declare that, as faith is more necessary for the world than sacramental ablution in water, so the body of monks is more important than the order of prelates. The monks constitute the heart, the substance of the Church. By preaching they start new life, and they preach without money and without price. The prelates are paid.9
Papal privileges and exemptions were freely poured out upon the orders, especially upon the Mendicants. They were the pets of the popes. They were practically given freedom to preach and dispense the sacrament in all places and at all times, irrespective of the bishops and their jurisdiction. The constant complaints and clashing which resulted, led to endless appeals of monasteries against the decisions of bishops, which flowed in a constant stream to Rome, and gave the members of the curia a rare chance to ply their trade.0 The convents, by their organization and wealth, and by the number of their constituents, who were free to go to Rome and spend an indefinite time there, were able to harass and to wear out the patience of their opponents, the bishops, or prolong the cases till their death. 581
The riches, luxury,2and power of the great convents became proverbial. In Lorraine and other parts of Europe they were the leading influence. 583 Abbots often took precedence of bishops, just as the general chapters of the orders, 584made up of representatives from the farthest East to the Atlantic, were more imposing than the diocesan and even the provincial councils.
A little earlier than our period the abbot of Weissenburg was able to muster as many men as his diocesan bishop of Spires, and the three abbots of Reichenau, St. Gall, and Kempten, three times as many as the bishop of the extensive diocese of Constance. 585 In the twelfth century the abbot of Fulda claimed precedence over the great archbishop of Cologne. Beginning with John XVIII. (1004–1009) the abbots were not seldom vested with the insignia of the episcopal office. The English abbots of St. Albans, Bardney, Westminster, and the heads of other English abbeys were mitred. 586 They were great personages; they sat in oecumenical councils; the bells were rung as they passed; they engaged in the hunt, had their horses and armed retinues, and entertained on an elaborate scale. The abbot of St. Albans ate from a silver plate, and even ladies of rank were invited to share the pleasures of repasts at English abbeys.
Thus, by wealth and organization and by papal favor, the monastic orders were in a position to overshadow the episcopate. Backed by the pope they bade defiance to bishops, and in turn they enabled the papacy most effectually to exercise lordship over the episcopate.
In the struggle with the heretical sects the orders were the uncompromising champions of orthodoxy, and rendered the most effective assistance to the popes in carrying out their policy of repression. In the Inquisition they were the chief agents which the papacy had. They preached crusades against the Albigenses and were prominent in the ranks of the crusaders. In the work of bloody destruction, they were often in the lead, as was Arnold of Citeaux. Everywhere from Germany to Spain the leading Inquisitors were monks.
Again, in the relentless struggle of the papacy with princes and kings, they were always to be relied upon. Here they did valiant service for the papacy, as notably in the struggle against the emperor, Frederick II., when they sowed sedition and organized revolt in Germany and other parts of his empire.
Once more, as agents to fill the papal treasury, they did efficient and welcome service to the Holy See. In this interest they were active all over Europe. The pages of English chroniclers are filled with protests against them on the score of their exactions from the people. 587 The pope treated the orders well, and in turn was well served by them. They received high favors, and they had the rare grace of showing gratitude.
The orders of this period may be grouped in five main families: the family which followed the Benedictine rule, the family which followed the so-called Augustinian rule, the Carmelites, the hermit orders of which the Carthusians were the chief, and the original mendicant orders, 588the Franciscans and Dominicans.
§ 63. The Monks of Cluny.
Literature.—See Lit. vol. IV, pp. 367 and 861; Mabillon: Ann. ord. S. Bened., III.-V., Paris, 1706–1708; Statuta Cluniacensia, Migne, 189, 1023–47.—Bernard et Bruel: Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Cluni, to 1300, 6 vols. Paris, 1876–93; Consuetudines monasticae, vol. I.; Consuet. Farfenses, ed. by Albers, Stuttgart, 1900. The consuetudines are statutes and customs which convents adopted supplementary to the Rules of their orders. These of Farfa, a convent in Italy, were taken down from Odilo of Cluny and enforced at Farfa.
The Lives of St. Bernard.—C. A. Wilkens: Petrus der Ehrwürdige, Leipzig, 1857, 277 pp.—M. Kerker; Wilhelm der Selige, Abt zu Hirschau, Tübingen, 1863.—Witten: Der Selige Wilhelm, Abt von Hirschau, Bonn, 1890.—Champly: Hist. de l’abbaye de Cluny, Mâcon, 1866.—L’Huillier: Vie de Hugo, Solesmes, 1887.—K. Sackur: Die Cluniacenser bis zur Mitte des 11ten Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. Halle, 1892–94.—H. Kutter: Wilhelm von St. Thierry, ein Representant der mittelalterlichen Frömmigkeit, Giessen, 1898.—Maitland: The Dark Ages, 1890, pp. 350–491.—Hauck, vol. III.—Art. Hirschau, in Herzog, VIII. 138 sqq.
The convent of Cluny, 589located twelve miles northwest of Mâcon, France, stood at the height of its influence in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Founded in 910 by Duke William of Aquitaine, and directed by a succession of wise abbots, it gained an eminence, second only to that of Monte Cassino among the monasteries of the West, and became the nursery of a monastic revival which spread over Europe from the Adriatic to Scotland.
No religious locality in the Latin church enjoyed a purer fame than Cluny. Four of its abbots, Odo, Majolus, Odilo, and Hugh, attained the dignity of canonized saints. Three popes were among its monks, Gregory VII., 590Urban II. , and Pascal II., and the antipope Anacletus II. Gelasius II., driven from Rome, 1118, took refuge within its walls and died there lying on ashes and there was buried. The cardinals who elected Calixtus II., his successor, met at Cluny. Kings joined with popes in doing it honor.
The Cluniacs re-enforced the rule of St. Benedict in the direction of greater austerity. In Lorraine and Germany the Cluny influence began to be felt after the monastic reform, led by such men as Abbot Gerhard of Brogne in the tenth century, had run its course. 591 Such monastic leaders as William, abbot of St. Benignus at Dijon, Poppo, abbot of Stablo and Limburg, and William of Hirschau represented the Benedictine rule and were in full sympathy with Cluny. Hirschau in the Black Forest became a centre of Cluniac influence in Southern Germany and one of the chief centres of intelligence of the age. 592 Its abbot William, 1069–91, a vigorous disciplinarian and reformer, had received a thorough scholastic training at the convent of St. Emmeram, Regensburg. He was in correspondence with Anselm and visited Gregory VII. in Rome about the year 1075. The convent became a Gregorian stronghold in the controversy over the right of investiture. With the rule of Cluny before him William, in 1077, drew up a similar code for Hirschau, known as the Constitutiones Hirsaugienses, and introduced the white dress of the Cluniacs which gave rise to the sneer that the monks were cleansing their garments instead of their hearts. 593 Under William the Conqueror the Cluniacs established themselves in England at Barnstaple. William thought so well of them that he offered to one of their number, Hugh, the supervision of the religious affairs of the realm. The second house in England was the important establishment, St. Pancras at Lewes, set up by Gundrada and the Earl of Warren, the Conqueror’s son-in-law, 1077. 594 Bermondsey, Wenlock, and Thetford were other important houses. The Cluniac houses in England were called priories and their heads priors or deans. 595 Hugo, who held the position of abbot of Cluny for sixty years, 1048–1109, was the friend of Gregory VII. and during his administration Cluny was visited by Urban II., one of Hugo’s disciples, after the adjournment of the synod of Clermont. Hugo began the erection of the great basilica in 1089, which was dedicated by Innocent II. in 1131. It was the next greatest church after St. Peter’s in the West.
Under Pontius, the seventh abbot, 1109–22, the current of decay ran deep and strong. The convent had become rich in lands and goods. The plain furnishings had been discarded for rich appointments, and austerity of habits gave way to self-indulgence. Papal favors were heaped upon Pontius, and Pascal, his godfather, sent him the dalmatic. 596 Calixtus II. put his own ring on Pontius’ finger, gave him the right to exercise the prerogatives of cardinal, and the monks of Cluny the right to celebrate service with closed doors, while the interdict was in force in the diocese.
Pontius gave way completely to worldly ambition, and assumed the title of archabbot, which was the exclusive prerogative of the head of the convent of Monte Cassino. Charges were made against him by the bishop of Macon and, forced to resign, he set his face towards Jerusalem as a pilgrim. The pilgrimage did not arouse any feelings of submission, and on his return the deposed abbot made an effort to seize his former charge. He forced the convent gates and compelled the monks to swear him fealty. The sacred vessels of gold and silver were melted down and divided among the wild intruders. The devastation was then carried beyond the convent walls to the neighboring estates. The anathema was laid upon Pontius by Honorius II., and, summoned to Rome, he was thrown into prison, where he died, impenitent, 1126. This was one of the most notorious cases of monastic malversation of office in the Middle Ages.
Peter the Venerable had been elected abbot of Cluny during Pontius’ absence in the East and filled the office for nearly forty years, 1122–57. He was the friend of St. Bernard, one of the most eminent of the mediaeval monks and one of the most attractive ecclesiastical personages of his age. Born in Auvergne and trained in a Cistercian convent, he was only twenty-eight when he was made abbot. Under his administration Cluny regained its renown. In addition to the study of the Bible, Peter also encouraged the study of the classics, a course which drew upon him bitter attacks. He visited the Cluniac houses abroad in England and Spain.
On the tenth anniversary of his official primacy, Peter welcomed two hundred priors and twelve hundred and twelve members of the order at Cluny. Four hundred and sixty monks constituted the family of the mother house. No less than two thousand convents are said to have acknowledged the Cluniac rule, two of which were at Jerusalem and Mt. Tabor. In 1246 Peter introduced through a General Chapter seventy six new rules, re-enforcing and elaborating the Benedictine code already in force. 597 The use of meat was entirely forbidden except to the weak and infirm, and also the use of all confections made with honey, spices, and wine.
To the labors of abbot Peter added the activity of an author. He wrote famous tracts to persuade the Jews and Mohammedans, and against the heretic Peter de Bruys. His last work was on miracles, 598in which many most incredible stories of the supernatural are told as having occurred in convents.
It was while this mild and wise man held office, that Abaelard knocked at Cluny for admission and by his hearty permission spent within its walls the last weary hours of his life.
During Peter’s incumbency St. Bernard made his famous attack against the self-indulgence of the Cluniacs. Robert, a young kinsman of Bernard, had transferred his allegiance from the Cistercian order to Cluny. Bernard’s request that he be given up Pontius declined to grant. What his predecessor had declined to do, Peter did. Perhaps it was not without feeling over the memory of Pontius’ action that Bernard wrote, comparing9the simple life at Citeaux with the laxity and luxury prevailing at Cluny.
This tract, famous in the annals of monastic controversial literature, Bernard opened by condemning the lack of spirituality among his own brethren, the Cistercians. "How can we," he exclaims, "with our bellies full of beans and our minds full of pride, condemn those who are full of meat, as if it were not better to eat on occasion a little fat, than be gorged even to belching with windy vegetables!" He then passed to an arraignment of the Cluniacs for self-indulgence in diet, small talk, and jocularity. At meals, he said, dish was added to dish and eggs were served, cooked in many forms, and more than one kind of wine was drunk at a sitting. The monks preferred to look on marble rather than to read the Scriptures. Candelabra and altar cloths were elaborate. The art and architecture were excessive. The outward ornamentations were the proof of avarice and love of show, not of a contrite and penitent heart. He had seen one of them followed by a retinue of sixty horsemen and having none of the appearance of a pastor of souls. He charged them with taking gifts of castles, villas, peasants, and slaves, and holding them against just complainants. 600 In spite of these sharp criticisms Peter remained on terms of intimacy with Bernard. He replied without recrimination, and called Bernard the shining pillar of the Church. A modification of the rule of St. Benedict, when it was prompted by love, he pronounced proper. But he and Bernard, he wrote, belonged to one Master, were the soldiers of one King, confessors of one faith. As different paths lead to the same land, so different customs and costumes, with one inspiring love, lead to the Jerusalem above, the mother of us all. Cluniacs and Cistercians should admonish one another if they discerned errors one in the other, for they were pursuing after one inheritance and following one command. He called upon himself and Bernard to remember the fine words of Augustine, "have charity, and then do what you will, "habe charitatem et fac quicquid vis. 601 What could be more admirable? Where shall we go for a finer example of Christian polemics?