CISTERCIANS, a monastic order founded by Robert, at Citeaux near Dijon, in Burgundy, on the Day of St. Benedict, 1098. Robert, who at an early, age had become Prior of the Monastery of St. Michel de Tonnerre, but felt unable to reform the loose and frivolous life of his monks, obtained dispensation from Pope Urban II., then travelling in France, and preaching the first crusade, to retire, at the head of a small colony of hermits, into the forest of Molesme, in the diocese of Langres, for the purpose of leading a life of austere asceticism. The colony prospered; but the reverence of the surrounding population, and the more substantial favors which followed in its wake, brought vanity and irregularities into the herrnits camp; and Molesme was soon as bad as St. Michel de Tonnerre. A second time Robert tried a change, and retired to Haur, a desert in the neighborhood. But the monks of Molesrne would not lose their abbot; and the Bishop of Langres compelled him to return. Later on, however, he obtained permission of the papal legate, Archbishop Hughes of Lyons, to retire to Citeaux, in the diocese of Châlons, where he formed a settlement of twenty hermits, who bound themselves to a strict observance of the rules of St. Benedict. The undertaking proved eminently successful. Count Odo built a monastery, and the Bishop of Châlons made Robert abbot. Donations came in plentifully, and it was apparent that Robert was destined to become an ornament to the diocese in which he lived. But this roused the envy of the Bishop of Langres, so much the more as the rise of Citeaux would surely become the fall of Molesme; and, through the Pope, he compelled Robert to leave Citeaux in 1099, and return to Molesme, where he died in 1108.
At Citeaux Robert was succeeded by Alberic, and Alberics first great task was to make his monastery independent of Molesme. Deleptes, with letters of recommendation from the Bishop of Langres, the Archbishop of Lyons, etc., were sent to Rome; and in 1100, by a special bull, Pasohalis II. placed the Monastery of Citeaux directly under the papal authority. Shortly after, Alberic issued the Statuta Monachorum Cistertiensium, in which a strict observance of the rules of St. Benedict is adopted as the leading principle; and gradually the monks of Citeaux assumed the position as the reformed, or as the only true Benedictines. They got a costume of their own. At first they were gray or tan-colored, like the monks of Molesme: but one night the Virgin descended from heaven, and presented Alberic with a white garment, and from that moment the Cistercians always appeared in white in the choir, and in black in the streets; hence the names of White-, Black-, and Gray- Friars. Nevertheless, a strict observance of the rules of St. Benedict may mean very much as a maxim of conduct, and very little as a principle of life. The example set by the Cistercians was much admired, but it was not followed. When Alberic died (in 1109), the ranks of his monks had been fearfully thinned out; and his successor, Stephan Harding, an Englishman, was in great fear that Citeaux should die out without having had one single novice. Then came the living principle with St. Bernard.
Instinctively the Monastery of Citeaux had. formed itself as an opposition to Clugny. Clugny was wealthy and magnificent: at Citeaux every kind of display was banished. The crucifix was of wood, the candlesticks of iron, the censers of copper; no gold, no silver. This austerity attracted St. Bernard. When he and his thirteen friends determined to renounce the world, and devote their lives to the service of God, they entered Citeaux, and not Clugny. But in St. Bernard, asceticism was represented, not as a penance, but as an enthusiasm; not as a cross, but as a glory; and the influence produced by this most extraordinary phenomenon was at once instantaneous and overwhelming. Such a number of monks crowded to Citeaux, that, within two years after the admission of St. Bernard (in 1113), Abbot Stephan had to found four new monasteries, - La Ferté, Pontigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond. In 1119 the number of Cistercian abbeys had increased to thirteen; in 1151, to five hundred; in. the middle of the thirteenth century, to eighteen hundred. In 1119 the constitution of the order,. the Charta Caritatis, was issued by Abbot Stephan, and confirmed by Pope Calixtus II. One of the principal points of this constitution was the establishment of the order entirely independent of the episcopal power, and directly under the papal authority; and the co-operation between the order and the Pope was at times complete. Eugenius III. belonged to the order, and was a pupil of St. Bernard. Led by St. Bernard, and following the Pope, the order occupied one of the very first places in the Christian world. It crushed the heretics, Abelard, Arnold of Brescia, the Cathari, etc.; it preached the second crusade; it. called into life the military orders of the Templars, of Calatrava, Alcantara, Montesa, Avis, and Christ. In 1143 the kingdom of Portugal declared itself a fief of the Abbey of Clairvaux; and in 1578 the abbey actually tried to make good its claims.
By the middle of the thirteenth century the order had passed its point of culmination. It lost its historical mission, which was inherited by the mendicant orders; and the internal decay of the rich and proud institution soon became apparent. One of the first attempts of reform was made by Martin de Vargas in Spain, supported by Pope Martin V. (1426); and in 1469 an independent Spanish congregation was formed on the basis of extreme asceticism. Similar attempts were made a little later in Tuscany, Calabria, and the Papal States. In France, its home, the order suffered very much during the wars with England; and all the attempts of reform which were made during time fourteenth and fifteenth centuries failed. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, independent congregations were formed, - the Feuillants, the Trappists, etc., which see. The first Cistercian nunnery was founded at Tart, probably by Abbot Stephan; but the most famous was that of Port Royal.
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