Monastic Reformers, Cistercians & Maurists – Fuga Mundi Series, Part 4

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The Cistercians and Maurists, or the Congregation of St. Maur, each found themselves in altogether different environs than the previous monastic fathers we have discussed in the Series.  Antony the Great, Pachomius the Great, and St. Benedict each began as anchorites (solitary monks).  Pachomius and St. Benedict shifted their monasticism to cenobitic (communal) monasticism. In contrast, the Cistercians and Maurists represent monastic reform movements that sought to revive monastic life within highly developed ecclesial structures.  They also needed to define their monastic life in relation to longstanding monastic traditions.  Despite these differences from the earlier monastic fathers, we find the same paradoxical fuga mundi dynamic present: they withdraw from the world in order to be Christ to the world.  In both we find a radical detachment from the world involving ardent prayer and rigorous asceticism, but we also find great worldly successes as well.

The Cistercians aimed at a reform of Benedictine monasticism.  In 1098, group of monks from Moleseme Abbey in eastern France founded Cîteaux Abbey, not far from Dijon.  They were dissatisfied with the luxury and perceived laxity of the Cluniac monasteries and sought to live a more literal Benedictine monasticism. In the early 1100s, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, along with 30 companions, joined Cîteaux.  By the end of the 1100s, Cistercian monasteries had spread throughout Europe.  The Cistercians were masters of agriculture and technology and through their zeal for God and industry developed large, prosperous, influential monasteries.

Fast-forward to the early 1600s, the Maurists also sought monastic reform in France.  They, like the Cistercians centuries before, took issue with growing laxity and disorganization within monasteries.  Their reform movement encompassed nearly all the French monasteries.  As a part of this more strict monastic observance, the early superiors sought to train their monks for scholarship and more literary persuits.  Scholarship was not a traditional monastic activity and the Congregation struggled to maintain their monastic priorities.  The decline of the Congregation saw the Maurist monasteries embracing too much Enlightenment rationalism.  The Congregation’s final Superior General, the head of their Congregation, along with forty monks fell victim to the French Revolution’s guillotine and were beheaded.

Again, we see both the Cistercians and the Maurists embodying a more radical fuga mundi which paradoxically enabled them to more successfully engage the secular culture.

The next and last installment of the series will feature Thomas Merton and his very modern fuga mundi.

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