Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Cistercians. Part Eight.

Text is from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Garden entrance at The Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani,
Kentucky, United States of America.
[Editor: Note the wording above the entrance: "God Alone".]
Photo: 14 January 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Bryan Sherwood.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani is a Monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, in Nelson County, United States of America, a part of The Order of Cistercians of The Strict Observance (Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae), better known as The Trappists.

Founded on 21 December 1848 and raised to an Abbey in 1851, Gethsemani Abbey is considered to be The Mother House of all Trappist and Trappistine Monasteries in the United States of America. Gethsemani is the oldest Monastery in the United States that is still operating.

Following The Rule of Saint Benedict, the Trappist Monks live a Contemplative Life of Faithful Prayer and Work. The Monastery is situated on a working farm of 2,000 acres (810 ha). The Monks support themselves and the Abbey through its Store, "Gethsemani Farms", offering hand-made Trappist cheeses, fruitcake, and bourbon fudge (both on-site and by mail order).

Gethsemani Abbey was the home of Trappist Monk, social activist and author, Thomas Merton, from 1941 until his death in 1968.

English: Heilegenkreuz Abbey (Holy Cross Abbey), Austria.
It is the oldest continuously occupied Cistercian Monastery in the World.
Deutsch: Stift Heiligenkreuz Stiftshof.
Photo: 14 September 2011.
Source: Own work.
Author: Se90.
(Wikimedia Commons)

By far the most influential of the Early-Cistercians was Bernard of Clairvaux. According to the historian Piers Paul Read, his Vocation to The Order, by deciding "to choose the narrowest gate and steepest path to The Kingdom of Heaven, at Citeaux, demonstrates the purity of his Vocation". His piety and asceticism "qualified him to act as the conscience of Christendom, constantly chastising the rich and powerful and championing the pure and weak."

He rebuked the moderate and conciliatory Abbot, Peter the Venerable, for the pleasant life of The Benedictine Monks of Cluny. Besides his piety, Saint Bernard was an outstanding intellectual, which he demonstrated in his Sermons on Grace, Free Will and The Song of Songs. He perceived the attraction of evil not simply as lying in the obvious lure of wealth and worldly power, but in the "subtler and ultimately more pernicious attraction of false ideas". He was quick to recognise Heretical ideas, and, in 1141 and 1145, respectively, he accused the celebrated Scholastic Theologian, Peter Abelard, and the popular Preacher, Henry of Lausanne, of Heresy. He was also charged with the task of promulgating Pope Eugene's Bull, Quantum praedecessores, and his eloquence in Preaching The Second Crusade had the desired effect. When he finished his Sermon, so many men were ready to take The Cross, that Saint Bernard had to cut his Habit into strips of cloth.

Although Saint Bernard's "De laude novae militiae" was in favour of The Knights Templar, a Cistercian was also one of the few Scholars of The Middle Ages to question the existence of The Military Orders during The Crusades. The English Cistercian Abbot, Isaac of l'Etoile, near Poitiers, France, preached against the "new monstrosity" of the nova militia in the Mid-12th-Century and denounced the use of force to convert members of Islam.

English: The Cistercian Abbey Church at Bebenhausen, Germany.
Deutsch: Klosterkirche Bebenhausen.
Date: 1 June 2013 (original upload date).
Source: Own work.
Author: Thomas Hentrich,
(Wikimedia Commons)

He also rejected the notion that Crusaders could be regarded as Martyrs if they died while despoiling non-Christians. Nevertheless, the Bernardine concept of "Catholic Warrior Asceticism" predominated in Christendom and exerted multiple influences, culturally and otherwise, notably forming the metaphysical background of the other-worldly, pure-hearted, Arthurian Knight, Sir Galahad, Cistercian Spirituality permeating and underlying the Mediaeval "anti-romance" and climactic sublimation of The Grail Quest, the Queste del Saint Graal — indeed, direct Cistercian authorship of the work, is academically considered highly probable. Cistercian-Bernardine chivalrous mysticism is especially exhibited in how the Celibate, Sacred Warrior, Galahad, due to Interior Purity of the Heart ("cardiognosis" in Desert Father terminology), is alone in being granted The Beatific Vision of The Eucharistic Holy Grail (Pauline Matarasso, The Redemption of Chivalry, Geneva, 1979).

One of the most-well-known Cistercian Theologians was Thomas Merton, a prominent author in the mystic tradition and a noted poet and social and literary critic. He entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, United States of America, in 1941, where his writings and letters to World Leaders became some of the most widely-read Spiritual and Social Works of the 20th-Century. Merton's most widely-read work remains his autobiography, "The Seven Storey Mountain", followed by "New Seeds of Contemplation" and "No Man is an Island".

Cistercian Monasteries have continued to spread, with many Founded outside Europe in the 20th-Century. In particular, the number of Trappist Monasteries throughout the World has more than doubled over the past sixty years; from eighty-two Monasteries in 1940, to 127 Monasteries in 1970, and 169 Monasteries at the beginning of the 21st-Century.

Westvleteren Abbey (Saint Sixtus Abbey), Belgium.
Date: 1 May 2008 (original upload date).
Source: Originally uploaded on en.wikipedia.
Author: Westvleteren Abbey.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Saint-Sixtus Abbey. of Westvleteren, which belongs to The Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists, is a Roman Catholic Abbey located in Westvleteren, in the Belgian Province of West-Flanders. The Abbey is famous for its Spiritual Life, characterised by Prayer, Reading, and Manual Work, the three basic elements of Trappist Life. It has also a reputation for its brewery, one of the several breweries of Trappist beer in Belgium.

In 1940, there were six Trappist Monasteries in Asia and the Pacific, only one Trappist Monastery in Africa, and none in Latin America. Now there are thirteen Monasteries in Central and South America, seventeen Monasteries in Africa, and twenty-three Monasteries in Asia and the Pacific. In general, these Communities are growing faster than those in other parts of the World.

Over the same period, the total number of Monks and Nuns in The Order decreased by about fifteen per cent. There are, approximately, 2,500 Trappist Monks and 1,800 Trappist Nuns in the World, today. There are, on average, twenty-five Members per Community – less than half those in former times. As of 2005, there are 101 Monasteries of Monks and seventy Monasteries of Nuns. Of these, there are twelve Monasteries of Monks and five Monasteries of Nuns in the United States.

The Abbots and Abbesses of each Branch meet every three years at the Mixed General Meeting, Chaired by The Abbot General, to make decisions concerning the welfare of The Order. Between these Meetings, the Abbot General and his Council, who reside in Rome, are in charge of The Order's affairs. The present Abbot General is Dom Eamonn Fitzgerald of Mount Melleray, Waterford, Ireland.

The Cloisters of Celas Monastery, Portugal.
Photo: 1954.
Author: Novais, Mário
(Wikimedia Commons)

Since 2010, there is also a Branch of Anglican Cistercians in England. This is a dispersed and un-Cloistered Order of single, celibate, and married men, that is officially recognised within The Church of England. The Order enjoys an ecumenical link with The Order of Cistercians of The Strict Observance.

At the time of Monastic Profession, five or six years after entering the Monastery, Candidates promise "conversion" – fidelity to Monastic Life, which includes an atmosphere of silence. Cistercian Monks and Nuns, in particular Trappists, have a reputation of being silent, which has led to the public idea that they take a Vow of Silence. This has actually never been the case, although silence is an implicit part of an outlook shared by Cistercian and Benedictine Monasteries. In a Cistercian Monastery, there are three reasons for speaking:
Functional communication at work or in Community dialogues; 
Spiritual exchange with one’s Superiors or with a particular Member of the Community on different aspects of one’s personal life; 
and spontaneous conversation on special occasions.
These forms of communication are integrated into the discipline of maintaining a general atmosphere of silence, which is an important help to continual Prayer.


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