The early Cistercians: back to strict observance of the Rule of St Benedict

"The ‘Exordium Parvum’ is a 12th century Cistercian document that includes the early history of Cîteaux, incorporating official letters and documents with narrative. While this source illustrates to us that the monks left Molesme to pursue a more rigorous devotion to the Rule of St Benedict, yet there is contrary evidence within the ‘Exordium Cistercii’ that tells us that the monks left for a new way of life because Molesme placed too much emphasis on materialistic wealth and possessions.

Why would the later Cistercians change the reasoning behind the monks leaving Molesme this way? If they left Molesme because they did not agree with the luxuries that Molesme had, then surely this would tie in perfectly with the Cistercian devotion to living a life of poverty. The Cistercians are perhaps giving a stronger argument for the legitimacy of their founding fathers abandoning another monastic house by changing the reasoning to a stricter adherence of the Rule of St Benedict.

This links in with theme of authenticity which is apparent throughout the source. It makes the legitimacy of the founding of the Order difficult to argue against if they had such a solid basis for the formation of the new order. ‘The insistence on the strict observance of the Rule linked the early Cistercians with the most powerful written monument in the monastic tradition. The Rule of St Benedict is implicitly apparent throughout the source; every mention of the limitations the Cistercians place upon themselves, down to their food, clothing, and the sense of humility they attempt to embody is showing their intrinsic commitment to the Rule."

This blog quotes freely from the thesis by Lori Firth, Hull University (2012): "A Comparison of the Cistercian and Knights Templar Orders, And the Personal Influence of Bernard of Clairvaux", to be found here. References in the source. Illustration from "the Bible of Etienne (Stephan) Harding", 3rd abbot of Citeaux source

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