The origin of the Cistercian Order by its own account: Exordium Parvum

"Exordium Parvum’ is a source written by the Cistercians themselves and appears to be a simple and reliable retelling of the formation of the order, thought to have been written before 1119. W. A. Parker Mason says; ‘the account is so bald and straightforward that it is transparently truthful, its very conciseness being in its favour, while the documents also must be accepted as genuine’. The purpose of this source not only seems to be a basic history of the foundation of the order, but also as a document that legitimises the origins of the Cistercian order.

The source illustrates this in its first sentence; ‘We monks of Cîteaux, the first founders of this church, inform our successors by this present text through whose agency and in what circumstances the monastery and our way of life came into being, and on what canonical authority they rest’. The use of the words ‘canonical authority’ suggest that the author(s) is keen to portray the foundation of the abbey in accordance with the church at the time. This is reinforced by the source’s description of the founders seeking approval from Hugh, Archbishop of Lyons and Hugh’s letter of authority.

Furthermore, the source shows that the early Cistercians gained ‘the agreement of the lord Odo, Duke of Burgundy, to whom the place belonged.’ This recurrence of illustrating the order being in accordance with the authority of the church shows that the early Cistercians held their legitimate origins in high esteem."

Download Exordium Parvum in English here. Versions in other languages can be found here. 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. Illustration: Family tree of the daughter Houses of Citeaux, source

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