The Cistercian Order: incorporated instead of founded

Unlike what is generally thought, there was no Cistercian Order as a united entity for much of the twelfth Century. (...) Such a Cistercian Order was only invented in the third quarter of the twelfth century. That Order as we usually think of it, an administrative institution that united more than five hundred abbeys by 1215 (when its organization was held up by the Fourth Lateran Council as a model to be emulated), did not appear in 1119 or 1113 or 1098, the dates usually asserted, but much later. 

There was no General Chapter or set of dated statutes or way of affiliation with such an Order until sometime after 1150. (...) Only in the 1160s was a constitution written. Surviving statutes show order-building to have occurred over much of the 1180s. The five filiations to which abbeys were tied as mothers and daughters began to be devised in the 1190s and later.

These conclusions are notably different from the conventional wisdom, which has dated the promulgation of the Cistercian constitution, the Charter of Charity, to the decade of the 1110s and all the rest of the Cistercian Orders administrative institutions (General Chapter, Statutes, internal Visitation, etc.) to shortly thereafter. (...)

The process of incorporation was more important to Cistercian expansion than earlier historians had thought. The foundation of abbeys by colonization from Burgundy, but by incorporation of already established local reformers, their communities, and their properties. Moreover, such evidence of the widespread incorporation by Cistercians of existing reform communities in southern France cannot be considered aberrant. (...) Indeed, conclusions drawn from southern-French evidence and from other regions outside Burgundy about how the concept of an order grew, as well as about how the Cistercian Order itself grew, are probably more relevant than those from any study of Burgundy alone. 

ln the latter region, the heartland of early Cistercian practice, most growth until 1153 was in the time-honored manner of congregations under the personal control of charismatic leaders. (But one should...) distinguish Burgundy from other regions. (...) Cistercian expansion by incorporation was widespread in the twelfth century. (...) It is now possible to assert that the old model of “apostolic gestation” in which a mother-house in Burgundy sent out twelve monks and an abbot, or twelve nuns and an abbess, which is still found in many accounts of of individual Cistercian foundations, misrepresents the facts. 

(This challenges...) the standard versions of Cistercian origins, (... in which) we constantly repeat early Cistercian history derived from a group of twelfth-century texts called the “primitive Cistercian documents”. Written by the Cistercians themselves these “primitive documents” became very contested texts in the 1950s. (Researching them in detail allowed) to establish a sequence of the manuscripts containing those twelfth-century “primitive” texts and to date those manuscripts to the third quarter of the twelfth century. (These) findings about them confirm that the Cistercian Order, as well as the exordia texts about its earlier history, did not appear until after the mid-twelfth century.

Slightly adapted quote from pages xi and xii of The Cistercian Evolution - The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe by Constance Hoffman Berman (2010, University of Pennsylvania Press) ISBN  978-0-8122-2102-8. Illustration: a still from the video on the origin of Clairvaux Abbey.

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