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Western Christianity


Doctrines The doctrines of the Cistercians are in essence the same as those of the Benedictines; that is, they follow the rule of St Benedict. They differ from the Benedictines in their stricter interpretation of the rule. As a new religious order they refused to accept feudal revenues, and insisted that monks perform manual labour and live in austere surroundings.

History The order was founded in 1098 by a group of Benedictine monks who were dissatisfied with the lax rules of their monastery and who sought to live a life of self-denial and simplicity. As a sign of their austerity they wore habits made of cheap undyed wool. During the 12th century the order grew dramatically due to the work of St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) who founded more than seventy abbeys. Unfortunately, rapid growth produced a decline in discipline. In the 17th century a reform movement emerged based around the monastery of La Trappe in France under the leadership of Armand-Jean le Bouthillier de Rance. This reform group, often referred to as Trappists, acquired the title the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The original order called themselves the Cistercians of the Common Observance. Until the 1960s the monks of the reformed order ate, slept and worked in common while maintaining perpetual silence. In recent years these practices have been relaxed so that in many monasteries perpetual silence and fasts are no longer observed.

Symbols Devotional pictures of St Bernard depict him in the white habit of the Cistercian Order. He is sometimes represented with a demon, a symbol of heresy, fettered behind him.

Adherents There are about 2000 Cistercian nuns and 3000 fathers in the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Harris et al. 1994, 64). There are slightly fewer in the Order of Common Observance.

Main Centre
 The monastery at Citeaux, France.