The rising tide of monastic life

In the tenth and eleventh centuries, partly but by no means entirely through the inspiration and example of Cluny, the tide of the monastic life continued to mount.

In England there was Dunstan (c. 909-988). Of noble Saxon stock, monk and abbot of Glastonbury, later Archbishop of Canterbury, he and some of his friends who became bishops led in the improvement of the monasteries and of the Church as a whole in that land. There were similar movements in France, Italy, and Germany which in the last two countries were encouraged by some of the Holy Roman Emperors.

More and more it became the practice, somewhat after the manner of Cluny, for monasteries to be put in the ownership or under the control of some famous abbey. This was partly to escape the debilitating influence of a lay proprietor and partly to insure the strict observance of the monastic rule in the subordinate houses. Thus the abbey devoutly named Chaise Dieu (Casa Dei, the House of God), founded in Auvergne in 1046 eventually had about three hundred dependent priories.

Fleeing from the Turkish invasions, Greek monks brought their traditions, chiefly to Italy but also to France.

In Italy new foundations were made, several of them through devoted scions of noble stock who had abandoned the world for the life of prayer and asceticism. Famous was Romuald (c.950-1027) of the ducal family of Ravenna who turned monk to expiate a crime of his father. He soon left the Cluniac Benedictine monastery which he had entered and became a hermit. An extreme ascetic, he was a wanderer and inspired many by his example. From him there arose a type of hermit community in which the members were strenuously ascetic and dwelt in separate houses, but had some of their liturgical services and meals together. From time to time they went forth as preachers. From this eventually came the Camaldulian Order, named for its centre at Camaldoli.

Peter Damian (c. 1007-1072) was also of Ravenna, but from a lowly, poverty-stricken family. Through hard labour he acquired an education and taught at Parma. Then, from an inward urge to the perfect Christian life, he entered a monastery, became a hermit noted for extreme austerity, eventually was made abbot, and, inspired by the example of Romuald, whose biography he wrote, organized monasteries which were affiliated with his own. As were so many others of this new burst of monastic devotion, he was deeply concerned for the purification of the Church as a whole and urged the Popes to further it. One of the latter made him Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, the ancient seaport of Rome, and he became prominent in the inner circles of the Papal entourage, where we shall meet him again, labouring to carry out his dreams.

John Gualbert (c. 990-1073) as a youth also came under the influence of Romuald. He was for a time at Camaldoli and then founded a monastery at Vallombrosa near Florence which soon became the head of a family of monastic houses. In them perpetual silence was the rule. The manual labour was performed by conversi, lay brothers, to leave the "choir monks" free for prayer. The choir monks were those who devoted themselves to the services in the chapel.

Noted, but in a somewhat different way, was Bernard of Menthon (923-1008). Born in a rich family of noble blood, he refused an honourable marriage to which his family urged him, entered the ranks of the clergy, and in his mid-forties was Archdeacon of Aosta, near the southern outlet of the famous pass across the Alps which now bears his name. Distressed by the savagery and poverty of the folk who dwelt in the mountains and who robbed travellers crossing the pass, he gave himself to them, won them, and then at the head of the pass founded a monastery and dedicated it to the care of those who journeyed by its doors. In 1213 Pope Innocent III put it under the rule of the Augustinian canons.

Still different was the Monastery of Bec, in Normandy, Like Cluny, it was to be a wellspring of vitality for large areas, especially Normandy and England. In contrast with Cluny, it was a centre of intellectual life and theological activity. It was begun in the fore part of the eleventh century by Herluin, Herluin was of noble birth, a warrior who in his late thirties turned to religion. He learned to read, was ordained priest, and gathered a small monastic community. To this in 1042 came Lanfranc. Lanfranc was from the North of Italy. He had been a teacher of law and letters and in his late thirties, after having taught in the cathedral school of Avranches, on the south-west coast of Normandy, he turned monk and entered Bec. Somewhat later, in the 1050's, Anselm joined the community. He was of Lombard stock and was born in a valley in the Italian Alps. Studious and deeply religious, he had long wished to adopt the monastic life, but in this met the bitter opposition of his father. It was not until he had crossed the Alps that he felt free to take the step. He proved to be the greatest theological intellect between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and in this capacity we shall meet him again. Lanfranc and he were successively Archbishops of Canterbury and we shall also find him courageously standing for the purity and independence of the Church as against rulers who wished to use the Church for their own purposes. Lanfranc and Anselm gave Bec its distinctive character — the combination of deep religious devotion, in which they reinforced what came through Her-luin, with scholarly pursuits. Bec became famous as a school, wealth poured in, and many subordinate priories were attached to it, notably in England.

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