The Benedictines and the canons

Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians at times dominate the telling of twelfth-century religious history and overshadow Benedictine monasticism. Some scholars even argued that the black monks experienced a 'crisis', but as John Van Engen asserts, this false perception was based on too literal a reading of the Benedictines' critics without sufficient consideration of the context. The black monks suffered no decline in numbers during the first half of the twelfth century and only later lost their central position in the church.18 Many reformers came from their ranks, such as William of Hirsau (d. 1091) who spurred the renewal of monasticism in Germany, leading to the foundation of around forty houses between 1080 and 1120. Haimo of Hirsau, William's biographer, credited him with the recovery of monasticism in the Teutonic regions and praised him for exhorting 'by words and deeds the poor of Christ and pilgrims to be content with little and to have the world and all its glory under their feet'.19 The Cluniac-inspired Hirsau movement encompassed a network of monasteries including Disibodenberg, where Hildegard was enclosed with her mentor Jutta in 1112.20 Benedictine monasticism saw the material prosperity of their prominent houses and the glorious beauty of their churches as proofs of spiritual success. The new spirituality of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries made them targets of criticism as Cistercians and others emphasised the necessity of material poverty as grounds for spiritual perfection.21

While monasticism thrived, the demand for education began to outstrip what monastery schools could supply. In the late eleventh century, increasing numbers of students not intending to become monks gravitated toward the episcopal schools. The clergy who staffed cathedral schools included the 'secular' canons, who continued to live in the world, and the 'regular', who lived according to a somewhat monastic rule, usually that of St Augustine of Hippo. The canons of the abbey of Saint Victor in Paris established a model for the new age, striving to be both monks and scholars. Hugh of St Victor (c. 1096-1141) charted a programme for education in the schools which

18 J. Van Engen, 'The "Crisis of Cenobitism" Reconsidered: Benedictine Monasticism in the Years 1050-1150', Speculum 61 (1986), 269-304.

19 Giles Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 44.

20 Anna Silvas, trans. and annot., Jutta and Hildegard: The Biographical Sources (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 54.

21 Van Engen, 'The "Crisis of Cenobitism"', 302-04.

would become the basis for study in the nascent universities. His Didascalion, inspired by Augustine's De doctrina christiana, asserted that the liberal arts were to be taught as the foundation for careful study of the Bible.22

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment