Post-classical history

Cistercian Order

A monastic order, also known as the Order of Cîteaux, founded in 1098 under the leadership of Robert of Molesme.

The new monastery at Cîteaux in Burgundy, from which the order’s name was derived, exemplified residence in the wilderness, where monks vowed to conduct a simple life in poverty, rededicating themselves to a strict interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia. The order’s foundation coincided with the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade (1096-1099), and under the leadership of Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux (d. 1153), the Cistercians began to engage in a far- reaching reform movement that included the crusade. The order expanded rapidly and widely, founding houses from northern England to Scandinavia, from Spain to Greece and Outremer. By the end of the order’s first fifty years, the number of Cistercian abbeys had grown to about 350, and by 1200 it had increased to more than 500. Foundations extended to areas of key importance to the crusades: the abbey of Belmont, established near Tripoli in 1157, founded a daughter house, St. John in the Woods, at ‘Ain Karim in 1169. Near Jerusalem, Salvation monastery was established in 1161. Twelve houses were acquired in the Latin empire of Constantinople and Frankish Greece between 1204 and 1276, nine of which were lost. In southern France, twenty- four monasteries were founded between 1135 and 1160.

Bernard of Clairvaux

The order’s collaboration with the papacy intensified during the time of Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. He championed the election of Pope Innocent II against his rival Anacletus in the 1130s. By 1145, Eugenius III, originally a monk from Clairvaux, occupied the Holy See and was collaborating with Bernard to engineer a program of ecclesiastical and social reform. Bernard set the course for Cistercian involvement with crusading in four principal endeavors: (1) the order’s vast expansion into frontier regions; (2) support of military religious orders, notably the Templars; (3) preaching against heresy in southern France; and (4) preaching the Second Crusade (1146).

Bernard laid the theological groundwork for crusading and the military orders in the tract De laude novae militiae, written in the late 1120s. Bernard supported the Templars, whom he described as soldiers of Christ (Lat. milites Christi). As monks who took the traditional monastic vows, the white-robed Templars wielded both the secular and the ecclesiastical swords represented in Luke 22:38. They were to undertake the crusade as a penitential pilgrimage, an opportunity for personal reform that could mean achieving salvation through martyrdom. Bernard confessed that he did not know “if it would be more appropriate to refer to them as monks or soldiers, unless perhaps it would be better to recognize them as being both” [In Praise of the New Knighthood, p. 140]. Like the Cistercians, the Templars lived a communal life and relied on sergeants, much like the Cistercian lay brothers (Lat. conversi) who were not full members of the order but helped with various aspects of daily life and benefited from protection and the promises of spiritual rewards.

The Cistercians were instrumental in founding another military order: the Order of Calatrava. Raymond, Cistercian abbot of Fitero in Navarre, assembled monks and lay broth ers, including former knights, to take arms and defend the castle of Calatrava. King Alfonso VII of Castile had been struggling to hold out against the Almohads; the Templars requested release from the responsibility of the castle’s defense, and Alfonso’s son Sancho III granted it to Abbot Raymond in 1158. The Cistercian general chapter established a formal bond with Calatrava six years later, which was approved by Pope Alexander III in September 1164. The 1187 general chapter agreed to incorporate Calatrava fully into the Cistercian Order and affiliated it with the abbey of Morimond.

With the encyclical Quantum praedecessores (1145), Eugenius III launched the Second Crusade (1147-1149), which Bernard of Clairvaux preached at Vézelay the following year. In the intervening months, Bernard undertook a preaching mission to southern France, led by the legate Alberic of Ostia and accompanied by Bishop Geoffrey of Chartres, who had joined Bernard at the Council of Pisa in 1135, where the heresiarch Henry of Lausanne (also known as Henry the Monk) had been condemned. Reports of Henry’s reappearance in southern France and an alarming letter about heretics in the Rhineland from the Premon- stratensian prior, Evervin of Steinfeld, prompted Bernard to action against the “little foxes” ravaging the Lord’s vineyard (Song of Songs 2:15). Bernard’s reply to Evervin in Sermons 65 and 66 on this verse (1143/1144) advocates catching the foxes (the heretics) with arguments and not arms, asserting that faith is to be persuaded and not forced. Nonetheless, Bernard’s Letter 241, written before departure for southern France, vehemently denounces Henry as Satan’s ally and a threat to Christian society. In pursuit of Henry, Bernard journeyed from Poitiers to Bordeaux to Cahors, Périgueux, and Toulouse. Cistercian sources (the life of Bernard by Geoffrey of Auxerre and the Exordium magnum, an account of the order’s early years, probably by Conrad of Eberbach) recount Bernard’s preaching at Sarlat, Verfeil, and Albi. Although the abbot abandoned Verfeil in frustration at the noisy crowd that refused to allow him to be heard, the accounts generally depict conversions and rousing sermons that expounded and denounced heretical beliefs. The mission marked an advance in centralizing responsibility and securing outside intervention for quelling heresy, and it established a precedent for depriving heretics and their supporters of legal rights. Hence it proved instrumental in the expansion of the crusade ideology to campaigns against heresy, and it provided a model for later Cistercian abbots who exercised much less restraint than Bernard. Furthermore, Bernard’s Sermon 66 leaves the door to violence ajar when he both denounces mob violence against heretics and applauds the mob’s zeal, alluding to Romans 13:4.

Following the expedition to southern France during the summer of 1145, Bernard preached the Second Crusade at Vézelay in March 1146. The papal encyclical Quantum praedecessores (December 1145) had espoused Bernard’s theology of sacrificial service by appealing to an ideal of charity as the grounds for knights’ engagement to free the Holy Land of infidels. Taking the cross, along with contrition and confession of sins, would achieve indulgence and eternal salvation for those who completed the journey or met martyrdom on the way. The encyclical was reissued in March 1146 to support Bernard’s preaching at Vézelay, where he reportedly tore up his own robes in order to provide sufficient cloth for the enthusiastic crowd to put on crosses. Little evidence remains for what Bernard actually said at Vézelay, but his Letter 247, addressed to Eugenius III, reported successes as he continued preaching across France and into Flanders. By Christmas 1146 he had reached the court of King Conrad III of Germany at Speyer, where he persuaded him and other princes to take the cross. Another goal of Bernard’s journey to Germany was the disciplining of the Cistercian monk Ralph, who had been preaching the crusade without authorization and arousing enmity and violence against Jews. Bernard’s pursuit of Ralph by letters, then summons and the order to return to his monastery, illustrates the boundaries the abbot set on clerical participation in crusading activities. Preaching the cross required authorization. Moreover, monks who embarked on crusade were rebuked sharply and threatened with excommunication.

Other Cistercians had joined Bernard in preaching the Second Crusade, and chroniclers indicate that Bernard and the Cistercian Order suffered criticism for their involvement. Some historians assert that this led to a decline in donations to the order and to curtailment of its expansion. Cistercian apologists for Bernard, such as Otto of Freising, Geoffrey of Auxerre, and John of Casa Maria, argued that the crusaders’ defeat was punishment for their sins but that the many who died were delivered from sinning further. Although, after the failure of the Second Crusade, Bernard advocated the call for another crusade and advised Eugenius III to back it, he strongly rejected a nomination to lead the expedition himself.

Crusade and Expansion after Bernard of Clairvaux

Later Cistercians followed Bernard’s example of preaching and intervention in crusading campaigns directed at domestic enemies and to the Holy Land. Some seized on the ambiguities in his thought and disregarded the boundaries he set against monks’ leading armies. Where Bernard had shown hesitancy, Henry of Clairvaux showed little. Abbot of Clairvaux (1176-1178) and an influential figure at the Third Lateran Council (1179), where he was named cardinal bishop of Albano, Henry participated in a preaching mission to southern France in 1178 and interrogated Waldes of Lyons, initiator of the Waldensian movement, in 1180. In 1181 Henry became the first papal legate to himself raise an army and lead an expedition into a Christian land, when he took the castle of Lavaur, northeast of Toulouse, by force. The unfortunate precedent he set helped to lay the basis for the future Albigensian Crusade called by Pope Innocent III. Yves Congar observed that under Henry’s leadership the crusade had been transformed into a holy war against heretics [Congar, “Henri de Marcy, abbé de Clairvaux,” p. 18]. A candidate for the papal elections of 1187, Henry withdrew and offered his services to preach the crusade to the East. He travelled across northern France to Germany, where at Mainz he preached the crusade in March 1188 and exhorted German knights to take the cross and make satisfaction for their sins. After the fall of Jerusalem (2 October 1187), Henry completed De peregrinante civitate Dei, a manifesto of crusade ideology. He criticized Christians who were not sufficiently concerned with the plight of the Holy Land. They should feel a sense of personal loss and view the desecration of holy sites as a second Crucifixion and Saladin as a manifestation of the devil. The crusade was a necessary step in the fight against evil. Henry died on 1 January 1189 without ever journeying to the Holy Land.

In England, the Third Crusade (1189-1192) was preached by Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury and former Cistercian abbot of Ford. Between 1188 and 1190, Baldwin preached the cross for King Henry II. He led a reportedly successful preaching campaign into Wales, which was described by the contemporary chronicler Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), who accompanied him there. Baldwin himself took the cross and died at Acre in 1190.

In contrast, some criticism of the crusade movement came from English Cistercian circles around this time. Toward the end of the twelfth century, Ralph Niger, who was certainly a cleric and possibly a Cistercian, questioned the legitimacy of a crusade to the Holy Land in his work De re militari et triplici viaperegrinationis Ierosolimitane. Ralph argued against the use of violence to propagate the faith and asserted that Christians ought to stay at home and fight heresy rather than interfere in other regions. What good would it do, he asked, to free Palestine when the faith at home was being trampled? The departure of leaders to the East allowed heresy to proceed unchecked in the West. In Ralph’s view, the sins of Christians in Palestine had brought about its loss. He even questioned whether God wanted the Muslims’ rule to end there. John, abbot of Ford, perhaps voiced his own criticism of the crusade through the words of the hermit Wulfric of Haselbury, whose life he wrote around 1185. According to Wulfric, God judged the enterprise harshly, “abandoned the false pilgrims, shaved the heads of the proud, and shamed the great men of the world because they sought not the Lord in truth but polluted the way of pilgrimage in idols” [ Wulfric of Haselbury by John, Abbot of Ford, ed. Maurice Bell (n.p.: Somerset Record Society, 1933), p. 112].

When Innocent III became pope in 1198, his efforts at broad reform, including crusades ranging in their goals from Iberia to Livonia and the Holy Land, led him to seek the intellectual, pastoral, and financial aid of the Cistercians. In 1198 the pope proclaimed the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) and ordered Luke, abbot of Sambucina in Calabria, to preach the cross in Sicily. Innocent III appealed to the Cistercian general chapter in Cîteaux for prayers; his legate, Fulk of Neuilly, appeared there to recruit Cistercians to preach the crusade to the Holy Land. In November of the same year, Fulk was authorized to recruit monks and canons for preaching, and he secured the assistance of Gar- nier of Rochefort, bishop of Langres and former abbot of Clairvaux. In 1200 Innocent III instructed several abbots to collect offerings from their dioceses, and he repeatedly negotiated with the Cistercians over contributions to the crusade. In 1201 he ordered Cistercian abbots to insist that lay brothers who had taken the cross should maintain their pledges. By 1201 Fulk had received papal permission to name the Abbots of Perseigne, Cercanceaux, and Vaux-de- Cernay as his assistants. Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, a friend of the crusader Simon of Montfort, accompanied the armies, as did abbots Simon of Loos and Peter of Locedio. The chronicler Geoffrey of Villehardouin records Abbot Guy’s opposition to the crusaders’ attack on Zara (1202) and the deviation of the expedition to Constantinople (1204).

Martin, abbot of Pairis in Alsace, also preached the Fourth Crusade. A valuable report on Abbot Martin’s sermon at Basel was preserved in the Historia Constantinopolitana by his chronicler Gunther. Martin strove to recruit soldiers for the necessity of Christ (Lat. necessitas Christi), evoking not only spiritual rewards but material benefits awaiting them in a rich and fertile land. Martin himself reportedly returned home in 1205 from the sack of Constantinople with relics from the Church of the Pantokrator.

After the establishment of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, donations were made to the order there, and its monks also took possession of Greek monasteries. Important donations includedChortaïton, near Thessalonica; St. Archangelus on Negroponte (Euboia); Daphni, between Athens and Eleusis; and Gergeri and St. Mary Varangorum on Crete. Established near Constantinople were the abbeys of St. Stephen and St. Angelus in Pera, and the monastery of nuns at St. Mary of Percheio. The ruins of two monasteries, which were probably Cistercian, remain on the Peloponnese: Zaraka and Our Lady of Isova. From these widespread houses, Cistercians served as papal agents in the East, assisting in the problematic relationships between the Latin patriarchs of Constantinople and the papacy and acting as administrators and overseers to the point of twice (1224 and 1236) collecting taxes that the pope had imposed for defending the Latin Empire. After 1240, the Cistercian role in the East diminished, and the friars took the forefront in dealing with the Latin empire. Contact between Cistercians in the West and those in Greece and the Latin Empire continued until 1276, when the only Cistercian foundation remaining on the mainland of Greece was Daphni.

The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229)

Even though Innocent III emphasized the importance of the crusade to the East over the domestic crusade, the Albi- gensian Crusade against heresy in southern France at times achieved the status of the crusades to the Holy Land: plenary indulgences were awarded; crusaders were promised protections; and extensive measures were undertaken to recruit and finance the operations. The Cistercian legates Peter of Castelnau (d. 1208) and Ralph of Fontfroide were appointed for southern France in 1203. They were joined in 1204 by Arnold Amalric (d. 1225), former abbot of Grandselve (1198-1200), elected abbot of Cîteaux in 1200 and archbishop of Narbonne in 1212. Innocent III sent repeated letters urging the frustrated legates to keep to their task, and in 1206 the pope’s letter and Arnold Amalric’s personal appeal to the general chapter prompted the sending of a delegation of twelve abbots and numerous monks to the region. Among them was Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, uncle of the chronicler Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay and preacher of the Fourth Crusade. Dominic Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order, also joined the preachers in the summer of 1206, but their efforts met with failure. The assassination of Peter of Castelnau in 1208 led the enraged pope to call for armed intervention; a letter called on Philip II Augustus, king of France, to join the material and spiritual swords (Luke 22:38) to destroy heresy and force repentance from Raymond VI, count of Toulouse, whom Innocent III presumed to be responsible for the murder of Peter of Castelnau.

Battles eclipsed sermons during the Albigensian Crusade, but Cistercians still engaged in preaching, whether to exhort troops, recruit new forces, or attempt to convert heretics. Arnold Amalric headed the crusade army at the infamous sack of Béziers (1209) and diverted troops to Las Navas de Tolosa in Iberia, where his intervention aided the Christian army’s victory over the Almohads (1212). Fulk, bishop of Toulouse (d. 1235) and former abbot of Le Thoronet, spent fifteen of his years as bishop in exile. He preached recruitment sermons in the north, where on his second trip (1213), he met James of Vitry and influenced his engagement in preaching the Albigensian Crusade. Fulk established a corps of diocesan preachers in Toulouse, including Dominic Guzman and his companions, and attended the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). A close ally of Simon of Montfort, he accompanied the crusading armies and led troops himself to intervene at the siege of Lavaur (1211). In the late years of the crusade, Conrad of Urach, abbot of Cîteaux, and Nicolas of Claromonte were appointed legates in 1220 and 1223. Hélie Garin, abbot of Grandselve, played a role in negotiating the 1229 treaty, and with Hélinand, monk of Froidmont (d. 1237), he helped to establish the university of Toulouse. The monasteries of Grandselve, Belleperche, and Candeil received reparations from the treaty, an indication of the damages inflicted on monasteries that probably served as bases for crusaders.

The Baltic Region

At the time of the Second Crusade, Bernard of Clairvaux became involved in the affairs of the Baltic region. King Conrad III and other German princes had been reluctant to depart on crusade and place their armies and lands at risk of attack from the Wends, marauding tribes who had launched numerous raids on Denmark and Germany. Bernard called for a crusade against the Wends in 1147, ordering that no truce should be made with them “until such a time as, by God’s help, they shall be either converted or wiped out” [Letters, p. 467]. Moreover, Bernard had pressed for the Cistercians to expand into the northern lands of Scandinavia.

Cistercians performed key roles in the Christianization of the Baltic lands and in the complex interplay among missions, defense, and expansion in Denmark, Poland, and Prussia. The Danish conquest of pagan lands allowed the founding of Cistercian monasteries at Dargun (1171-1172) and Kolbaz (1174). In Poland, Oliwa was founded near Danzig (1186), and Christian of Oliwa headed missions to Prussia. Innocent III called upon the Cistercians in 1212 to support the missionary activity in Prussia. Christian, named bishop of Prussia in 1225-1216, established the Order of the Knights of Christ (Knights of Dobrin) and organized armed expeditions in the Prussian campaign.

The chronicler Henry of Livonia records the arrival of German missionaries and the events surrounding the conversion of Livonia in the 1180s. Dietrich, a Cistercian missionary who arrived with Meinhard, first bishop of Livonia (1186), founded the Order of the Sword Brethren in 1202 and was consecrated bishop of Estonia in 1211. Berthold, Cistercian abbot of Loccum, served as the second bishop of Livonia at Üxküll (mod. Ikšķile, Latvia). Albert of Buxhovden, consecrated bishop of Livonia in 1199, established Riga as the bishop’s residence and obtained from Innocent III in 1215 the right to preach a perpetual crusade. In Livonia Cistercian monasteries were founded in Dünamunde (mod. Daugavgrīva, Latvia) in 1205-1206 and near the episcopal city of Dorpat (mod. Tartu, Estonia) in the mid-1220s, while a house for nuns was established in Reval (mod. Tallinn, Estonia) in the late 1240s.

The Cistercians in the Later Middle Ages

Although the responsibility for preaching the cross had passed primarily to the friars by the 1220s, Honorius III recruited the Cistercian abbots of Aquebelle and Lützel among others in 1224-1225 to preach the Crusade of Frederick II. Cistercians continued to play some part in the campaign against heresy. The inquisitor Jacques Fournier had been a monk at Boulbonne and abbot of Fontfroide, a monastery that achieved prominence during the Albigen- sian Crusade. Two Cistercians at Oxford, Henry Crump and William Rymington, opposed John Wyclif’s teachings, and some Cistercians were expelled from the University of Prague when the Hussites took control. The extent to which these Cistercians continued the crusading rhetoric of their predecessors has not been examined.

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