Monday, January 26, 2009

The Three Holy Abbots of Citeaux

Today we celebrate from the monastic calendar, the three founding abbots of Citeaux, the founders of the Cistercian branch of the Benedictine family. They were St. Robert, abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Molesme, St. Alberic, and St. Stephen Harding.

The holy abbots Robert of Molesme, Alberic and Stephen Harding gave the Benedictine tradition a particular form when in 1098 they built the New Monastery of Citeaux and founded the Cistercian Order. About 1125, Saint Stephen established the nuns' monastery of "Tart" as Citeaux's own daughter-house, and entrusted it to the pastoral care of the abbot of this
monastery. Under the influence of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and others the ideal of their reform spread and monasteries of monks and nuns following the Cistercian way of life multiplied even beyond western Europe. From the very beginning, the Order received lay brothers and lay sisters. A substantial spiritual heritage was engendered through the lives and labours of innumerable brothers and sisters that found expression in writing, chant, architecture and
crafts, and in the skillful management of their lands.

The order was created by a breakaway group of 21 Cluniac monks, who in 1098 left the abbey of Molesme in Burgundy along with their Abbot. Their motivation was to live in strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict - the Cluniacs were an offshoot of the Benedictines.
In 1098 the group acquired a plot of marsh land south of Dijon called Cîteaux. In Latin the name
is "Cistercium" from which we have the name Cistercian. The remaining monks in Molesme petitioned the Pope (Urban II) for the return of their abbot. Robert was instructed to return to his position in Molesme, where he spent the rest of his life. Some of the monks remined.
They elected a new abbot, Alberic. He discontinued the use of Benedictine black garments and clothed his monks in white dyed wool, who thus became known as the White Monks.
So from this "Black Monk" go greetings and prayers for our brothers and sisters of the "White Monks."

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