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Benedictines After the Carolingians Times, Up to Now

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As the feudal society born of the end of the Carolingian Empire had turned dispersal and violence and as the Papacy has gradually lost its prestige, it was the bishops -- mostly in Aquitaine and Burgundy, areas of influence of the abbey of Cluny --who endeavored to remedy. Strictly speaking, it was the Council of the Puy in 990 A.D., who inaugurated the movement of the 'peace of God.' Little by little, by the 11th century, that movement reached to northern regions but, the power being stronger in Germany, did not reach there before around 1080. Around 1030 A.D., the peace of God was struggling to find a true expression and the Church thus passed to the 'truce of God' concept, or the definition of a temporal space, in the liturgical cycle, during which violence was forbiddent (in addition, the Church by that time remained powerless to eradicate ordalies nor judicial duels). It is possible that, in the second half of the 11h century, as the feudal savagery had been more or less contained, the Church wanted to divert it to the Crusades ('peace to the Christians, war on the infidels'). The Church, in the 11th century, further saw the great reform movement of the Benedictine abbeys, particularly that of Cluny which was the sole to unite closely monasteries, on the one hand, and to bear allegiance to the Pope to break free from the authority of bishops. Benedictines had to separate from that world of feudalism as what the abbots or even the Pope had refused to Benedict of Aniane, they accepted the Cluniac reform that time, a common obedience to the Pope guaranteeing against the violence of the time. In the 11th century, the Cluniac effort was supported by kings and the Emperor. A few monasteries, however, refused the reform while some bishops, by ecclesiastical gallicanism opposed to Rome, also fought the reform. Confederational links were also lower in Germany while, and, generally, the secular clergy remained caught in the disorders of feudalism. But inside it, some "pre-Gregorians" appeared, announcing the quarrel of Investitures and calling into question feudals' stranglehold

The Benedictines, from the Carolingians onwards, mostly passed under the system of Cluny during two centuries, that Burgundian abbey which elaborated a highly centralized system of government and a reform of monachism under the Benedictine ideal. It was duke William of Aquitaine who, at the frontier of his dominions, in southwestern Burgundy, who allowed the foundation of Cluny by 910 A.D. He had given the lands to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which is to say to papacy. Monks came from Baume, in the Jura area, France and under abbot Berno, they applied a reformed rule which was taken from the one of St-Savin (Poitou, France) through St-Martin of Autun. Some consider Cluny like the eventual consequence of the reform will of Benedict of Aniane. The second abbot of Cluny already had become prestigious to the point that he was appointed also abbot of two monasteries in Rome self as the easy development of Cluny was due to that it was immediate to the pope, as such a tradition existed since the 9th century A.D in terms of newly built monasteries. The Clunisiac reform however, as it focused on the monastic liturgy -a liturgy of 'splendor'- and celebrating the memory of benefactors, eventually saw the decline of labour. The Cluniac reform, albeit the most important, was not the only one to exist at the time, which was a one when numerous monasteries had been threatened or plundered due to the renewed invasions in Europe of the Northmen, the Magyars or the Sarracenes. Gorze was a other party of Benedictine monachism's reorganization. Cluny wanted to be the Whit Sunday Church, or a model of Christian communautarism as it freed itself from the reinforced power of bishops with papacy awarding Cluniac abbeys to call a bishop of their choice for the ordination of abbots or consecrations of churches, by 998. The Benedictine order however got hierarchized to the benefit of the mother-abbey and, eventually, of Rome. That Cluniac will of reform, on a other hand, got complicated due to that the Church, since about 950 A.D., had gotten inserted into the imperial system of the Ottonian emperors, or the 'Holy Roman Empire,' sovereigns of which either supported, or opposed to, the effort of reform as they always kept adhering to cesaropapism in any case. 315 monasteries existed by the 12th century. Further reform movements and unions of monasteries on the model of Cluny -in the purpose of centralization- took place in those ages (in Italy; with St Dunstan, St Ethelwood, or Lanfranc in England; several monasteries in France, like Chaise-Dieu, St. Victor, St. Claude, or Tiron; in Germany Fulda and Hirschau; in Austria: Melk and Salzburg; various other Europeans countries like Scotland, Scandinavia, Poland or Hungary) as large number of abbeys and monasteries didn't fall into either Cluny or other moves. Those epochs were the epoch too to various religious reforms of the Rule of St. Benedict, which eventually lead to radically separated orders, like the Cistercians, for example

The next most important move occured with the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, in its 12th canon. This one was decreeing that all the monasteries of each ecclesiastical province had to unite into a congregation, with abbeys -one of them the president- meeting each 3 years, having the power of passing binding laws to all and sending visitors to report about the condition of the monasteries of the province. England was the first to implement the new orders, as the rest of Europe did about 1336 only, once the Bull 'Benedictina' issued by Benedict XII, which stated more union and more centralization still. It has to be known that some countries, from time to time, tried to enforce a greater degree of organization to their Benedictine houses. That type of organization, albeit with exceptions and slight variations, remains how the Benedictines work today. Benedictines, by the beginning of the 14th century, reached the tremendous number of 37,000 monasteries, having given to the Church 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 22,000 bishops and archbishops. Most famous rulers, or their wifes had joined the Rule!

The Reformation, in the 16th century, reduced the number of the monasteries to 5,000 only as, in Germany, all of the Benedictine monasteries came to be confiscated by the Lutherans about 1551. The Enlightenment in Austria and the French Revolution completed that work of destruction, leading to that, in the early 19th century, 50 Benedictines monasteries only survived! The 19th century eventually came to see a revival of the Benedictines, rising this number to 700

Here are more details about the history of the Benedictines, by country, following the Council of Lateran (by countries, in alphabetical order). It has to be noted that two abbeys are not part of any congregation, as they are immediately subject to the Pope: the abbey of Fort Augustus, Scotland (19th century; it was created to maintain in Scotland a presence of the English congregation and too a continuity with Scottish monasteries which had been formerly founded in Germany and Austria. It was separated from the English congregation by 1883 by the pope and turned independent by 1888), and the abbey of St. Anselm's and International Benedictine College, Rome -the latter the university for Benedictines from all over the world since 1886. The abbott of St. Anselm has the title of 'Abbot Primate' of the whole Benedictine order. The abbey of St Anselm had been founded in 1687 like a college to the Benedictines of the Cassinese Congregation
You will note that, as those data are taken from the 'Catholic Encyclopedia' which dates to the beginning of the 20th century, a further note is given after the list about the current state of the Benedictines:

As far as the most current organization of the Benedictines is concerned, there are today 21 national or supra-national congregations, with the elected 'Abbot Presidents' of each congregation meeting annually in the 'Synod of Presidents', as a meeting every 4 years occurs of all the abbots and superiors of the Benedictine houses (it's called the 'Congress of Abbots'), which is electing the Abbot Primate for 4 years. The seat of the Abbot Primate keeps being in St-Anselme, Rome. The main current congregations are the following (by alphabetical order of the congregation's name; the date of creation is given for congregations which are not part of the previous list)

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 10/8/2014. contact us at
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