Assess the strengths and weaknesses of Cluniac monasticism between the tenth and twelfth centuries.
The nature of Cluny lay in the circumstances of it’s foundation. It was endowed with a measure of independence by it’s founder, Duke William, allowing the monks to elect their own abbot, placing the abbey directly under the guardianship of St Peter and the Apostolic See. As a house dedicated to reviving strict Benedictine observance Cluny was not unique, but it was this indepencence, the succesion of talented abbots and it’s organisation set up by Abbot Berno that laid the foundations of the abbey’s later greatness. The independence granted Cluny in it’s foundation charter was esssential in the development of Cluny free from the interference of lay magnates and local bishops. It’s direct dependence on Rome was not initially of great importence; other foundations had beemn bequeathed to the apostles before. However, this was an important foundation upon which later abbots were to build. By seeking papal approval for Cluniac reforms the abbots forged a valuble direct link to the papacy, whilst gain officail public regognition and endorsement of the Cluniac regieme. In obtaining the right to accept monks from other orders in 931 Odo had confirmed the righht of the Cluniacs to reform others houses, while Cluny gained freedom from the local bishops under Abbot Odilo in 998.
it was ‘the subsequent growth, under far straiter papal oversight, of Cluny’s exemption from episcopal control in spiritual matters, that did most to consolidate Cluny’s subject houses under it’s own central authority’ . This meant Cluny was immune to challenges to it’s authority from both without and within the church. Cluny became of particular note to sucessive Popes, with it’s reputation for reform, and the papacy continued to support the cluniacs, with Pope John XIX giving Cluny’s monks complete freedom from interference whereever they were in 1024. However, this would have been nothing without the exemplary spiritual life that was seen to exist at Cluny. The continual use of vocal prayer was popular with the laity, with many wishing to be included in the prayers of the monks. The personal qualities of the abbots were also much admired, as was the way of life practised at Cluny. The cluniac model of benedictine obervence was seen by many by the time of Abbot Hugh to be an achieved ideal, the most perfect way of life and worship. Individual monks were also praised by comtemparys for their ascectism and monkish qualities, and the eremetic qualities which could be found within the common life of the monastry.
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Charity and almsgiving also formed a regular part of life at Cluny, which again showed the holiness and faithful observence of the monks. It was a combination of the personal authority of the abbots, the benedictine observence of the Cluniacs and the repute and public esteem in which the order was held that resulted in the expansion of the Order. The success of the order in it’s resoration of benedictine observence attracted invitations by lay magnates for the Cluniacs to reform their monastries, and gifts of houses, some new foundations, some old abbeys. Such reform was not always welcomed by the monks of the profered houses, such as the monks of Fleury. Papal paronage, and the will of lay benefactors meant that from the time of Odilo these reformed houses became dependecies of Cluny. This was not always put into effect immediately, and the tightness of the bond varied from house to house. It was the independence granted in the founding charter that allowed the Order to expand this way, and develop independently. Not only was Cluny free from control of any local magnate or bishop, it was also trusted by all due to this autonomy. Cluny attracted gifts from all levels of society and of all sorts, from monstries, churches and lands, to child oblates, gifts of money large and small and goods.
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It also attracted many new recruits to it’s cloisters. This swell in numbers had both positive and negative results. Expanded numbers meant that Cluny could no longer support it’s community from the surrounding lands and their own produce. Increased numbers also brought increased problems with disicpline and regulation. The more brethern, the less like the ideal Benedictine family the monastries became, and the more remote the abbot. The expansion in the number of houses meant that by 1095 real supervision of them became impossible. The abbot of Cluny was continually on the move, while many houses only rarely saw their abbot.This led to a slackening of discipline and observence, leading to infractions of the rule One of Cluny’s early strenghts was it’s abbots, many of whom were canonised. Berno and Odo were both men of distinction, with Odo being called upon to reform other houses, and whose good relations with lay rulers gained the abbey two important charters, one from Rudolf of Burgundy in 927, one from Louis d’Outremer in939, which confirmed the abbey’s independence and rights. Aymar was not such a statesman but under him the abbey’s holding were consolidated and their affairs well ordered.
Odilo was another abbot of great spiritual energy and an active reformer and builder. Throughout his and Hugh’s riegn the powers of the abbot over the Order increased, until by the time of Hugh the abbot had become almost a monarchial figure. The abbot was also becoming more removed from the community of brethern, through his increased power and role in public life, and becoming above the daily disciplines of the benedictine observence. This was not nessercarily a good thing, since it was damaging to the benedictine ideal of humility, austerity and familial bonds, although the strenght of the abbot brought many benefits to the Cluniac Order and to their mission of restoring benedictine observence. Hugh himself was a great man, with particular ties with the Popes of his time, often being asked to act as legate and mediate between disputants on the Popes behalf, as he did with Henry II and Pope Gregory. That Hugh was trusted by both sides in the disputes testifies to his personal integrity and talents, from which the order also benefited. These men were all synonmous with the order they represented, with Cluny reflecting the characteristics of its great abbots, and they of their abbey to the benefits of both.
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However, the strenght and prominent position the abbot had aquired were only as good as the man. Pons left a trail of disruption in his wake, with the order suffering from internal splits, lack of discipline and a tarnished reputation. Peter the Venerable tried to reform the Order, but it was a hard job, facing oppostion from supporters of pons and those houses where observence had slackened, and while he was largly successful, peter could not entirly repair the damage done to Cluny’s reputation and spiritual energy. The factionalism was so bad because pons had been the head of all the cluniac houses, and so any disruption at Cluny disturbed the whole order. Pons had also left financial hardships and debts behind him, which were to plague peter . Not only had pons emptied the coffers, the turmoil at Cluny stemmed the flow of monetary gifts upon which Cliuny had become reliant to purchase supplies for it’s expanded numbers. Earlier Monetary gifts led to the splendifing of the churches and monastry buildings, and of the implements used. This was contrary to the benedictine ideal of poverty, and criticised by newer orders commited to genuine poverty and severe acsetism. Religious ideals had changed, and the Cluniac way was no longer seen as the ideal.
There was a new spiritual climate I n which Both laxity and cluniac practises such as allowing oblates and dying men into the order, and the splendor of the churches were criticised. This ‘crisis of prosperity’ could hardly be avoided, being as it was a reaction against the riches of success. The Cluniacs were criticised by those who favoured a more eremetic style of monasticism, and the stricter Cistercians. They were also criticised by laymen and other factions within the church. As an order, their popularity was on the wane by the twelfth century. The main strenghts of cluniac monasticism lay in its independence, it’s early spiritual energy, it’s observence of the benedictine rule and it’s sainly abbots. These provided very well for Cluny for a significant period, but over-growth of the order led to a slackening in observence of the Rule, and with the disasterous abbacy of Pons and a basic shift in religious opinion these strenghts became weaknesses that
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Ed. Hunt, Cluniac Monasticsm in the central middle ages, (Macmillan, 1971)
Lynch, The Medeval Church, (Longman, 1992)
Cowdrey, The Cluniacs and the Gregorian Reform, (Oxford, 1970)
Lawrence, Medeval Monasticism, (Longman, 1989)
Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, (Pelican, 1970)
Ed. Holmes, The Oxford Illustrated History of Medeval Europe, (Oxford, 2001)