Cluny's Contribution: Valuing the Person and Peace

Benedict XVI Notes How Monasticism Helped Europe

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2009 ( The monumental reform of monasticism at the abbey of Cluny and monasteries associated with it did more than influence the 12th century. That reform was key for the universal Church, and also for European society today, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope reflected on the Cluniac reform today during an address at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. He noted that at the beginning of the 12th century, when the order of Cluny was most widely expanded, it had almost 1,200 monasteries — «a really impressive figure,» he said.

The Holy Father considered what made Cluny so great and the immediate benefits it brought to its contemporary society.

He explained: «The success of Cluny was assured first of all by the lofty spirituality cultivated there, but also by some other conditions that favored its development. As opposed to what had happened up to then, the monastery of Cluny and the communities depending on it were exempted from the jurisdiction of the local bishops and placed directly under that of the Roman Pontiff. This entailed a special bond with the See of Peter and, thanks precisely to the protection and encouragement of pontiffs, the ideals of purity and fidelity, which the Cluniac reform intended to follow, were able to spread rapidly. 

«Moreover, the abbots were elected without any intervention by the civil authorities, very different to what was the case in other places. Truly worthy persons succeeded one another in the guidance of Cluny and of the numerous dependent monastic communities.»

Determined charity

But the «success» of Cluny was not just spiritual. The Pontiff affirmed that the benefits it contributed to society were significant.

«At a time in which only ecclesiastical institutions provided for the indigent, charity was practiced with determination,» he noted. «In all houses, the almoner had to receive passers-by and needy pilgrims, traveling priests and religious, and above all the poor who came to ask for food and roof for a day. Not less important were two other institutions, typical of Medieval civilization, which were promoted by Cluny: the so-called truce of God and the peace of God. At a time strongly marked by violence and the spirit of revenge, assured with the ‘truce of God’ were long periods of non-belligerence, on the occasion of important religious feasts and of some days of the week. Requested with ‘the peace of God,’ under the pain of a canonical censure, was respect for defenseless people and sacred places.»

Thus was nourished, Benedict XVI explained, a European sense of «two essential elements for the construction of society, that is, the value of the human person and the primary good of peace.»

And beyond that, the ample and well-cultivated lands of the monasteries benefited the economy.

Furthermore, «Next to manual labor, there was no lack of some typical cultural activities of Medieval monasticism, such as schools for children, the setting up of libraries and the scriptoria for the transcription of books,» the Pope added.

«In this way, a thousand years ago, when the process of the formation of European identity was at its height, the Cluniac experience spread over vast regions of the European Continent, and made its important and precious contribution,» he said. «It recalled the primacy of the goods of the spirit; from this it drew the tension toward the things of God; it inspired and favored initiatives and institutions for the promotion of human values; it educated in a spirit of peace.»

Benedict XVI concluded by encouraging a prayer that «all those who have at heart a genuine humanism and the future of Europe will be able to rediscover, appreciate and defend the rich cultural and religious patrimony of these centuries.»

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