On What Europe Owes to Cluny

«The Value of the Human Person and the Primary Good of Peace»

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s address today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

This morning I wish to speak of a monastic movement that had great importance in the Medieval centuries, and to which I have already referred in previous catecheses. It is about the Order of Cluny, which, at the beginning of the 12th century, the time of its greatest expansion, had almost 1,200 monasteries: a really impressive figure! 

In fact at Cluny, 1,100 years ago, in 910, a monastery was founded and placed under the guidance of Abbot Bernone, after the donation of William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine. At that time Western monasticism, which flowered some centuries before with St. Benedict, was very impoverished for several reasons: the unstable political and social conditions due to the constant invasions and devastation of people not integrated in the European fabric, widespread poverty and above all the dependence of abbeys on local lords, who controlled everything that belonged to the territory of their competence. In such a context, Cluny represented the soul of a profound renewal of monastic life, to lead it back to its original inspiration.

Represented at Cluny was the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict with some adaptations already introduced by other reformers. Above all the intention was to guarantee the central role that the liturgy must have in Christian life. The monks of Cluny dedicated themselves with love and great care to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, the singing of psalms, to processions both devotional and solemn and, above all, to the celebration of Holy Mass. They promoted sacred music; they wanted architecture and art to contribute to the beauty and solemnity of the rites; they enriched the liturgical calendar with special celebrations such as, for example, the commemoration of the faithful deceased at the beginning of November, which we also celebrated a short time ago; the they enhanced devotion to the Virgin Mary. 

So much importance was given to the liturgy because the monks of Cluny were convinced that it was participation in the liturgy of Heaven. And the monks felt responsible to intercede at the altar of God for the living and the dead, given that very many faithful repeatedly requested them to be remembered in prayer. On the other hand, it was precisely for this purpose that William the Pious had desired the birth of the Abbey of Cluny. In the ancient document, which attests to the foundation, we read: «With this gift I establish that a monastery of regulars be built at Cluny in honor of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and that monks gather here who live according to the Rule of St. Benedict (…) and that it be a venerable asylum of prayer which is frequented with vows and supplications, seeking and yearning with every desire and profound ardor the celestial life, and assiduous prayers, invocations and supplications addressed to the Lord.» 

To guard and nourish this climate of prayer, the rule of Cluny emphasized the importance of silence, a discipline to which the monks willingly submitted themselves, convinced that the purity of the virtues, to which they aspired, required profound and constant recollection. It is no wonder that very soon, fame for holiness was attributed to the monastery of Cluny, and that many other monastic communities decided to follow its practices. Many princes and popes requested the abbots of Cluny to spread their reform, to the point that in a short time a multitudinous network of monasteries were linked to Cluny, wither with true and proper juridical links or a sort of charismatic affiliation. Thus a Europe of the spirit was being delineated in the different regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Hungary.

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: Abbot Odo of Cluny, of whom I spoke in a catechesis two months ago, and other great personalities, such as Emard, Maiolus, Odilo and above all Hugh the Great, who carried out their service for long periods, ensured stability to the reform undertaken and to its diffusion. Venerated as saints, in addition to Odo, are Maiolus, Odilo and Hugh.

The Cluniac reform had positive effects not only on the purification and reawakening of monastic life, but also on the life of the universal Church. In fact, the aspiration to evangelical perfection represented a stimulus to combat two grave evils that afflicted the Church in that period: simony, that is the acquisition of compensated pastoral offices, and the immorality of the secular clergy. The abbots of Cluny with their spiritual authoritativeness, the Cluniac monks who became bishops, some of them even popes, were protagonists of such an imposing action of spiritual renewal. And the fruits were not lacking: The celibacy of priests became esteemed and lived, and more transparent procedures were introduced in the assumption of ecclesiastical offices.

Significant also were the benefits contributed to society by monasteries inspired by the Cluniac reform. At a time in which only ecclesiastical institutions provided for the indigent, charity was practiced with determination. 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 enhanced in the conscience of the people of Europe was that process of long gestation, which led to the recognition, in an ever clearer way, of two essential elements for the construction of society, that is, the value of the human person and the primary good of peace. Moreover, as happened with other monastic foundations, the Cluniac monasteries had ample properties that, put diligently to good use, contributed to the development of the economy. 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.

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. 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. 

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray so that all those who have at heart a genuine humanism and the future of Europe will be able to rediscover, appreciate and defe
nd the rich cultural and religious patrimony of these centuries.

[Translation by ZENIT] [The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to the monastic reform linked to the great monastery of Cluny. Founded eleven hundred years ago, Cluny restored the strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict and made the Church’s liturgy the centre of its life. It stressed the solemn celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and Holy Mass, and enriched the worship of God with splendid art, architecture and music. The monastic liturgy, seen as a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, was accompanied by a daily regime marked by silence and intercessory prayer. Cluny’s reputation for sanctity and learning caused its influence to spread to monasteries throughout Europe. Exempt from interference by feudal authorities, the monastery freely elected its abbots and flourished under a series of outstanding spiritual leaders like Saints Odo and Hugh. Cluny also contributed to the reform of the universal Church by its concern for holiness, the restoration of clerical celibacy and the elimination of simony. At a formative time of Europe’s history, Cluny helped to forge the Continent’s Christian identity by its emphasis on the primacy of the spirit, respect for human dignity, commitment to peace and an authentic and integral humanism.

I cordially welcome the English-speaking visitors in attendance at today’s Audience. I particularly greet pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Worth, students and staff from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Diocesan Directors of Communications from England and Wales, as well as priests from Japan. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

©Copyright 2009 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[The Holy Father afterward said in Italian:]

I would now like to greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear young people, especially you beloved students of the St. Therese of the Child Jesus School of Santa Marinella, consider the example of St. Martin whose feast we celebrate today, as a model of generous evangelical witness. You, beloved sick people, trust in the Lord, that he will not abandon you in in this time of difficulty. And you, beloved newlyweds, animated by the faith that distinguished St. Martin, always respect and serve life, which is a gift from God.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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