Saturday, July 11, 2015

St. Benedict's Day and the Cistercian Tradition

The Church remembers St. Benedict each year on July 11, and it is important to remember that the Benedictine order is not the only group that follows the Rule of St. Benedict.  This past year, I've had the chance to visit two Trappist monasteries, New Melleray in Iowa, and Gethsemani in Kentucky. 

(Abbey of Gethsemani, June 2015)

Trappists are formally known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) - the Cistercians are Benedictine reformers whose history dates back to the Eleventh Century, and the Trappists represent a reform group within the Cistercian tradition.  Despite their different charisms, each order continues to represent a faithful way of living according to the Rule of St. Benedict. The living reality of Benedictine life, as reflected in the Cistercian Order, was noted by a modern Trappist monk, Michael Casey, OCSO:

"The Cistercian Patrimony is not a matter of lifeless stones, but a living reality incarnate in the lives and labors of innumerable brothers and sisters and expressed explicitly by a substantial body of doctrine developed by Cistercian authors of all centuries.  We inherit from the past not only buildings and artifacts, not only a lifestyle that many romantically believe has changed little from the Middle Ages, but a tradition of life communicated in a thousand humble ways from one generation to the next.  Beneath the Cistercian reality lays a network of beliefs, values and core practices that embody the energy of the charism.  The heart of the Cistercian Patrimony is a philosophy of life as validly applied to the twenty-first century as to the twelfth"

(Quoted at p. 20 of Come and See: The Monastic Way for Today by Brendan Freeman, OCSO).


  1. I've been to Gethsemani Abbey twice. One of the times, our tour guide was a monk who has been at the monastery for over 50 years! It's a beautiful monastery. I especially love their Garden of Gethsemane outdoor Station of the Cross. I also bought two books from their gift shop: one on Bernard of Clairvaux and also Pater Bernardus by the Luther scholar Franz Posset. It was interesting to read about Bernard of Clairvaux's influence on the early Luther (his "affective Christocentrism").

  2. My tour of Gethsemani was more of a tourist outing than a contemplative experience, but I hope to go back someday and spend more time there. Thanks for the tip regarding Luther's connection to Bernard - I've studied how Luther's was influenced by medieval mystics such as Tauler and Meister Eckhart, but did not know he was influenced by Bernard as well.