Chapter 10


In the times of which I have lately been speaking, the monks did
much valuable service to the Church and to the world in general. It
was mostly through their labours that heathen nations were converted
to the Gospel, that their barbarous roughness was tamed, and that
learning, although it had greatly decayed, was not altogether lost.
Often, where monks had built their houses in lonely places, little
clusters of huts grew up round them, and in time these clusters of
huts became large and important towns. Monks were very highly
thought of, and sometimes it was seen that kings and queens would
leave all their worldly grandeur, and would withdraw to spend their
last years under the quiet roof of a monastery. But it was found, at
the same time, that monks were apt to fall away from the strict
rules by which they were bound, so that reforms were continually
needed among them.

As the popes became more powerful, they found the monks valuable
friends and allies, and they gave exemptions to many monasteries;
that is to say, they took it on themselves to set those monasteries
free from the control which the bishops had held over them, so that
the monks of these exempt places did not own any bishop at all, and
would not allow that any one but the pope was over them.

I have already told you of the rule which was drawn up for monks by
St. Benedict of Nursia (p 150). Some other rules were afterwards
made, such as that of Columban, an Irish abbot, who for many years
(AD 589-615) laboured in France, Switzerland, and the north of
Italy. Columban went more into little matters than Benedict had
done, and laid down exact directions in cases where Benedict had
left the abbots of monasteries to settle things as they should
think fit. Thus Columban's rule laid down that any monk who should
call anything his own should receive six strokes, and appointed the
same punishment for everyone who should omit to say "Amen" after the
abbot's blessing, or to make the sign of the cross over his spoon or
his candle; for every one who should talk at meals, or should cough
at the beginning of a psalm. There were ten strokes for striking the
table with a knife, or for spilling beer on it; and for heavier
offenses the punishment sometimes rose as high as two hundred:
besides that, other punishments were used, such as fasting on bread
and water, psalm-singing, humble postures, and long times of

Still, however, Benedict's rule was that by which the greater part
of the Western monks were governed. But, although they were under
the same rule, they had no other connection with each other; each
company of monks stood by itself, having no tie outside its own
walls. There was not as yet, in the West, anything like the society
which St. Pachomius had long before established in Egypt (p 62),
where all the monasteries were supposed to be as so many sisters,
and all owned the mother-monastery as their head. It was not until
the tenth century that anything of this kind was set on foot in the
Western Church.

(1.) In the Year 912, an abbot named Berno founded a new
society at Cluny, in Burgundy. He began with only twelve monks; but
by degrees the fame of Cluny spread, and the pattern which had been
set there was copied far and wide, until at length more than two
thousand monasteries were reckoned as belonging to the
"Congregation" (as it was called) or Order of Cluny; and all these
looked up to the great abbot of the mother-monastery as their chief.
The early abbots of Cluny were very remarkable men, and took a great
part in the affairs both of the Church and of kingdoms: some of them
even refused the popedom; and bishops placed themselves under them,
as simple monks of Cluny, for the sake of their advice and teaching.

The founders of the Cluniac order added many precepts to the rule
or St. Benedict. Thus the monks were required to swallow all the
crumbs of their bread at the end of every meal; and when some of
them showed a wish to escape this duty, they were frightened into
obedience by an awful tale that a monk, when dying, saw at the end
of his bed a great sack of the crumbs which he had left on the table
rising up as a witness against him. The monks were bound to keep
silence at times; and we are told that, rather than break this rule,
one of them allowed his horse to be stolen, and another let himself
be carried off as a prisoner by the Northmen. During these times of
silence they made use of a set of signs, by which they were able to
let each other know what they wanted.

This congregation of Cluny, then, was the first great monkish order
in the West, and others soon followed it. They were mostly very
strict at first--some of them so strict that they not only forbade
all luxury in the monks, but would not allow any fine buildings, or
any handsome furniture in their churches. But in general the monks
soon got over this by saying that, as their buildings and their
services were not for themselves, but for God, their duty was to
honour Him by giving Him of the best that they could.

These orders were known from each other by the difference of their
dress: thus the Benedictines were called Black Monks, the
Cistercians were called White Monks, and at a later time we find
mention of Black Friars, White Friars, Grey Friars, and so forth.

(2.) About the time of Gregory VII, several new orders were
founded; and of these the most famous were the Carthusians and the

As to the beginning of the Carthusian order, a strange story is
told. The founder, Bruno, is said to have been studying at Paris,
where a famous teacher, who had been greatly respected for his
piety, died. As his funeral was on its way to the grave, the corpse
suddenly raised itself from the bier, and uttered the words, "By
God's righteous judgement I am accused!" All who were around were
struck with horror, and the burial was put off until the next day.
But then, as the mourners were again moving toward the grave, the
dead man rose up a second time, and groaned out, "By God's righteous
judgement I am judged!" Again the service was put off; but on the
third day, the general awe was raised to a height by his lifting up
his head and saying, "By God's righteous judgment I am condemned!"
And it is said that on this discovery as to the real state of a man
who had been so highly honoured for his supposed goodness, Bruno was
so struck by a feeling of the hollowness of all earthly judgment
that he resolved to hide himself in a desert.

I have given this story as a sample of the strange tales which have
been told and believed; but not a word of it is really true, and
Bruno's reasons for withdrawing from the world were of quite a
different kind. It is, however, true that he did withdraw into a
wild and lonely place, which is now known as the Great Chartreuse,
among rough and awful rocks, near Grenoble, and there an extremely
severe rule was laid down for the monks of his order (AD 1084). They
were to wear goatskins next to the flesh, and their dress was
altogether to be of the coarsest and roughest sort. On three days of
each week their food was bread and water; on the other days they
were allowed some vegetables; but even their highest fare on
holidays was cheese and fish, and they never tasted meat at all.
Once a week they submitted to be flogged, after confessing their
sins. They spoke on Sundays and festivals only, and were not allowed
to use signs like the Cluniacs. It is to be said, to the credit of
the Carthusians, that, although their order grew rich and built
splendid monasteries and churches, they always kept to their hard
way of living, more faithfully, perhaps, than any other order.

(3.) The Cistercian order, which I have mentioned, was founded
by Robert of Molesme (AD 1098), and took its name from its chief
monastery, Citeaux, or, in Latin, Cistercium, The rule was very
strict. From the middle of September to Easter they were to eat but
one meal daily. Their monasteries were not to be built in towns, but
in lonely places. They were to shun pomp and pride in all things.
Their services were to be plain and simple, without any fine music.
Their vestments and all the furniture of their churches were to be
coarse and without ornament. No paintings, nor sculptures, nor
stained glass were allowed. The ordinary dress of the monks was to
be white.

At first it seemed as if the hardness of the Cistercian rule
prevented people from joining. But the third abbot of Citeaux, an
Englishman named Stephen Harding, when he was distressed at the slow
progress of the order, was comforted by a vision in which he saw a
multitude washing their white robes in a fountain; and very soon the
vision seemed to be fulfilled. In 1113 Bernard (of whom we shall
hear more presently) entered the monastery of Citeaux, and by-and-by
the order spread so wonderfully that it equalled the Cluniac
congregation in the number of houses belonging to it. These were not
only connected together like the Cluniac monasteries, but had a new
kind of tie in the general chapters, which were held every year. For
these general chapters every abbot of the order was required to
appear at Citeaux, to which they all looked up as their mother.
Those who were in the nearer countries were bound to attend every
year; those who were further off, once in three, or five, or seven
years, according to distance. Thus the smaller houses were allowed
to have a share in the management of the whole; and the plan was
afterwards imitated by Carthusians and other orders.

(4.) I need not mention any more of the societies of monks
which began about the same time, but I must not omit to say that the
Crusades gave rise to what are called "military orders", of which
the first and most famous were the Templars and the Hospitallers, or
Knights of St. John.

These orders were governed by rules which were much like those of
the monks; but the members of them were knights, who undertook to
defend the Holy Land against the unbelievers. The Hospitallers were
at first connected with a hospital which had been founded at
Jerusalem for the benefit of pilgrims by some Italian merchants, and
took its name from St. John, an archbishop of Alexandria, who was
called the Almsgiver. They had a black dress, with a white cross on
the breast, and, from having been at first employed in nursing the
sick and relieving the poor, they became warriors who fought against
the Mussulmans.

The Templars, who wore a white dress, with a red cross on the
breast, were even more famous as soldiers than the Hospitallers.
The knights of both these orders were bound by their rules to remain
unmarried, to be regular and frequent in their religious exercises,
to live plainly, to devote themselves to the defence of the
Christian faith and of the Holy Land; and for the sake of this work
emperors, kings, and other wealthy persons bestowed lands and other
gifts on them, so that they had large estates in all the countries
of Europe. But as they grew rich, they forgot their vows of poverty
and humility, and, although they kept up their character for
bravery, they were generally disliked for their pride and insolence.

We shall see by-and-by how it was that the order of the Temple came
to ruin. But the Hospitallers lasted longer. When the Christians
were driven out of the Holy Land, the knights of this order removed
first to Cyprus, then to Rhodes: and, last of all, to Malta, where
they continued even until quite late times.

Other military orders were founded after the pattern of the Templars
and the Hospitallers. The most famous of them were the Teutonic (or
German) knights, who fought the heathens on the shores of the Baltic
Sea, and got possession of a large country, which afterwards became
the kingdom of Prussia; and the order of St. James, which belonged
to Spain, and there carried on a continual war with the Mahometan
Moors, whose settlement in that country has already been mentioned
(p 170).