Monastic Reform as Process

Monastic Reform as Process: Realities and Representations in Medieval Flanders, 900–1100

Steven Vanderputten
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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    Monastic Reform as Process
    Book Description:

    The history of monastic institutions in the Middle Ages may at first appear remarkably uniform and predictable. Medieval commentators and modern scholars have observed how monasteries of the tenth to early twelfth centuries experienced long periods of stasis alternating with bursts of rapid development known as reforms. Charismatic leaders by sheer force of will, and by assiduously recruiting the support of the ecclesiastical and lay elites, pushed monasticism forward toward reform, remediating the inevitable decline of discipline and government in these institutions. A lack of concrete information on what happened at individual monasteries is not regarded as a significant problem, as long as there is the possibility to reconstruct the reformers' ''program.'' While this general picture makes for a compelling narrative, it doesn't necessarily hold up when one looks closely at the history of specific institutions.

    InMonastic Reform as Process, Steven Vanderputten puts the history of monastic reform to the test by examining the evidence from seven monasteries in Flanders, one of the wealthiest principalities of northwestern Europe, between 900 and 1100. He finds that the reform of a monastery should be studied not as an "exogenous shock" but as an intentional blending of reformist ideals with existing structures and traditions. He also shows that reformist government was cumulative in nature, and many of the individual achievements and initiatives of reformist abbots were only possible because they built upon previous achievements. Rather than looking at reforms as "flashpoint events," we need to view them as processes worthy of study in their own right. Deeply researched and carefully argued,Monastic Reform as Processwill be essential reading for scholars working on the history of monasteries more broadly as well as those studying the phenomenon of reform throughout history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6811-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In 1162, an anonymous monk from the Benedictine monastery of Lobbes, now in the Belgian province of Hainaut, compiled a history of his community from the final decades of the tenth century to the present.¹ His account was modeled on thegesta abbatum, ordeeds of abbots, a genre in which a monastery’s past was subdivided into sections that chronologically and thematically corresponded to the individual abbacies of its leaders. The length and contents of these sections in the chronicle of Lobbes vary greatly. The availability of sources, the interest to a contemporary audience of the events that were preserved...

  7. Chapter 1 Corporate Memories of Reform
    (pp. 14-30)

    Medieval monastic identities were shaped, maintained, and transformed through carefully steered processes of remembrance.¹ By selecting and arranging both individual and shared experiences of the past and preserving them in a retrievable form, monks and nuns were able to ground a contemporary understanding of their collective identity in a legitimizing past.² This ability did not translate itself into a constant, typologically unchanging stream of texts, but throughout the centuries expressed itself in many forms, and with variable intensity. InPhantoms of Remembrance, Patrick Geary argues that the central Middle Ages in particular were a period of intense transitions for monastic...

  8. Chapter 2 The “Failed” Reforms of the Tenth Century
    (pp. 31-49)

    Scholars’ comprehension of the reforms of the early eleventh century is shaped by the notion that the reformers of the mid-tenth century had failed, or neglected, to impose on the monasteries of Flanders a mode of government sufficiently stable and self-sufficient to guarantee their disciplinary rectitude and institutional longevity.¹ These inherent flaws in the reformers’ policies, as well as the gradual decline of reformist leadership in the later decades of the tenth century, are thought to have created the need for a new, more efficiently organized “wave” of reforms. Yet scholarship has failed to acknowledge the impact of reformist apologetic...

  9. Chapter 3 The “Dark Age” of Flemish Monasticism
    (pp. 50-78)

    In chapter 1, we have seen how Simon, in his prologue to the chronicle of Saint-Bertin, claimed that he had been unable to find anything memorable for the period between 961/62, the final year described by Folcuin, and 1021, when Roderic of Saint-Vaast reformed the abbey. As it turns out, this was part of a strategy to focus the narrative entirely on the argument that Abbot Lambert’s then-current reform was grounded in the reform of the early eleventh century, and to demonstrate the continuities in reformist government since that time. In a different context, Simon would certainly have found much...

  10. Chapter 4 Introducing the New Monasticism
    (pp. 79-101)

    When a group of reformers in Lotharingia in the early eleventh century began propagating a new vision of Benedictine monasticism, they did not challenge the traditional emphasis on stability and seclusion from the world. Influential figures such as Richard of Saint-Vanne, Poppo of Stavelot, and William of Volpiano (d. 1031), abbot of Saint-Bénigne in Dijon, were, in essence, traditional monastic leaders who, like their contemporaries, emphasized how ordinary monks were to remain wary of engaging with the outside world if they wished to avoid compromising their spiritual purity and effectiveness as “prayer machines.”¹ Certainly several of these individuals through their...

  11. Chapter 5 Processes of Reformist Government
    (pp. 102-130)

    The “second generation” of reformist abbots, even though they are accorded less stature in scholarly discussions than the chief protagonists of the reforms, was often a far longer lasting presence in the monasteries of Flanders. During their long and relatively stable abbacies, individuals like Leduin of Saint-Vaast, Roderic of Saint-Bertin, and Malbod of Saint-Amand guided their monks through the process of institutional, economic, and spiritual change. Richard and his small group of associates certainly influenced the self-conception of these abbots and encouraged them to emulate his way of managing the internal and external affairs of Saint-Vanne. But, as we have...

  12. Chapter 6 Shaping Reformed Identities
    (pp. 131-152)

    Richard of Saint-Vanne had definite—if, by all accounts, conservative—ideas about how life within the monastery should be organized, particularly in four interlinked domains. One concerned internal discipline, as represented most grippingly in his circular letter from 1012–1013;¹ the second referred to the remembrance of the dead;² the third covered the shaping of institutional identities centered on the patron saint, his relics, and his cult;³ and finally, there was the management of monastic book collections.⁴ His agency in all of these domains is well attested, and specialists have argued that his individual behavior and preaching, as well as...

  13. Chapter 7 The “Waning” of Reformed Monasticism
    (pp. 153-185)

    In his seminal article from 1986, “The Crisis of Cenobitism Reconsidered,” John van Engen argued persuasively that the challenges facing traditional Benedictine monasticism between c. 1050 and 1150 had an invigorating effect.¹ Until then, the consensus had been that the sudden emergence of new forms of religious communal life in the mid- to late eleventh century was due to “old-style” monasticism’s loss of its ability to meet the expectations of secular society and to impose on its members a way of life that corresponded in both spirit and practice with the norm of Benedict’s Rule.² As van Engen showed, this...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 186-190)

    “Reform” remains something of a black hole in scholarly discussions of the history of monastic institutions. Like the astronomical phenomenon, the reform of a monastery is often perceived as a single event of huge consequence, which can be used as a reference point to both interpret and evaluate that institution’s long-term development. Particularly for periods in history for which there are comparatively few written or other sources, it is tempting to allow apologetic narratives of reformist authors to determine the discursive framework in which evidence from before and after reform is discussed. Yet as chapter 1 has shown, these contemporary...

  15. Maps
    (pp. 191-192)
  16. Appendix A: Overview of the Leadership of Benedictine Monasteries in Flanders Reformed in the Tenth and Early Eleventh Centuries between c. 900 and c. 1120
    (pp. 193-202)
  17. Appendix B: Booklist of the Abbey of Marchiennes, c. 1025–1050
    (pp. 203-204)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-234)
  19. Index
    (pp. 235-248)