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First among Abbots

First among Abbots: The Career of Abbo of Fleury

Elizabeth Dachowski
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  • Book Info
    First among Abbots
    Book Description:

    Presents a coherent picture of this multifaceted man with an emphasis on his political alliances and the political considerations that colored his earliest biographical treatment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1690-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-22)

    At the beginning of December 1004, monks from all over France began to arrive at the monastery of Fleury on the banks of the Loire River in anticipation of an important festival in the monastic calendar.¹ On 4 December the monks of Fleury would celebrate the anniversary of the translation of the relics of St. Benedict of Nursia to their present location in the monastery’s church of Notre Dame. The ceremony was to begin with a vigil on 3 December, the eve of Benedict’s translation, followed by a procession on 4 December. This would be an opportunity to be near...

    (pp. 23-56)

    Abbo’s family members ensured his early exposure to the values of reformed monasticism when they enrolled him in the monastic school of Fleury. Their choice reflected the options available to people of their social standing and geographical location. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, family had a tremendous impact on the opportunities open to a young man or woman. Social class in the tenth century was more flexible than in either the preceding or following century, but family, wealth, and class still determined a person’s opportunities for education and advancement. Free birth was a prerequisite for most opportunities. A freeborn...

    (pp. 57-81)

    By the 980s Abbo had left his student days long behind and was now an active participant in the life of his monastery. He was by now one of the most learned monks of Fleury and was naturally drawn into the politics of the abbey. The monastic life under the Benedictine Rule promised the ideal of a harmonious society in which the monks left behind worldly possessions and status. All monks would be equal in humility and obedience, like children under the fatherly care of the abbot, being given offices according to their monastic merits rather than according to previous...

    (pp. 82-124)

    Hindsight has allowed historians to view the support of Abbo and his monastery as an essential element of the Capetian dynastic strategies almost from the beginning of their reign. In fact, however, Abbo’s immediate concerns were initially far more local in character, and often hostile to the Capetians’ well-documented reliance on support from the episcopate. This misapprehension arises from overreliance on later records, which describe the more cordial relationship that developed between Fleury and the Capetian kings in the years immediately after Abbo’s death in the early eleventh century. The preponderance of evidence for Abbo’s early abbacy was written under...

    (pp. 125-150)

    Although Abbo did not prevail at the Council of Saint-Basle in 991, over the next six years he became a major figure in the politics of reformed monasticism and experienced firsthand the violence inherent in the politics of his age. After the Council of Saint-Basle, the party of monastic reform was clearly in a weak position in West Francia.¹ The kings, though probably sympathetic to the ideals of reform, had far more practical concerns. Now that the claims of Charles of Lorraine were no longer a threat, they could concentrate on consolidating their power throughout West Francia.² They needed the...

    (pp. 151-188)

    The council of Saint-Basle and its aftermath made clear to Abbo that Fleury needed a stronger and more reliable patron than the kings if he were to achieve his goal of monastic independence. Abbo’s weariness with the quarrels of the world came through clearly in his Apologeticus. Despite his public and private attempts to establish a more cooperative relationship with the monarchy, his efforts bore fruit only slowly. If anything, the period following the composition of his Apologeticus involved him in nearly as many controversies as the years preceding it. The deposition of Arnulf of Reims remained a source of...

    (pp. 189-231)

    When Abbo returned from Rome in early 998, he was for the first time well equipped to exercise independent leadership within northern Francia. Royal and episcopal attitudes toward Abbo and the administration of Fleury seem to have softened. Certainly, in the remaining six years of his life, Abbo and the monks of Fleury did not see the open and violent hostility that had characterized the first half of his abbacy. The formal recognition of the Fleurisian abbot’s status as the premier abbot of Gaul coupled with Abbo’s friendly relationship with Pope Gregory V gave Abbo a basis for exerting his...

    (pp. 232-252)

    During the last months of his life Abbo turned from outside concerns to the problems of monastic discipline at one of Fleury’s dependent houses, the priory of La Réole in Gascony. Such challenges to the authority of the abbot of a reforming monastery were common in the tenth century, but the case of La Réole seems to have been particularly severe. Abbo’s predecessors had repeatedly attempted to resolve problems at the Gascon priory, but the monks of La Réole remained recalcitrant. Although Abbo appears to have allowed matters to rest at La Réole in the early years of his abbacy,...

    (pp. 253-268)

    When we look back at Abbo of Fleury’s career from a distance of over a millennium, many factors blur the clear trajectory of a life devoted to Benedictine monasticism. Intervening events have caused us to view his life as a mere precursor to later monastic reform movements and political settlements. Abbo’s own life often followed a different course than he might have planned, taking him across the English Channel, into a Church council that seemed more concerned with secular politics than ecclesiastical precedent, and finally—fatally—into a monastic dispute with unfortunate ethnic overtones. Abbo’s immediate heirs, the monks of...

    (pp. 269-272)