Trappist or Cistercian?

Christopher Cheney's picture
Thu, 10/27/2016 - 11:17 -- Christopher Cheney

Trappist or Cistercian?

The name “Trappist” is recognized by many people; the name Cistercian is less well known.  We call ourselves by both of these titles of our Order.  What is the difference between them and what is their meaning?  The answer to that question involves a brief history lesson:

In 1098 a group of Benedictine monks from the monastery of Molesme founded a New Monastery in the Burgundian wilderness in a place called “Citeaux” in French or “Cistercium” in Latin, from which word we get the name Cistercian.  Feeling that Benedictine life had become a bit too extravagant and involved with the world, this band of 21 monks lead by St. Robert of Molesme were seeking a simpler, more austere life, closer to the Rule of St. Benedict.  The reform spread like wild-fire through Europe and soon there were Cistercian monasteries from Ireland to Austria. The first generation of Cistercian fathers such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bl. William of St. Theirry, etc.,were known for the profound contemplative and mystical theology that sprung from their own deep experience of prayer.

 However despite the best intentions and often due to circumstances beyond their control, eventually a decline set in.  So in 1600’s there was another reform movement within the Cistercian Order lead by Abbot Armand-Jean De Rance at his abbey of La Trappe in France.  This movement emphasized a life of penance in reparation for sin and for the salvation of souls, strict silence and abstinence from meat.  Later Abbeys that joined this movement were known as a “La Trappe”, from which we get the name Trappists.  At the urging of Pope Leo XIII in 1892 the strict La Trappe style houses were united and became known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, as we are officially known today.

So are we Trappists or Cistercians?  Since the Second Vatican Council’s urging for religious orders to return to their founding charism, there has been a re-emphasis in the Order on the Cistercian contemplative and mystical dimension of our life. Yet contemplation and total openness to God is not possible without self-denial and taking up our cross; and ardent desire for the salvation of souls is simply the result of uniting with Jesus’ own redemptive sacrifice and thirst for the salvation of all.  Both aspect are part of our heritage, and may the prayers of our Trappist-Cistercian forebears obtain for us the grace to follow their example with fervor and faithful love!        

Anyway, that is what I think.  But what do you think?

Br. Christopher

Vocations Director      

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