Skip to content

Lecture Notes

Every historian recognizes that, by 1000, commerce was increasing and with it, wealth. Technology was advancing. The Dark Ages were over, caput, finished. It was onward and upward pretty much non-stop from there, allowing Europe to, almost literally, conquer the world by the 19th century.

There was a monastic renewal. The three c's: Cluny (910 or so), Cistercians (1098), and Carthusians (1084) who, among them, would eventually have well over 1,000 affiliated monasteries (Cluny: 800ish, Citeaux: 400 or more, Carthusians: 200 or more).

Renewal after land was scarce since it was the source of payment (one age: Vikings came to rid Europe of the curse of gold)

Monasticism is seldom talked about any more. But it's kinda like the Vikings: everyone has heard of them, knows they were important, but very few appreciate what a force they were. Think of it: over 1,000 monasteries, just among those three.

Monasteries also offer a great illustration of how the secular and sacred intertwine, thereby warping the sacred and irritating the secular. Monasteries were usually started by earnest men (and convents by women). These men were austere and holy; they attracted notice, a following. Laymen would visit them to seek advice. These laymen would then give them money, often large bequests in their Wills. The result: the monasteries became wealthy, which then attracted not-so-earnest men. In fact, the wealthier the monastery, the more indolent and worldly men it attracted. Paradoxically, the holier the monastery, the more profane the monastery. And because there were thousands of monasteries, who just accumulated land and possessions, they aroused a great deal of righteous indignation . . . and a lot of flat-out petty jealousy. They would pay the price during the Reformation.

This increased wealth created some unease. Just as most good Christians in America feel a bit uncomfortable with our immense wealth, devout Europeans began to feel a bit uncomfortable. The Christian importance of poverty and simplicity were getting swept under the fancy rugs. A backlash of sorts brewed.