|Humanism and the future of Europe
At the General Audience
on Wednesday, 11 November , in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall
the Holy Father commented on the Order of Cluny, an important monastic
movement in the Middle Ages whose reputation for holiness and learning
caused its influence to spread throughout Europe. The following is a
translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning I would like to speak to you about a
monastic movement that was very important in the Middle Ages and which I
have already mentioned in previous Catecheses. It is the Order of Cluny
which at the beginning of the 12th century, at the height of its
expansion, had almost 1,200 monasteries: a truly impressive figure! A
monastery was founded at Cluny in 910, precisely 1,100 years ago, and
subsequent to the donation of William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, was
placed under the guidance of Abbot Berno.
At that time Western monasticism, which had flourished
several centuries earlier with St Benedict, was experiencing a severe
decline for various reasons: unstable political and social conditions
due to the continuous invasions and sacking by peoples who were not
integrated into the fabric of Europe, widespread poverty and,
especially, the dependence of abbeys on the local nobles who controlled
all that belonged to the territories under their jurisdiction. In this
context, Cluny was the heart and soul of a profound renewal of monastic
life that led it back to its original inspiration.
At Cluny the Rule of St Benedict was restored with
several adaptations which had already been introduced by other
reformers. The main objective was to guarantee the central role that the
Liturgy must have in Christian life. The Cluniac monks devoted
themselves with love and great care to the celebration of the Liturgical
Hours, to the singing of the Psalms, to processions as devout as they
were solemn, and above all, to the celebration of Holy Mass.
They promoted sacred music, they wanted architecture and
art to contribute to the beauty and solemnity of the rites; they
enriched the liturgical calendar with special celebrations such as, for
example, at the beginning of November, the Commemoration of All Souls,
which we too have just celebrated; and they intensified the devotion to
the Virgin Mary.
Great importance was given to the Liturgy because the
monks of Cluny were convinced that it was participation in the liturgy
of Heaven. And the monks felt responsible for interceding at the altar
of God for the living and the dead, given large numbers of the faithful
were insistently asking them to be remembered in prayer.
Moreover, it was with this same aim that William the
Pious had desired the foundation of the Abbey of Cluny.
In the ancient document that testifies to the foundation
we read: "With this gift I establish that a monastery of regulars be
built at Cluny in honour of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, where
monks who live according to the Rule of St Benedict shall gather... so
that a venerable sanctuary of prayer with vows and supplications may be
visited there, and the heavenly life be sought after and yearned for
with every desire and with deep ardour, and that assiduous prayers,
invocations and supplications be addressed to the Lord".
To preserve and foster this atmosphere of prayer, the
Cluniac Rule emphasized the importance of silence, to which discipline
the monks willingly submitted, convinced that the purity of the virtues
to which they aspired demanded deep and constant recollection.
It is not surprising that before long the Monastery of
Cluny gained a reputation for holiness and that many other monastic
communities decided to follow its discipline. Numerous princes and Popes
asked the abbots of Cluny to extend their reform so that in a short time
a dense network of monasteries developed that were linked to Cluny,
either by true and proper juridical bonds or by a sort of charismatic
affiliation. Thus a spiritual Europe gradually took shape in the various
regions of France and in Italy, Spain, Germany and Hungary.
Cluny's success was assured primarily not only by the
lofty spirituality cultivated there but also by several other conditions
that ensured its development.
In comparison with what had happened until then, the
Monastery of Cluny and the communities dependent upon it were recognized
as exempt from the jurisdiction of the local Bishops and were directly
subject to that of the Roman Pontiff. This meant that Cluny had a
special bond with the See of Peter and, precisely because of the
protection and encouragement of the Pontiffs the ideals of purity and
fidelity proposed by the Cluniac Reform spread rapidly.
Furthermore, the abbots were elected without any
interference from the civil authorities, unlike what happened in other
places. Truly worthy people succeeded one another at the helm of Cluny
and of the numerous monastic communities dependent upon it: Abbot Odo of
Cluny, of whom I spoke in a Catechesis two months ago, and other great
figures such as Eymard, Majolus, Odilo and especially Hugh the Great,
who served for long periods, thereby assuring stability and the spread
of the reform embarked upon. As well as Odo, Majolus, Odilo and Hugh are
venerated as Saints.
Not only did the Cluniac
Reform have positive effects in the purification and reawakening of
monastic life but also in the life of the universal Church. In fact, the
aspiration to evangelical perfection was an incentive to fight two great
abuses that afflicted the Church in that period: simony, that is the
acquisition of pastoral offices for money, and immorality among the
The abbots of Cluny with
their spiritual authority, the Cluniac monks who became Bishops and some
of them even Popes, took the lead in this impressive action of spiritual
renewal. And it yielded abundant fruit: celibacy was once again esteemed
and practised by priests and more transparent procedures were introduced
in the designation of ecclesiastical offices.
Also significant were the
benefits that monasteries inspired by the Cluniac Reform contributed to
society. At a time when Church institutions alone provided for the poor,
charity was practised with dedication. In all the houses, the almoner
was bound to offer hospitality to needy wayfarers and pilgrims,
travelling priests and religious and especially the poor, who came
asking for food and a roof over their heads for a few days.
Equally important were two
other institutions promoted by Cluny that were characteristic of
medieval civilization: the "Truce of God" and the "Peace of God". In an
epoch heavily marked by violence and the spirit of revenge, with the
"Truces of God" long periods of non-belligerence were guaranteed,
especially on the occasion of specific religious feasts and certain days
of the week.
With "the Peace of God", on
pain of a canonical reprimand, respect was requested for defenceless
people and for sacred places.
In this way, in the
conscience of the peoples of Europe
during that long process of gestation, which was to lead to their ever
two fundamental elements for the construction of society matured,
namely, the value of the human person and the primary good of peace.
Furthermore, as happened
for other monastic foundations, the Cluniac monasteries had likewise at
their disposal extensive properties which, diligently put to good use,
helped to develop the economy. Alongside the manual work there was no
lack of the typical cultural activities of medieval monasticism such as
schools for children, the foundation of libraries and scriptoria
for the transcription of books.
In this way, 1,000 years
ago when the development of the European identity had gathered momentum,
the experience of Cluny, which had spread across vast regions of the
European continent, made its important and precious contribution.
It recalled the primacy of
spiritual benefits; it kept alive the aspiration to the things of God;
it inspired and encouraged initiatives and institutions for the
promotion of human values; it taught a spirit of peace.
Dear brothers and sisters
let us pray that all those who have at heart an authentic humanism and
the future of Europe may be able to rediscover, appreciate and defend
the rich cultural and religious heritage of these centuries.