of men who lived alongside of the choir monks, but separate from them, not taking part in the canonical office, but having their own fixed round of prayer and religious exercises. A lay brother was never ordained, and never held any office of superiority. It was by this system of lay brothers that the Cistercians were able to play their distinctive part in the progress of European civilization. But it often happened that the number of lay brothers became excessive and out of proportion to the resources of the monasteries, there being sometimes as many as 200, or even 300, in a single abbey. On the other hand, at any rate in some countries, the system of lay brothers in course of time worked itself out; thus in England by the close of the 14th century it had shrunk to relatively small proportions, and in the 15th century the régime of the English Cistercian houses tended to approximate more and more to that of the Black Monks.
The Cistercian polity calls for special mention. Its lines were adumbrated by Alberic, but it received its final form at a meeting of the abbots in the time of Stephen Harding, when was drawn up the Carta Caritatis (Migne, Patrol. Lat. clxvi. 1377), a document which arranged the relations between the various houses of the Cistercian order, and exercised a great influence also upon the future course of western monachism. From one point of view, it may be regarded as a compromise between the primitive Benedictine system, whereby each abbey was autonomous and isolated, and the complete centralization of Cluny, whereby the abbot of Cluny was the only true superior in the body. Cîteaux, on the one hand, maintained the independent organic life of the houses—each abbey had its own abbot, elected by its own monks; its own community, belonging to itself and not to the order in general; its own property and finances administered by itself, without interference from outside. On the other hand, all the abbeys were subjected to the general chapter, which met yearly at Cîteaux, and consisted of the abbots only; the abbot of Cîteaux was the president of the chapter and of the order, and the visitor of each and every house, with a predominant influence and the power of enforcing everywhere exact conformity to Cîteaux in all details of the exterior life—observance, chant, customs. The principle was that Cîteaux should always be the model to which all the other houses had to conform. In case of any divergence of view at the chapter, the side taken by the abbot of Cîteaux was always to prevail (see F. A. Gasquet, Sketch of Monastic Constitutional History, pp. xxxv-xxxviii, prefixed to English trans, of Montalembert’s Monks of the West, ed. 1895).
By the end of the 12th century the Cistercian houses numbered 500; in the 13th a hundred more were added; and in the 15th, when the order attained its greatest extension, there were close on 750 houses: the larger figures sometimes given are now recognized as apocryphal. Nearly half of the houses had been founded, directly or indirectly, from Clairvaux, so great was St Bernard’s influence and prestige: indeed he has come almost to be regarded as the founder of the Cistercians, who have often been called Bernardines. The order was spread all over western Europe,—chiefly in France, but also in Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Italy and Sicily, Spain and Portugal,—where some of the houses, as Alcobaça, were of almost incredible magnificence. In England the first foundation was Furness (1127), and many of the most beautiful monastic buildings of the country, beautiful in themselves and beautiful in their sites, were Cistercian,—as Tintern, Rievaulx, Byland, Fountains. A hundred were established in England in the next hundred years, and then only one more up to the Dissolution (for list, see table and map in F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life, or Catholic Dictionary, art. “Cistercians”).
For a hundred years, till the first quarter of the 13th century, the Cistercians supplanted Cluny as the most powerful order and the chief religious influence in western Europe. But then in turn their influence began to wane, chiefly, no doubt, because of the rise of the mendicant orders, who ministered more directly to the needs and ideas of the new age. But some of the reasons of Cistercian decline were internal. In the first place, there was the permanent difficulty of maintaining in its first fervour a body embracing hundreds of monasteries and thousands of monks, spread all over Europe; and as the Cistercian very raison d’être consisted in its being a “reform,” a return to primitive monachism, with its field-work and severe simplicity, any failures to live up to the ideal proposed worked more disastrously among Cistercians than among mere Benedictines, who were intended to live a life of self-denial, but not of great austerity. Relaxations were gradually introduced in regard to diet and to simplicity of life, and also in regard to the sources of income, rents and tolls being admitted and benefices incorporated, as was done among the Benedictines; the farming operations tended to produce a commercial spirit; wealth and splendour invaded many of the monasteries, and the choir monks abandoned field-work.
The later history of the Cistercians is largely one of attempted revivals and reforms. The general chapter for long battled bravely against the invasion of relaxations and abuses. In 1335 Benedict XII., himself a Cistercian, promulgated a series of regulations to restore the primitive spirit of the order, and in the 15th century various popes endeavoured to promote reforms. All these efforts at a reform of the great body of the order proved unavailing; but local reforms, producing various semi-independent offshoots and congregations, were successfully carried out in many parts in the course of the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th another great effort at a general reform was made, promoted by the pope and the king of France; the general chapter elected Richelieu (commendatory) abbot of Cîteaux, thinking he would protect them from the threatened reform. In this they were disappointed, for he threw himself wholly on the side of reform. So great, however, was the resistance, and so serious the disturbances that ensued, that the attempt to reform Cîteaux itself and the general body of the houses had again to be abandoned, and only local projects of reform could be carried out. In 1598 had arisen the reformed congregation of the Feuillants, which spread widely in France and Italy, in the latter country under the name of “Improved Bernardines.” The French congregation of Sept-Fontaines (1654) also deserves mention. In 1663 de Rancé reformed La Trappe (see Trappists).
The Reformation, the ecclesiastical policy of Joseph II., the French Revolution, and the revolutions of the 19th century, almost wholly destroyed the Cistercians; but some survived, and since the beginning of the last half of the 19th century there has been a considerable recovery. They are at present divided into three bodies: (1) the Common Observance, with about 30 monasteries and 800 choir monks, the large majority being in Austria-Hungary; they represent the main body of the order and follow a mitigated rule of life; they do not carry on field-work, but have large secondary schools, and are in manner of life little different from fairly observant Benedictine Black monks; of late years, however, signs are not wanting of a tendency towards a return to older ideas; (2) the Middle Observance, embracing some dozen monasteries and about 150 choir monks; (3) the Strict Observance, or Trappists (q.v.), with nearly 60 monasteries, about 1600 choir monks and 2000 lay brothers.
In all there are about 100 Cistercian monasteries and about 4700 monks, including lay brothers. There have always been a large number of Cistercian nuns; the first nunnery was founded at Tart in the diocese of Langres, 1125; at the period of their widest extension there are said to have been 900 nunneries, and the communities were very large. The nuns were devoted to contemplation and also did field-work. In Spain and France certain Cistercian abbesses had extraordinary privileges. Numerous reforms took place among the nuns. The best known of all Cistercian convents was probably Port-Royal (q.v.), reformed by Angélique Arnaud, and associated with the story of the Jansenist controversy. After all the troubles of the 19th century there still exist 100 Cistercian nunneries with 3000 nuns, choir and lay; of these, 15 nunneries with 900 nuns are Trappist.
Accounts of the beginnings of the Cistercians and of the primitive life and spirit will be found in the lives of St Bernard, the best