Continued from part VIII
Bouchard’s book shows that the longstanding scholarly claim that “the ideals of Cistercian monasticism and the rapidly developing economy of the twelfth century were incompatible” does not survive close analysis of the economic and religious records. So why was it made in the first place?
Another key reason for the scholarly claims about decline due to economic engagement is the existence of “The ‘legislation of 1134,’ setting out what types of property were and were not suitable for Cistercian monks.” Scholars have assumed this to be “a reiteration of what the monks had believed and practiced since Citeaux’s foundation in 1098.” The document raises up farming over other economic activities, so “scholars have treated the early Cistercians as exclusively farmers, who concentrated on opening up uncultivated lands and who were economic innovators only in their pioneering use of draining methods.” They have therefore taken the evidence for other kinds of economic transactions as de facto evidence of declension.[i]
Then the dissection of the paradigm begins. First Bouchard notes that it has had to be modified and re-modified in recent years, as evidence for non-farming economic transactions has pushed earlier and earlier,[ii] and as scholars have had to wrestle with a lack of any kind of numerical decline that would imply that the monks’ secular neighbors no longer valued them as holy men – quite the contrary, as the order continued to gain members and resources at a rapid rate. This has caused scholars to back away from harsher language of “decadence,” preferring instead to state that their “ideals” had not survived the encounter with certain “realities.”[iii]Continue reading