A number of great religious orders were founded during the eleventh and the twelfth centuries. These orders are still influencing the spirituality of Catholics today.
Sts. Robert, Alberic, and Stephen Harding founded the monastery at Citeaux in 1098. The monks of Citeaux followed a more literal observance of the rule of St. Benedict with special emphasis on simplicity, manual labor, and silence atmosphere for personal prayer.
The monks of Citeaux were known as the Cistercians. They wore white habit as sign of poverty and simplicity. The Cistercians had special devotion to Our Lady.
At the beginning, this austere community attracted very few members and was on the point of dying out. But in 1112 a twenty-two years old nobleman, St. Bernard, decided to join Citeaux. He persuaded thirty of his relatives and friends to come with him. They all came to the door of the monastery and asked for admission.
The good example of Bernard soon attracted many others to the monastery, and there was a need to erect a new monastery. In three years, Bernard became the head of a new community at Clairvaux (The Valley of Light).
At first, Bernard was very severe and expected too much of his monks, who became disheartened. Later he perceived his error, and led others with sweetness and mildness. Bernard personally founded sixty-eight monasteries and still had seven hundred monks in his own monastery.
Bernard was both contemplative and active. He was a mystic who had great devotion to Our Lady and promoted the “Memorare” prayer. He wrote warmly about the divine love of God, and his writings were recommended by Pope Pius XI as particularly suitable novitiate reading.
Bernard also made journeys defending the Catholic faith, and assisted popes, bishops and kings in public affairs.
Died in 1153, Bernard was canonized twenty-one after his death. He was declared Doctor of the Church in 1830.
The community of the Premonstratensians or Nobertines was founded by St. Norbert. As a subdeacon in his early thirties, Norbert was leading a worldly life. One day, he was thrown from a horse in a lightning storm. He was unconscious for more than an hour. When he awoke, his first words were, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” In response, Norbert heard in his heart, “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” He became a priest and obtained permission from the pope to become a wandering preacher.
He tried to reform the secular clergy, but his efforts failed. In 1120, Norbert retired to the valley of Premontre in northern France to prepare himself, by prayer and fasting, for the foundation of a new religious order. In a matter of months, Norbert had forty companions, and formed a new community. Members of this community combined a monastic form of life with the active ministry. They made religious profession on Christmas, 1121.
As a preacher, Norbert successfully combated a heretic, Tanchelm, who denied the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. In 1126, Norbert became Archbishop of Magdeburg. He started to reform his diocese, and several assassination attempts were made against him.
Norbert died on June 6, 1134 and was canonized in 1582.
St. Bruno was head of the Cathedral school at Rheims and chancellor of the diocese. In 1080, Bruno and six companions retired to the Chartreuse forest for a life of contemplative prayer and penance.
In 1084 the Carthusian order was founded. The monks lived as individual hermits in a monastic community.
In 1090, Bruno was brought to Rome by his former student, Pope Urban II, as Papal Adviser in the reform of the clergy.
Before his death in 1101, Bruno founded several Carthusian monasteries in southern Italy.
The motto of the Carthusians is, “While the world changes, the cross stands firm”.