PODCAST: Monastic Reform, Part 2 (The History of Christianity Podcast #213 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #213, titled, “Monastic Reform, Part 2.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is Galatians 2:20 which reads: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Philip Schaff. He said: “The history of the Church is the rise and progress of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Monastic Reform, Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Berno [BER-NO] ruled at Cluny [KLOO-NEE] until 926. Not much is known of those early years, for Cluny [KLOO-NEE] was only one of several monasteries that Berno [BER-NO] set out to found or to reform. But after his death the house was led by a series of able and highminded abbots who turned Cluny [KLOO-NEE] into the center of a vast monastic reform: Odo [OH-DOH] (926–944), Aymard [AY-MAARD] (944–965), Mayeul [MAH-YEE-UHL] (965–994), Odilo [OH-DIL-YOH] (994–1049), and Hugh (1049–1109). Six abbots of extraordinary dedication, ability, and length of life ruled Cluny [KLOO-NEE] for a total of two hundred years. Under their leadership, the ideals of monastic reform expanded ever farther. The seventh abbot, Pontius [PON-SHUS] (1109–1122) was not of the caliber of the rest. But his successor, Peter the Venerable (1122–1157) regained much of what had been lost in Pontius’s [PON-SHUS’s]time. One of the characteristics of the Cluniac [KLOO-NEE-ACK] reformation of monastic life was that all their houses had to have clear title to their property, thus freeing them from subjection to the whims of a feudal lord.

At first, the purpose of the monks of Cluny [KLOO-NEE] was simply to have a place where they could follow the Rule of Benedict in its entirety. But then their horizons widened, and the abbots of Cluny [KLOO-NEE], following Berno’s example, set out to reform other houses. Thus there appeared an entire network of “second Clunys,” [KLOO-NEEs] which were directly under the abbot of the main monastery. It was not an “order” in the strict sense, but rather a series of independent monasteries, all under the rule of a single abbot, who normally appointed the prior of each community. This reformation also gained way in women’s monastic communities, the first of which, Marcigny [MIIR-SE-NY], was founded in the eleventh century, when Hugh was abbot of Cluny. [KLOO-NEE]

The main occupation of these monks and nuns, as the Rule commanded, was the Divine Office, or the celebration of the hours of prayer and scripture reading that had been set by Benedict. To this the Cluniacs [KLOO-NEE-ACKs] devoted their undivided attention, to such a point that at the height of the movement 138 psalms were sung in a single day. This was done in the midst of ceremonies that became more and more complicated with the passing years, and therefore the Cluniacs [KLOO-NEE-ACKs] came to spend practically all their time at the Divine Office, neglecting the physical labor that was so important for Benedict. This departure from the Rule was justified by arguing that the monks’ function was to pray and to praise God, and that they could do this with more purity if they were not soiled in the fields.

At its high point, the reforming zeal of the Cluniacs [KLOO-NEE-ACKs] knew no bounds. After ordering the life of hundreds of monastic houses, they set their sights on the reformation of the entire church. This was the darkest hour of the papacy, when pontiffs succeeded one another with breathtaking frequency, and when popes and bishops had become feudal lords, involved in every intrigue that was brewing. In such circumstances the monastic ideal, as it was practiced at Cluny [KLOO-NEE], offered a ray of hope. Many who were not Cluniacs [KLOO-NEE-ACKs] joined in the goal of a general reformation following the monastic model. In contrast with the corruption that reigned in the highest offices of the church, the Cluniac [KLOO-NEE-ACK] movement seemed to many a miracle, a divine intervention to bring about a new dawn.

Next time, we will continue looking at “Monastic Reform.”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.