PODCAST: Monastic Reform, Part 4 (The History of Christianity #215 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #215, titled, “Monastic Reform, Part 4.”

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 Luke 10:41-42 which reads: “And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Thomas Merton. He said: “By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Monastic Reform, Part 4” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The wealth that it accumulated was one of the main causes of the decline of the Cluniac [KLOO-NEE-ACK] movement. Inspired by the holiness of the monks, rich and poor alike made gifts to their monasteries. Cluny [KLOO-NEE] and its sister houses adorned their chapels with gold and jewels. Eventually, the simplicity of life that had been Benedict’s ideal was lost, and other movements of more recent foundation, and more insistent on poverty, took the place of Cluny [KLOO-NEE]. Likewise, one of the main causes of the final failure of the reformation of the eleventh century was the wealth of the church, which made it very difficult for it to set aside the intrigues of the powerful, and take the side of the poor and the oppressed.

Discontent with the ease of Cluny [KLOO-NEE] soon gave rise to other movements. Peter Damian, for instance, sought to outdo the Benedictine [BEH-NUH-DIK-TEEN] principle according to which a monk should be content with what is sufficient, and advocated living in extreme need. The next great movement of monastic reform, however, began late in the eleventh century, when Robert of Molesme [MOH-LES-MAH] founded a new monastery at Citeaux [SIT-OH]. Since the Latin name of this place was Cistertium [SUH-STUR-SHM], the movement came to be called “Cistercian [SUH-STUR-SHN].” Robert returned to his original monastery, but a community continued existing in Citeaux [SIT-OH], and eventually gave rise to a wave of monastic reform similar to that which had been led earlier by the abbots of Cluny [KLOO-NEE].

The great figure of the Cistercian [SUH-STUR-SHN] movement was Bernard of Clairvaux [CLARE-VOH], who was twenty-three years old when he presented himself at Citeaux [SIT-OH] (in 1112 or 1113) in the company of several relatives and friends, and requested admission to the community. He had decided to join that monastery, and before even presenting himself for admission he had convinced several others to follow him. This was an early indication of his great powers of persuasion, which would eventually be felt throughout Europe and would even send many to the Holy Land. When the number of monks at Citeaux [SIT-OH] grew too large, he was ordered to found a new community at Clairvaux [CLARE-VOH]. This grew rapidly, and soon became a center of reformation.

Bernard was first and foremost a monk. He was convinced that, as Jesus had told the two sisters at Bethany, Mary’s was a better lot than Martha’s, and all he wished to do was to spend his time meditating on the love of God, particularly as revealed in the humanity of Christ. But he soon found himself forced to take on the role of Martha. He was a famous preacher–so much so, that he came to be known as “Doctor Mellifluous [MUH-LI-FLOO-UHS],” for the words from his mouth were like honey. Examples of this are two hymns attributed to him and still popular: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” and “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.” His fame forced him to intervene as an arbitrator in many political and ecclesiastical disputes. His personality dominated his time, for he was at once the mystic devoted to the contemplation of the humanity of Christ, the power behind and above the papacy (especially when one of his monks became pope), the champion of ecclesiastical reform, the preacher of the Second Crusade, and the enemy of all theological innovation. Bernard’s fame gave the Cistercian [SUH-STUR-SHN] movement great impetus, and soon it came to play a role similar to that which Cluny [KLOO-NEE] had played more than a century before.

This brief overview of the two main movements of monastic reform from the tenth to the twelfth centuries has forced us to move ahead in our story. Therefore, let us return to where we had left our narrative at the end of the previous chapter, to the year 1048, when Odilo [OH-DIL-OH] was still abbot of Cluny [KLOO-NEE], and rejoin Bruno of Toul [TOOL] and his companions as they made their way to Rome.

Next time, we will begin looking at “Canonical and Papal 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.