The convent of Cluny,589 located twelve miles northwest of Mâcon, France, stood at the height of its influence in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Founded in 910 by Duke William of Aquitaine, and directed by a succession of wise abbots, it gained an eminence, second only to that of Monte Cassino among the monasteries of the West, and became the nursery of a monastic revival which spread over Europe from the Adriatic to Scotland.
No religious locality in the Latin church enjoyed a purer fame than Cluny. Four of its abbots, Odo, Majolus, Odilo, and Hugh, attained the dignity of canonized saints. Three popes were among its monks, Gregory VII.,590 Urban II. , and Pascal II., and the antipope Anacletus II. Gelasius II., driven from Rome, 1118, took refuge within its walls and died there lying on ashes and there was buried. The cardinals who elected Calixtus II., his successor, met at Cluny. Kings joined with popes in doing it honor.
The Cluniacs re-enforced the rule of St. Benedict in the direction of greater austerity. In Lorraine and Germany the Cluny influence began to be felt after the monastic reform, led by such men as Abbot Gerhard of Brogne in the tenth century, had run its course.591 Such monastic leaders as William, abbot of St. Benignus at Dijon, Poppo, abbot of Stablo and Limburg, and William of Hirschau represented the Benedictine rule and were in full sympathy with Cluny. Hirschau in the Black Forest became a centre of Cluniac influence in Southern Germany and one of the chief centres of intelligence of the age.592 Its abbot William, 1069–91, a vigorous disciplinarian and reformer, had received a thorough scholastic training at the convent of St. Emmeram, Regensburg. He was in correspondence with Anselm and visited Gregory VII. in Rome about the year 1075. The convent became a Gregorian stronghold in the controversy over the right of investiture. With the rule of Cluny before him William, in 1077, drew up a similar code for Hirschau, known as the Constitutiones Hirsaugienses, and introduced the white dress of the Cluniacs which gave rise to the sneer that the monks were cleansing their garments instead of their hearts.593 Under William the Conqueror the Cluniacs established themselves in England at Barnstaple. William thought so well of them that he offered to one of their number, Hugh, the supervision of the religious affairs of the realm. The second house in England was the important establishment, St. Pancras at Lewes, set up by Gundrada and the Earl of Warren, the Conqueror’s son-in-law, 1077.594 Bermondsey, Wenlock, and Thetford were other important houses. The Cluniac houses in England were called priories and their heads priors or deans.595 Hugo, who held the position of abbot of Cluny for sixty years, 1048–1109, was the friend of Gregory VII. and during his administration Cluny was visited by Urban II., one of Hugo’s disciples, after the adjournment of the synod of Clermont. Hugo began the erection of the great basilica in 1089, which was dedicated by Innocent II. in 1131. It was the next greatest church after St. Peter’s in the West.
Under Pontius, the seventh abbot, 1109–22, the current of decay ran deep and strong. The convent had become rich in lands and goods. The plain furnishings had been discarded for rich appointments, and austerity of habits gave way to self-indulgence. Papal favors were heaped upon Pontius, and Pascal, his godfather, sent him the dalmatic.596 Calixtus II. put his own ring on Pontius’ finger, gave him the right to exercise the prerogatives of cardinal, and the monks of Cluny the right to celebrate service with closed doors, while the interdict was in force in the diocese.
Pontius gave way completely to worldly ambition, and assumed the title of archabbot, which was the exclusive prerogative of the head of the convent of Monte Cassino. Charges were made against him by the bishop of Macon and, forced to resign, he set his face towards Jerusalem as a pilgrim. The pilgrimage did not arouse any feelings of submission, and on his return the deposed abbot made an effort to seize his former charge. He forced the convent gates and compelled the monks to swear him fealty. The sacred vessels of gold and silver were melted down and divided among the wild intruders. The devastation was then carried beyond the convent walls to the neighboring estates. The anathema was laid upon Pontius by Honorius II., and, summoned to Rome, he was thrown into prison, where he died, impenitent, 1126. This was one of the most notorious cases of monastic malversation of office in the Middle Ages.
Peter the Venerable had been elected abbot of Cluny during Pontius’ absence in the East and filled the office for nearly forty years, 1122–57. He was the friend of St. Bernard, one of the most eminent of the mediaeval monks and one of the most attractive ecclesiastical personages of his age. Born in Auvergne and trained in a Cistercian convent, he was only twenty-eight when he was made abbot. Under his administration Cluny regained its renown. In addition to the study of the Bible, Peter also encouraged the study of the classics, a course which drew upon him bitter attacks. He visited the Cluniac houses abroad in England and Spain.
On the tenth anniversary of his official primacy, Peter welcomed two hundred priors and twelve hundred and twelve members of the order at Cluny. Four hundred and sixty monks constituted the family of the mother house. No less than two thousand convents are said to have acknowledged the Cluniac rule, two of which were at Jerusalem and Mt. Tabor. In 1246 Peter introduced through a General Chapter seventy six new rules, re-enforcing and elaborating the Benedictine code already in force. 597 The use of meat was entirely forbidden except to the weak and infirm, and also the use of all confections made with honey, spices, and wine.
To the labors of abbot Peter added the activity of an author. He wrote famous tracts to persuade the Jews and Mohammedans, and against the heretic Peter de Bruys. His last work was on miracles,598in which many most incredible stories of the supernatural are told as having occurred in convents.
It was while this mild and wise man held office, that Abaelard knocked at Cluny for admission and by his hearty permission spent within its walls the last weary hours of his life.
During Peter’s incumbency St. Bernard made his famous attack against the self-indulgence of the Cluniacs. Robert, a young kinsman of Bernard, had transferred his allegiance from the Cistercian order to Cluny. Bernard’s request that he be given up Pontius declined to grant. What his predecessor had declined to do, Peter did. Perhaps it was not without feeling over the memory of Pontius’ action that Bernard wrote, comparing599 the simple life at Citeaux with the laxity and luxury prevailing at Cluny.
This tract, famous in the annals of monastic controversial literature, Bernard opened by condemning the lack of spirituality among his own brethren, the Cistercians. "How can we," he exclaims, "with our bellies full of beans and our minds full of pride, condemn those who are full of meat, as if it were not better to eat on occasion a little fat, than be gorged even to belching with windy vegetables!" He then passed to an arraignment of the Cluniacs for self-indulgence in diet, small talk, and jocularity. At meals, he said, dish was added to dish and eggs were served, cooked in many forms, and more than one kind of wine was drunk at a sitting. The monks preferred to look on marble rather than to read the Scriptures. Candelabra and altar cloths were elaborate. The art and architecture were excessive. The outward ornamentations were the proof of avarice and love of show, not of a contrite and penitent heart. He had seen one of them followed by a retinue of sixty horsemen and having none of the appearance of a pastor of souls. He charged them with taking gifts of castles, villas, peasants, and slaves, and holding them against just complainants.600 In spite of these sharp criticisms Peter remained on terms of intimacy with Bernard. He replied without recrimination, and called Bernard the shining pillar of the Church. A modification of the rule of St. Benedict, when it was prompted by love, he pronounced proper. But he and Bernard, he wrote, belonged to one Master, were the soldiers of one King, confessors of one faith. As different paths lead to the same land, so different customs and costumes, with one inspiring love, lead to the Jerusalem above, the mother of us all. Cluniacs and Cistercians should admonish one another if they discerned errors one in the other, for they were pursuing after one inheritance and following one command. He called upon himself and Bernard to remember the fine words of Augustine, "have charity, and then do what you will, "habe charitatem et fac quicquid vis.601 What could be more admirable? Where shall we go for a finer example of Christian polemics?
After Peter’s death the glory of Cluny declined.602 Six hundred years later, 1790, the order was dissolved by the French Government. The Hotel de Cluny, the Cluniac house in Paris, once occupied by the abbot, now serves as a museum of Mediaeval Art and Industry under the charge of the French government.603
The piety of Western Christendom owes a lasting debt to Cluny for the hymn "Jerusalem the Golden," taken from the de contemptu mundi written by Bernard of Cluny, a contemporary of Peter the Venerable and St. Bernard of Clairvaux.604