During the retreat, I had several interesting conversations with Brian, who had introduced himself at our get-acquainted meeting as “a Dominican friar,” as Ralph had said he was “a Franciscan friar.” Since Guerric, a Trappist (or Cistercian) called himself a “monk,” I asked Brian to explain the difference.

IMG_1022With Abbey along as our guide (look closely at this photo), we went into the woods across from the monastery while Brian filled me in. Monks (and nuns) live in monasteries, from the Latin monos, alone. They may grow crops for food and to sell to their neighbors, but their primary purpose is prayer and contemplation. Friars (from the French frère, brother) and sisters live in the world, teaching and preaching and performing service. Because they may receive payment from others for their work, they are known as mendicants, from the Latin word for begging. Dominicans and Franciscans are mendicant orders; Trappists are contemplatives. Dominicans after their names used the initials OP, Order of Preachers. Franciscan use FM, Friars Minor, a reflection of St. Francis’s aspiring to simplicity and humility. Trappists use OCSO, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance.

Some rough notes I made in the visitors center library:

  • The first monks were the Essenes in the second century BC
  • St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers, 270 AD
  • Benedict (480-547), an Italian, organized 12 monasteries. Monte Cassino was the birthplace of western monasticism. The Rule of Benedict prescribed monastic life, emphasizing common sense, moderate asceticism, and prayer
  • 1012, Romuald reformed Benedict’s Rule and created the Camaldolese
  • 1084 Bruno of Cologne founded La Grand Chartreuse (Charterhouse), the Carthusians
  • Abbey of Citeaux, 1098, Cistercians
  • Bernard of Clairveaux (1090-1153) founded the motherhouse of 68 Cistercian monasteries
  • Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), founded Order of Friars Minor
  • Dominic (1170-1221), a Spaniard, in 1215 founded the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, harmonizing intellectual life with popular needs
  • 17th century, Abbot de Rancé (1626-1700) reformed Cistercianism to created the Trappists (from La Trappe, France)

St. Francis got permission to found his order from Pope Innocent III (1160-1216). The Encyclopedia Britannica says Innocent “reformed the Roman Curia, reestablished and expanded the pope’s authority over the Papal States, worked tirelessly to launch Crusades to recover the Holy Land, combated heresy in Italy and southern France, shaped a powerful and original doctrine of papal power within the church and in secular affairs, and in 1215 presided over the fourth Lateran Council, which reformed many clerical and lay practices within the church.”

Innocent’s life is interestingly tied up with the life of King John, who misruled England while his brother, Richard the Lionhearted, was off on the Third Crusade. (Think Robin Hood.) The son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (when you think of them, think The Lion in Winter), John refused to recognize as Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, Innocent’s old friend and nominee. Innocent excommunicated John, who tried and failed to mount a European military campaign. In 1215, the weakened John was forced to sign Magna Carta.

The document led to a civil war that became an international one when France invaded England. Innocent viewed Magna Carta as an attempt at insurrection against royal authority and, at John’s request, declared it null and void. John died of illness in 1216 and his son Henry III defeated the rebel barons. Magna Carta was reissued and eventually served as the basis for the English system of common law.

One more thing about Innocent: he died of malaria in 1216, age 55. His body was stolen, then recovered, and buried in Perugia. His bones were eventually stored in a box in a cupboard with those of two other popes. In 1891, a priest brought them to Rome for burial in the Lateran. On a train. In a suitcase.

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