Famous Trappist Monks: What Trappist Monks is Known For?

Thomas Merton was one of the famous Trappist monks. He efficiently displayed a lot of the behavioral attributes of Trappist monks in his lifetime and he did in such a way that he was able to reach the peak of it. Even as a writer, Merton devoted a considerable part of his themes on Trappist beliefs and convictions.

Another very known Trappist monk is Thomas Keating. He was also an American Catholic monk and priest of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. He was drawn to the mystics and came to believe that the Scriptures call people into a personal relationship with God. In this very detailed article, you will be taken through the outlines of the famous Trappist monks: what Trappist monks is known for?

Famous Trappist Monks: What Trappist Monks is Known for?

Trappist monks are formally known as members of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance and members of the reformed branch of Roman Catholic Cistercians founded by Armand-Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé in France in 1664. Armand-Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé was a converted courtier who governed the Cistercian abbey of La Trappe in France and transformed it into a community that practiced extreme austerity of diet, penitential exercises, and absolute silence.

Historical Background of the Trappist Monks

As the Catholic Church became more organized, monasteries that organized themselves around the Rule of St. Benedict became known as Benedictine. There was no overarching order as we understand it now, but loose confederations were formed between autonomous Benedictine communities to facilitate communication.

The Rule of St. Benedict is strict. Life lived according to its precepts is one of rigorous self-denial. The Rule forbids private property and commands absolute and unhesitating obedience to superiors. The quantity and quality of food is regulated. In addition to a demanding, around-the-clock schedule of prayers, vigils, and masses, monks are required to perform no less than five hours of manual labor daily. Although there is no vow of silence, speech is seen as a temptation to exercise one’s own will instead of the will of God and is discouraged.

With the passage of time, many monasteries loosened their adherence to The Rule. This led to splinter groups as more vehement monks sought to restore the order to strict observance. One of these was the Order of Cistercians, which was founded in 1098 by Benedictine abbot, Robert of Molesme. He observed churches becoming wealthy from rents, tithes, and feudal rights. The wealth and power of the abbots had entangled them in secular affairs and their monks had abandoned manual labor to serfs. Robert left his abbey with twenty supporters to institute a restoration of the simplicity and rigor of the Rule of St. Benedict. They founded the Cîteaux Abbey south of Dijon, France.

Famous Trappist Monks: What Trappist Monks is Known For?

The Cistercians, centered in Cîteaux, became the most powerful order and the chief religious influence in Western Europe. As with the Benedictines before them, this newfound power led to a relaxation in the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, which in turn led to more splintering. In 1664 a reform movement was begun by the abbot of the La Trappe Abbey in the French province of Normandy. This movement grew into the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which was recognized by the pope in 1892 as an independent order. The order is commonly called “Trappist” after the La Trappe Abbey.

In 1792 the monks were ejected from La Trappe, and a number of them, led by Dom Augustine de Lestrange, settled at Val-Sainte in Fribourg, Switzerland, where they adopted an even more rigid life and made several foundations before their expulsion in 1798. Long years of wandering in Russia and Germany were followed in 1814 by a return to La Trappe; they were the first religious order to revive after the French Revolution and, at the death of Lestrange in 1827, numbered 700.

By the early 21st century there were abbeys worldwide, including several in England, Scotland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa. The three existing congregations of Trappists were united by Pope Leo XIII and became the independent Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. They follow the primitive custom of Cîteaux, with an emphasis on silence and austerity but without the rigid regulations of the early Trappists. After World War II their growth was particularly notable in France and the United States.

Famous Trappist Monks: What Trappist Monks is Known For?

2. Modern Trappists’ Traditions

Modern day Trappists still seek to live according to the strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. They feel called to a life of simplicity, hiddenness, work, prayer, service, and hospitality. Monks and nuns live in autonomous communities, set apart from ordinary life. Their days are organized around prayer, study, and work.

A common misconception about Trappist monastic life is that the monks take a vow of silence. This has never been the case among the Benedictines. However, one expression of a monk’s fidelity to the faith is maintaining an “atmosphere of silence.” This means controlling one’s tongue. As mentioned earlier, unnecessary speech is seen as a temptation to place one’s own will above that of God. It is also a distraction from prayerful contemplation.

Thus, speech is discouraged. Meals are always taken in silence and according to the Rule of St. Benedict, are accompanied by readings. But most monasteries do recognize three reasons for speaking: functional communication at work or in community dialogues, spiritual exchange with one’s superiors or with a particular member of the community on different aspects of one’s personal life, and spontaneous conversation on special occasions.

Although Trappists are now connected within a more structured order, monasteries are still autonomous. The requirement that they be self-sustaining stands. Each monastery still needs an industry to provide for its basic material needs. Today these monastic industries span a wide range of products and services.

According to the website of the ITA, there are monasteries producing food products such as bread and cheese, wine, liquors, body care products, cleaning products, religious products, and other items such as candles, banners, and greeting cards. And of course there are the ones that brew beer.

There are currently ten recognized Trappist breweries. They are Achel, Orval, Scourmont-Lez-Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren in Belgium; Koningshoeven and Zundert in the Netherlands; and Stift Engelszell in Austria. The newest, and the first in the United States, is the Abbey of St. Joseph in Spencer, Massachusetts.

To generate income, most Trappist monasteries produce artisanal goods, the most famous of which is Trappist beer.

Famous Trappist Monks: What Trappist Monks is Known For?

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