Mittwoch, 18. April 2012

Revolt among Lay Brothers

The decline in laybrother vocations in the 13th century is generally explained by the rising appeal of the mendicant orders. The decline in numbers had unpleasant side effects among the Cistercians: the laybrothers fell prey to chronic insubordination and even revolt against their superiors. Lax recruitment standards were supposed to raise the numbers, but weak personalities attracted by sloppy recruiting had even worse effects. Some research even asserts that alcohol abuse was a major problem in the descending quality of the laybotherhood.
The conversi in Cistercian exempla are often models of piety, yet they have to accept frequent corporal punishment and are not taken seriously as mature members of the community. Since they were not allowed to read or write, their personal development was stunted at the level they had attained before entering. Indeed, some conversi were rather well-established before entering, even aristocrats, and their vocations were different as a result. Still, if they weren't modest, they were subject to ridicule. Lay brothers were used by Cistercian storytellers to remind their readers of the grandeur wrought by simplicity and the risks of overweening pride. It was easy to make clear points in an anecdote about the lay brothers, because they were considered to be subordinate and their vocations were simple to identify.

Some bibliographical suggestions: Brian Noell, Expectation and Unrest among Cistercian Lay Brothers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in: Journal of Medieval History 32 (2006). James Donnelly, The Decline of the Medieval Cistercian Laybrotherhood (New York 1949). David Knowles, The revolt of the Lay Brothers of Sempringham, in: English Historical Review 50 (1935).

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