Robert of Molesme was 70 years old in 1098 when he left his place in the prosperous Abbey of Molesme at the head of 20 beloved sons to seek a new life in the wilderness of Citeaux. Some contemporaries accused Robert of instability—this was his fourth or fifth move. But later ages in canonizing him have honored his undying zeal, which brought forth a monastic order that flourishes today, over 800 years later. Robert’s sanctity shines forth in the way he obeyed the pope’s order and returned to Molesme only a year after he launched what was to be the fulfillment of his life’s dream and labor.

Robert’s work was carried forth by his disciples—first Alberic, and then the Englishman, Stephen Harding, who one day welcomed into the monastery Bernard of Fontaines and 30 companions. It was Stephen who imparted to Bernard the spirit of Saint Robert and Robert’s master, Benedict of Nursia. The permanence of Robert’s undertaking was assured once it was commanded by the gifts for leadership, writing, and sanctity with which God had endowed Bernard.

Cistercians today, in the last years of this 20th century, in nearly 150 monasteries scattered throughout the world, still seek to live Robert’s "stricter observance of Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries. In this time of ongoing renewal the monks and nuns continuously seek to discern between what are the adaptations to these times and to various cultures that are necessary to live authentically the evangelical way laid out in the Rule, and what might be simply compromises of its life-giving practice.

Benedict, a monk of the West venerated equally by Orthodox and Catholics, has, through his Rule, exercised the most powerful of prevailing influences. Most monks and nuns of the West still follow it, ...

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