The Great Beginning of Citeaux: A Narrative of the Beginning of the Cisterian Order; The Exordium Magnum of Conrad of Eberbach
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In the closing decades of the twelfth century, the Cistercian Order had become an important ecclesiastical and economic power in Europe. Yet it had lost its influential spokesman, Bernard of Clairvaux, and as the century drew to a close, religious sensibilities were changing. The new mendicant orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, and the impulses they embodied, were to shift the center of gravity in Christian religious life for centuries to come.
It was in this transitional period that Conrad of Eberbach gradually - between the 1180s and 1215 - compiled the Exordium magnum cisterciense: The Great Beginning of Citeaux. It is a book of history and lore, often with miraculous stories, meant to continue a great spiritual tradition, and it is also a book meant to justify and repair the Order. The Exordium magnum was in part an effort to provide a historical and formative context for those who were to be Cistercians in the thirteenth century.
Conrad's combination of a historical sensibility and the edifying exempla makes the Exordium magnum a remarkably innovative book. Its unique combination of genres - narratio and exempla - is conceivable only within the intellectual world of the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries, before exempla collections came to be complied solely for edification or use in sermons. The Great Beginning of Citeaux is a revealing book and an excellent place to begin more detailed study of the Cistercian Order between 1174 and the middle of the thirteenth century.
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"Benedicta Ward and Paul Savage have done a great service in making this important text easily accessible to students, scholars, and all those interested in the Cistercians and their stories. They offer a lucid translation of Conrad of Eberbach's difficult prose and provide extensive commentary that places Conrads work in its monastic context."
---Martha G. Newman, PhD, Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, Author of The Boundaries of Charity: Cistercian Culture and Ecclesiastical Reform, 1098-1180
"The Great Beginning of Citeaux is a rich treasure trove of stories, visions, and miracles that should be a mandatory reading for all those interested in twelfth- and thirteenth-century spirituality, history, and culture. The translation is superb, and the introduction very helpful for general readers and scholars alike."
---Stefano Mula, PhD, Director, Comparative Literature Program, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT
About the Authors
Conrad of Eberbach entered monastic life at Clairvaux and died in 1221 as the abbot of Eberbach in Germany.
Benedicta Ward is Reader in the History of Christian Spirituality in the University of Oxford. Her most recent book is Anselm of Canterbury: His Life and Legacy. She is a member of the Anglican monastic community of the Sisters of the Love of God.
Paul M. Savage holds a PhD in medieval history from the University of Notre Dame. He teaches history and economics in Salt Lake City, UT.
E. Rozanne Elder is Professor of History and Director of the Centre for Cistercian and Monastic Studies at Western Michigan University.
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