Question: "What is the Cistercian Order?"
Answer: The Cistercian Order is a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that began in Citeaux, France, in 1098. A group of monks became dissatisfied with their current monastery, the Abbey of Molesme, and set out to create a new one that would be more faithful to the teachings of Saint Benedict. Led by Saint Robert of Molesme, these monks desired to find a place where they could live out their ideals more freely.
The ideals of these monks included the following:
• a greater balance between prayer and serious work
• a greater emphasis on detaching from worldly interests
• a communal lifestyle based upon that of the first Christians in Acts 2:42–47 and 4:32–35
• a new and more authentic way of life that effectively united monastic tradition with modern culture
Two distinct branches have emerged from this original goal: the “Common Observance” Cistercians and the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. Those who observe the latter form of Cistercian teachings are commonly known as Trappists, named after the La Trappe, Normandy, monastery. Both branches have men’s and women’s monasteries located throughout the world. However, the only Cistercian abbey in the United States, called Our Lady of Dallas, is located in Irving, Texas. (An abbey is a building or buildings that house a community of monks or nuns.) Most Cistercians are committed to education and the furtherance of Benedictine life, with the Trappists focused more on strict observance of monastic tradition and the Common Observance Cistercians dedicated to interweaving tradition with culture.
As with everything Catholic, the Cisterician Order mixes biblical truth with human tradition to form a religion that only slightly resembles the life Jesus has called us to live. Religion and religious orders offer a certain comfort through legalistic ritual. Human beings love boxes to check, as demonstrated by Nicodemus (John 3:1–21) and the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16). We feel secure in our standing with God when we have tangible evidence of our own righteousness, as measured by an established religious leader who purports to speak for God. But Jesus saved us by grace (Titus 3:5) and calls us to live by the law of liberty (James 2:12), not a religious code. It appears that the Cistercian Order, as with all religious orders, bypasses that personal liberty in an effort to offer to God what He does not require (see Micah 6:8).