Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Separate but Equal: Cistercian Lay Brothers, 1120-1350

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Separate but Equal: Cistercian Lay Brothers, 1120-1350

Article excerpt

Separate but Equal: Cistercian Lay Brothers, 1120-1350. By James France. [Cistercian Studies, No. 246.] (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, an imprint of Liturgical Press. 2012. Pp. xxviii, 372. $39.95 paperback. ISBN 978-087907-246-9.)

In this study James France has brought together a variety of references to medieval Cistercian lay brothers. Especially useful is his analysis of the exemplum literature's stories about lay brothers and the variation and development of stories about them in the writings of such authors as Conrad of Eberbach and Caesarius of Heisterbach, but also in more obscure exemplum collections and in lives of abbots and saints. In this, it is a guide to the opinions about lay brothers among Cistercian monks who wrote or read these stories, but it also reveals how much more often it is lay brothers rather than monks who are the vehicle for the discussion of sin and salvation. Indeed, although France does not say this outright, it appears that using lay brothers for such discussion is evidence of their unequal status-that it was acceptable for monks to describe lay brothers as sinning, because those lay brothers were lesser beings, powerless to debate or respond to such characterizations.

The volume contains several other very helpful clarifications to our understanding of the distinctions that Cistercians made between monks and lay brothers. France describes how and where lay brothers' quarters were added to standard monastery ground plans in Cistercian abbey architecture. …

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