The ending of centuries of Benedictine predominance on European religious life in the late eleventh century happened just as the pace of social change and growth within Western civilisation was quickening.
Here was a fertile ground for not one new formulation of religious life, but two.
One was to be more strict a life than the Benedictine norm of the day, and the other less strict.
In the brief period between the years 1075 and 1125 these two new and distinct religious movements germinated and blossomed. Both have survived to the present day.
Firstly, the Cistercians "reformed" Benedictinism by undertaking a stricter observance of the Rule of Benedict
The Cistercians as much as suggested that many of the Benedictines in the eleventh century had effectively and comfortably relaxed, especially through the security, social status and accumulated wealth that was enjoyed particularly in the monasteries that were large and established for hundreds of years.
The second new movement was the Canons Regular (usually following the Rule of Augustine
, and hence called Augustinians Canons.)
They are not to be confused with the Order of Saint Augustine of today, which was to begin as a completely distinct entity via papal edicts
of the year 1256.
As had been happening in Europe during previous centuries, in the middle of the eleventh century communities of priests formed around the monastic traditions of Augustine, who as a priest and as a bishop in Hippo have lived in an intentional community.
As can be seen in the Rule of Augustine, the basis of his way of living in community was the ideal early Christian community as described in Chapters 2 and 4 of the Acts of the Apostles.
Pope Urban II, who was in office from 1088 to 1099, wrote of two forms of religious life: the monastic (like the Benedictines and Cistercians) and the canonical (like the Augustinian canons). He likened the monks to the role of Mary, and the canons to that of her sister, Martha.
Here the contrast was plainly delineated. The monks sought to reflect supernatural order and stability within their monasteries, with excellent examples of worship, farming, medical care, librarianship, learning, etc.
The canons worked in the disorder of the towns and cities, where the worship, medicines, education and the skills of the enclosed Benedictines were not present to the growing numbers of urban dwellers.
By the year 1125 hundreds of communities of Canons had sprung up in Western Europe. Usually they were quite autonomous of one another, and varied in their ministries.
Their flexibility, sudden appearance and sometimes also their sudden demise, stood them in high relief to the stability of the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries.
(Continued on the next page.)