One newly founded order broke with the rule of Benedict, finding its inspiration in a letter of Augustine is that prescribed simply that monks share all their property, pray together at regular intervals, dress alike, and obey a superior. Some of the “Augustinians,” as they called themselves, interpreted these general rules severely, living in silence, performing manual labor, eating and drinking sparingly, and singing psalms; others ate meat, conversed among themselves, and did not insist on manual labor.
Often beginning as small informal foundations, the Augustinians attracted modest donations from relatively modest donors. Unlike Cluny, with its vast collections of buildings crowned by a great and splendid church, the Augustinian foundations were simple and humble. The Augustinians preached, baptized, heard confessions, and helped the poor unobtrusively. They multiplied rapidly, and in the thirteenth century there were thousands of Augustinian houses in England and on the Continent.
Founded only a little later, the Cistercians abandoned the world instead of living in it. Their original house, Citeaux (Cistercium) in Burgundy, lay in a dismal wasteland far from the distractions of the world. There they pioneered land reclamation and launched a period of agricultural expansion. By the twelfth century the Cistercians were looked to for their knowledge of how to make previously uncultivated lands, often swamps, productive. They considered themselves the only true Benedictines, vet the self-denial, poverty, and wholly spiritual life that the Cistercians adopted was often seen by their contemporaries as arrogant, worldly, and even greedy.
Perhaps the best-known Cistercian leader was Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1091-1153), who in 1115 led a band of Cistercians to a new and remote site from which he influenced worldly affairs to a remarkable degree, preaching for a Second Crusade and attacking the scholastic method of teaching. As he wrote, “There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they themselves be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are also some who seek knowledge in order to edify others. That is love.” He launched significant reforms in teaching, the observance of church rules, and attitudes toward worship.
In the end, the Cistercians, too, changed. Display conquered austerity, and aristocratic traditions quenched humility. By the thirteenth century, great Cistercian monasteries were wealthy centers of production. The expensive arts of architecture and sculpture were lavished on their buildings. These Cistercian monasteries had become great corporations, thoroughly tied into the increasingly complex web of medieval economic life.