“Be You as Living Stones Built Up, a Spiritual House, a Holy Priesthood”: Cistercian Exegesis, Reform, and the Construction of Holy Architectures
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CitationBaker, Timothy Michael. 2015. “Be You as Living Stones Built Up, a Spiritual House, a Holy Priesthood”: Cistercian Exegesis, Reform, and the Construction of Holy Architectures. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractThe development of the Cistercian Order in the twelfth century came as a product of a number of eleventh-century reforms. These reforms affected all strata of society, and they impacted the way in which medieval European Christians viewed themselves, their social, political, and theological structures, the world around them, and their relationship to the Christian narrative of salvation history and eschatology. The early Cistercians built their “new monastery” (novum monasterium) upon an apostolic foundation of austerity and poverty, informed by a “return” to the Rule of Benedict as the program for their daily ritual and liturgical lives. These Cistercians centered their monastic “way of life” (conversatio) around the pursuit of ascent into God, seeking to become “citizens among the saints and members of the household of God.”
The language of twelfth-century Cistercian ascension theology drew from a number of scriptural motifs for its expression. For example, Bernard of Clairvaux described his monastery as the “heavenly Jerusalem” and his monks as “Jerusalemites”; Aelred of Rievaulx spoke of “living stones,” building up the Temple of Jerusalem and rising up as sacred incense; and Helinand of Froidmont exhorted his monks to climb the mountain with Christ and to raise up within themselves a Temple of “living stones,” becoming bearers of Christ like Mary, his holy mother. In the case of these and other Cistercian exegetes, the goal remained the same: by interpreting Christian scripture and tradition, Cistercian theologians sought to transform the monastery into a sacred space, bridging the gap between the human world and the realm of God, so that they, and their brethren, might ascend “as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.”
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