|Introduction : genesis of the trappists (2/2)|
- the birth of the strict observance -
Ongoing internal quarrels led finally, in 1666, to the creation of two observances, one mitigated, the other more rigorous and known as “strict observance.”
Among the partisans of a return to the primitive observances, the abbot Armand Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé (1626-1700) had a prominent role in the Cistercian history.
Rancé was a partisan of a return to the sources, advocating a strict ascetic life. Rancé had a conception of the ideal monastic life which was closer to the lifestyle of the fathers of the Desert than to the one of Cîteaux. Commendatory abbot of the abbey of La Trappe in Soligny (Orne, France), since 1663, he encountered resistance from the other Cistercian abbeys in his wish of return to the sources. Facing this, he developed a rule of a very austere life in his monastery, interpreting the rule of Saint Benedict, being inspired by the primitive monastic tradition. The community of La Trappe remained interdependent and enthusiastic; the first “Trappists” were born. Later, Dom Augustin de Lestrange integrated the abbey of La Trappe.
In 1790, when the decree of “la Constituante” appeared, forbidding the right to join a religious order, De Lestrange took the position that the community could exile itself, in order to be safeguarded. Sheltered in the monastery of Val Sainte (Switzerland), and in front of the multitude of applicants, the community spread in many new places, in particular Westmalle. Dom Augustin, recognized by the Pope in 1794 as abbot of the abbey of “la Val Sainte de l’ordre de Citeaux et de la congrégation de la Trappe,” felt that this pontifical seal of approval gave him license to extend his authority over both men and then nuns. The Congregation of La Trappe was almost a reality.
The exile continued in other countries, until the situation was regularized so that the community could, around 1815, reinstate the abbey of La Trappe. Dom De Lestrange was sometimes accused of authoritarianism, and had to justify his positions in Rome. Some reproached him for having added austerity to the already very austere observance and to have broken the spirit of the Charter of Charity. Clearly, though, he was the savior of his Order and its restoration in France.
In 1847, three congregations of Trappists coexisted, including those of Darfeld and La Trappe, which respected different observances (following the rules of Rancé for Darfeld, and following the old tradition of Citeaux for La Trappe). At the end of the nineteenth century, under Pope Leon XIII, the various congregations wanted to unite, but separate from the remainder of the Order. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (currently named “Trappists”) was created on December 8, 1892. This new Order, although pertaining to the Cistercian family, was separate from the Order of the Cistercians of the Common Observance, thereafter referred to as “Cistercians.”