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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: March 2010

3 - Religious poverty and the search for perfection



Poverty, whether spiritual or material through renunciation of wealth, lay at the core of the twelfth century's search for religious perfection and its embrace of apostolic ideals. Monks, nuns, canons, canonesses, lay people and dissidents espoused the same scripture-based ideals. Lay people also aspired to lead a life marked by poverty, preaching, chastity and manual labour. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians at times dominate the telling of twelfth-century religious history and overshadow Benedictine monasticism. The Cathars, as criticised by Evervin of Steinfeld and later writers, demonstrated remarkable austerity and command of Scripture. An anonymous chronicler of Laon, writing around 1180, compared the Humiliati and the Waldensians for their rejection of oath-taking. Walter Simons' study of beguines in the Low Countries signals the region's advanced level of urbanisation and literacy and women's contribution to economic production. The ideals of poverty and religious perfection motivated twelfth-century Christians across Europe.
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