The Dictionnaire des auteurs cisterciens published in the 1970s lists some fifteen Cistercian writers active in the formative early twelfth century, a staggering one hundred thirty-eight for the full twelfth century, and another one hundred seventy-nine who lived on into the thirteenth century. Even allowing for some duplication in this count, readers will understand that a short article cannot introduce all of them. Only the best known Cistercian writers, and of them those whose works have been critically edited and/or are available in English, are presented here.
THE ‘FIRST FOUNDERS OF THIS CHURCH’: THE CISTERCIAN AUTHORS OF THE FORMATIVE YEARS
Stephen Harding (third abbot of Cîteaux, 1108/9–33, d. 1134) deserves pride of place in any list of Cistercian writers, even though his literary legacy is slight. It was Stephen who established the constitution, the Carta Caritatis and formed the character of what became the Cistercian Order.
An oblate at Sherborne Abbey in Dorset, the young Anglo-Saxon Harding left cloister and country in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, perhaps prey to ‘worldly nettles’ or perhaps wary of his new overlords. After studying and travelling through Europe, he re-entered monastic life at Molesme, recently founded by the Benedictine Robert and the hermit Alberic. In community discussions of Abbot Robert ’s plans for a another new foundation, as imaginatively depicted by William of Malmesbury, Stephen defended stricter fidelity to the Rule of Benedict as being in accord with reason.