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Cluny: an experiment

The mistake was made to insist on one and the same body of customs for all, but the failure to realize this impossible desire by no means meant the failure of the work at Aix. On the contrary, on all sides there was awakened a general willingness to reach a higher level of monastic observance, and history records that this willingness was not unfruitful in results.

A century later Benedict of Aniane's schemes were born again. This time it was at Cluny, perhaps the most celebrated abbey in Benedictine annals. This famous monastery was founded in 910 by William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, and under a succession of abbots of extraordinary eminence and sanctity of life, soon attained a position of splendor and influence not surpassed by any religious institution in the whole history of Christendom.

Possessed of enormous wealth, Cluny covered all Europe with its dependent Priories, whose rulers were directly subject to the abbot of the Mother House. Being thus the immediate Superior of all the Cluniac monks throughout the world, the Abbot of Cluny was a person of vast power and importance, whose opinion was sought for on every question by rulers and subjects, alike in Church and State.

Cluny in fact became, next to Rome, the center of the Christian world; and after the Pope himself, the Abbot of Cluny was undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Church. But the great Burgundian convent was famous for other reasons besides those already mentioned. Its influence for good was exerted not only in regard to the reform of Benedictine Monasticism, but also with reference to the urgent need of reformation then existing throughout the Universal Church.

The chief danger to religion at the time, due in great part to feudal principles, was lay-investiture with its inevitable accompaniments of simony, and the frequent disregard of the law of celibacy among certain of the clergy. To combat these evils the Holy See found it necessary to exercise, to a much greater degree than it had hitherto done, that authority which by divine ordinance belonged to it, over all the Churches of the Christian world.

Centralization under the Pope, the dependence of the various Churches on the See of Rome, the acceptance of her decrees and canons in matters of discipline, as well as of faith, were the only remedies for abuses which threatened the very existence of religion. To these objects the Cluniacs devoted their energies with praiseworthy zeal. Their special constitution was a pattern for the Church's government, as it was felt that the Pope should hold the same relationship to the bishops of the world, as the Abbot of Cluny to his priors.

The great reformers, Leo IX and Hildebrand, the latter himself a monk, were ardent disciples of the Cluniac system, and the enormous extent of good which they effected in the cause of religion and morality has hardly yet been realized in its entirety by writers or students of the times. What can be said with certainty is, that the inspiration, the support, and the ultimate success of all their labors were due in great measure to Cluny.

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