Order Of Cistercians Of The Strict Observance

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Today, December 8, 1892, the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or O.C.S.O. (Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae), was formally decreed, though you may know them by another name: Trappists. Pope Leo XIII called a plenary general chapter in Rome, and with Cardinal Mazzella as president, the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars negotiated and created the new order, and the decree was titled the “General of the Order of the Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe.”

Essentially, it’s “a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monastics who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. A branch of the Order of Cistercians, they have communities of both monks and nuns, commonly referred to as Trappists and Trappistines, respectively.” The Cistercians began around 1098, but the Trappist subgroup within them is only 124 years old.

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The monastery at Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval.

Here’s their basic history:

The order takes its name from La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe, located in the French province of Normandy. A reform movement began there in 1664, in reaction to the relaxation of practices in many Cistercian monasteries. Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, originally the commendatory abbot of La Trappe, led the reform. As commendatory abbot, de Rancé was a layman who obtained income from the monastery but had no religious obligations. After a conversion of life between 1660 and 1662, de Rancé formally joined the abbey and became its regular abbot in 1663. In 1892 the reformed “Trappists” broke away from the Cistercian order and formed an independent monastic order with the approval of the pope.

As of the beginning of this year, there were 102 Trappist monasteries worldwide, including seventeen in the United States. Within the order, there are 681 priests and 1,693 total persons living and working at the monasteries. Of those monasteries, about twenty of them are regulated by the International Trappist Association, which provides a protected trademark for products made and sold by Trappist monasteries. Products made by Trappists vary widely, and just in the category of food include bread, mushrooms, chocolates, jam, pea soup, honey, cheese, biscuits, liquors, olive oil, wine, and, of course, beer.

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The brewery at the Abbey of Saint-Remy in Rochefort.

There used to be fewer, but with a number of recent additions, there are now a dozen Trappist breweries listed on the ITA website from six countries. Belgium still has the most, with Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren. The Netherlands has two, with La Trappe and Zundert. Then there’s one a piece from Austria (Stift Engelszell), France (Mont des Cats), Italy (Tre Fontane) and the United States (Spencer).

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The Abbey of Saint-Remy in Rochefort.

Here’s another short description of them, from the Free Dictionary:

Trappists, popular name for an order of Roman Catholic monks, officially (since 1892) the Reformed Cistercians or Cistercians of the Stricter Observance. They perpetuate the reform begun at La Trappe, Orne dept., France, by Armand de Rancé (c.1660). The reformer’s aim was to restore primitive Cistercian (hence also primitive Benedictine) life; actually the Trappists surpassed both St. Benedict and St. Bernard in austerity. The reform was acclaimed in the world, but many Cistercians resisted it. The whole order was affected, but some abbeys never accepted the reform as such. The life of Trappists is one of strict seclusion from the world. Working hours are devoted to common and private worship, labor (often manual), and study; there is no recreation, meat is eaten only by the sick, and silence is observed except under unusual circumstances, but not by vow. Lay brothers do much of the farming, a peculiarly Cistercian practice. In the 19th and 20th cent. the Trappists shared in the revival of monasticism and expanded greatly. There are 12 abbeys in the United States. The head of the order, the abbot general of Cîteaux, lives in Rome.

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The gate at the Saint-Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren, where you can pick up beer by the case.

And finally, here’s a more thorough overview, from “An Introductory History of The Cistercians,” by M. Basil Pennington, OCSO:

Beginnings

On 21 March 1098, the saintly abbot of the thriving Benedictine Abbey of Molesme, Robert, led twenty-one of his monks into the inhospitable thickets of Citeaux to establish a new monastery where they hoped to follow Benedict of Nursia’s Rule for Monasteries in all its fullness. The unhappy monks of Molesme, grieved at the loss of their holy leader, soon obtained a papal command for his return. The new struggling community continued until 1109 under the leadership of Alberic, who introduced the idea of lay brothers being accepted as full members of the monastic family, making it possible for the monks to be free to follow all the demands of the Benedictine Rule. Stephen Harding, who succeeded Alberic at the helm of the community, welcomed the dynamic Bernard of Fontaines, who came in 1112 with thirty relatives in tow. Thus began the saga of Citeaux.

The Charter of Charity

Before Bernard died in 1153 he had not only founded the great Abbey of Clairvaux which would become a focal point for all of Christendom but he personally sent forth men to start sixty-five other houses while his brother abbots started another 235. Stephen and the other founders were determined to keep alive the pristine observance of the Rule which they had come to Citeaux to establish. To this purpose they created a Charta caritatis, a constitution which bound all Cistercian abbots to come to Citeaux annually for a general chapter. It also bound all the houses to a common observance and set up a system of visitation which respected the autonomy of each house but assured its fidelity.

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Expansion and Decline

The order continued to expand: by 1200 there were over 500 houses; on the eve of the Reformation, the records showed 742. In time geography began to defeat these model means of regularity which were eventfully adopted by all other religious orders. The decline in the number of recruits had its effect. But most destructive was the practice of the ecclesiastical and secular powers to give the abbatial office to clerics who had no interest in the well-being of the monastery, only in its revenues, leaving the monks without guidance and financial means. In some instances secular powers required the monks to take on active ministries, in others the monks did this on their own. There were repeated attempts at reform, most notably in the century after the Council of Trent.

The Trappist Reform

In 1664 Pope Alexander VII recognized within the Cistercian Order two observances, the Common and the Strict, sometimes called the “abstinents” for their fidelity to Benedict’s prohibition of the use of flesh meat in the monastic diet. Among these latter arose Armand Jean de Rancé, a commendatory abbot who underwent a conversion and brought about in his Abbey of Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe a renewal in the practice of monastic enclosure, silence, and manual labor, expressing a spirit of apartness from all worldliness and a dedication to prayer and penance. By the disposition of Divine Providence his was the one community that escaped complete destruction and dispersion at the hands of the French Revolution.

Trappist Expansion

In the course of many and varied travels under the leadership of Augustine de Lestrange the community was able to establish foundations in Spain, Belgium, England, Italy and the United States. When the monks returned to re-establish La Trappe after the downfall of Napoleon, Vincent de Paul Merle remained in America to establish the first permanent Cistercian community in the New World which today flourishes in Spencer, Massachusetts: Saint Joseph’s Abbey. Monasteries of the Common Observance continued in eastern Europe in many cases operating schools and pastoring parishes.

The Order of Citeaux

In 1892 Pope Leo sought to bring all the Cistercian houses back together into one order but pastoral responsibilities and national loyalties made it impossible for the Common Observance houses who were divided into many national congregations to unite with the Strict Observance who were at that time largely French and who had opted for the strict monastic heritage of the Cistercian founders. Thus the Pope recognized two Cistercian Orders, called today the Order of Citeaux and the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, popularly known as the Trappists. The Order of Citeaux suffered greatly under the communist onslaught, not only in eastern Europe but also in Vietnam, where it had a congregation of five houses. On the other hand, the Strict Observance began to flower on the eve of the Second World War and continued to grow until it had over a hundred houses located on all six continents. Only in Yugoslavia and China did its houses suffer at the hands of communism. With the renewal of the Second Vatican Council both orders have written new constitutions which retain the reforming features of Saint Stephen Harding, the general chapter (though no longer annual, usually every three years) and visitations by the superior of the founding abbey.

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Though not a Trappist brewery, the closest O.C.S.O. monastery to me is the Abbey of New Clairvaux, which is a short drive from Chico. For a few years now, they’ve partnered with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company to create the Ovila line of beers.

Italy’s Tre Fontane Approved As Newest Trappist Brewery

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Last week, the International Trappist Association approved the 11th monastery brewery to be allowed to designate their beers as “officially” Trappist. There are now six Trappist breweries in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, and one each in Austria, the U.S.A. and now Italy. The latest monastery brewery, Abbey at Tre Fontane, is located in Rome, Italy. It was a religious spot since Roman times (from around the first century), and became affiliated with the Cistercian Order in 1625. According to Wikipedia:

Belonging to the monastery are three separate churches. The first, the Church of St. Paul of Three Fountains, was raised on the spot where St. Paul was beheaded by order of Emperor Nero. Legend accounts for the three springs (fontane) with the assertion that, when severed from Paul’s body, his head bounced and struck the earth in three different places, from which fountains sprang up. These still flow and are located in the sanctuary.

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That’s where the beer’s name comes from, Three Fountains Tripel, which is an 8.5% a.b.v. Tripel, brewed with Eucalyptus. That’s because the monks of the Tre Fontane Abbey planted fields of eucalyptus to combat malaria beginning in 1870. They also make olive oil, honey (flower, acacia, and eucalyptus), chocolates, and a Trappist liqueur.

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The beer is described by the ITA like this:

“The high carbonation gives the mouthfeel a pleasant dry finish. The mildly sweet aftertaste comes from the soothing flavor of eucalyptus herb, which cleanses and refreshes the palate. While the beer gives the impression of being light, it has abundant body. The high alcohol content adds a warm, refined feeling to the soothing highlights of the eucalyptus.”

Spencer Trappist Brewery Is Bizarre?

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By now you’ve probably seen the news that the Spencer Trappist Brewery, America’s first Trappist brewery is selling beer, their Spencer Trappist Ale. I didn’t feel the need to write much about it since the news is just about everywhere, from the Boston Globe to L.A. Weekly, from NPR to CBS News.

But here’s one I don’t quite get. When ABC News, specifically the affiliate station out of Fresno, California, KFSN Channel 30, covered the story, they ran the headline US monks move into Trappist beer brewing business, but used essentially the same AP Story that most news outlets are using for this story. But ABC News also tagged the story with “Massachusetts,” which makes sense, and “bizarre,” which does not. Could somebody please explain to me what’s “bizarre” about this story? Other headlines in ABC’s bizarre topics include stories about devil babies, atomic wedgies and anal probes. But monks brewing beer, something they’ve been doing since the middle ages, possibly as early as the 6th century, is lumped in with what you’d normally only find in the pages of the Weekly World News when you’re checking out at the grocery store.

Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but that seems like beer getting a slap in the face to me. It was probably just some ignorant intern who didn’t know what to do with the story and didn’t want to have to think about it very much, and so just threw it in the catch-all category. But surely this story should have been characterized differently. Is that really too much to ask?

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You can also see additional photos at their Facebook page. And below is a video of the Spencer Trappist monks from St. Joseph’s Abbey.

A day in the life of a monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey from Spencer Brewery on Vimeo.

First American Trappist Brewery

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While it’s been a rumor for a number of years — I first learned about it at least four years back, but like a monk was sworn to silence — finally it’s out in the public. America is getting its first officially sanctioned Trappist brewery. St. Joseph’s Abbey of Spencer, Massachusetts will be adding brewing to its daily routine, and selling under the name Spencer Brewing Co.

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The abbey was established in upstate New York in 1950, and is part of the Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), better known as “Trappists.” Many reports have indicated there’s 180 of them worldwide, but I count 175 at the list on the order’s official website.

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The abbey already sells preserves, and has done so for a long time, since around 1954. They also sell “liturgical vestments, and run a farm” to fund the abbey. Apparently the Scourmont Abbey, which makes Chimay, is helping the monks of St. Joseph’s in some capacity, whether through education, logistical support or just consultation I’m not sure. I also know that Dann Paquette from Pretty Things had been helping out, at least in the early stages, as he’d befriended a couple of the monks there as they gathered information and were considering the project of opening a brewery. Records indicate the building for brewing will be 50,000 square feet and their goal to brew 10,000 bbl per year. The first beer will be a Pater, a type of beer made by several Belgian breweries. Here’s how the back label describes the beer:

“Inspired by traditional refectory ales brewed by monks for the monks’ table, Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued Trappist ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness.”

The brewery website is still empty, with just a Go Daddy holding page, and there’s no word on when the beer might be available. With the now Belgian-owned Anheuser-Busch InBev, Sierra Nevada working with Ovila, Moortgat buying Boulevard Brewing, and now this, there’s going to be a lot more Belgian-inspired, and Belgian-made, beer in the U.S. in coming years. But it’s hard not to be excited about this development.

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And the hexagonal Trappist logo is on the back label.

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The 8th Trappist Brewery?

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Currently there are seven Trappist monastery breweries authorized to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” label by the International Trappist Association. Six are in Belgium, one is in the Netherlands. It looks like an 8th monastery is applying for authorization to brew beer under the official designation. The monastery of Engelszell Stift has filed an application and expects to be notified of the ITAs decision in 4-5 weeks.

According to Trappist-Beers.com, the Engelszell Stift monastery was “founded in 1293 and needs financial input to recover the old paintings, fresco’s and paintings” and has decided to start a small brewery to raise the necessary funds. It is located a little over 120 miles from Munich in Austria. According to Wikipedia, it’s the only one in Austria and is located in the northwest part of the country known as the Innviertel.

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From what I could figure out using Google Translate, they’ve already installed the brewery and have started brewing, making two beers, one light and one dark, from 7-10% a.b.v. Much of the package production will be aimed at the U.S. market, so we should be able to find it once it’s ready.

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