1902 Encyclopedia > Trappists

Trappists




TRAPPISTS. The abbey of Notre Dame de la Maison-Dieu de la Trappe was founded in 1140 by Rotrou, count of Perche, at Soligny-la-Trappe, a village of Haut-Perche, now in the arrondissement of Mortagne, department of the OrUe, so named from the narrow gorge which forms its entrance, comparable to a trap-door. It was at first attached to the congregation of Savigny, a minor off-shoot of the order of Fontevrault, but that congregation was united in 1148 to the Cistercian order, and, by the special intervention of St Bernard, was affiliated, with all its dependencies, to his own abbey of Clairvaux. No mediaeval monastic order fell more rapidly and ! signally from the- spirit of its original institute than the Cistercian, and La Trappe formed no exception to the | general decay. Indeed, its geographical position in a district fiercely contested during the long war between France and England hastened its declension, for it was several times taken and pillaged, while the members of the community, at last compelled to break up and disperse, returned at the close of the war with their traditions interrupted, their discipline relaxed, and their moral tone deteriorated. Nor was this the worst. The introduction of the " commendam" system into the French Church, whereby secular ecclesiastics were empowered to hold monastic benefices without residence or conformity to the rule of the society in which they ranked as heads, wrought yet further mischief; and, though the Trappists at first endeavoured to resist Jean du Bellay, the celebrated bishop of Paris (afterwards cardinal-bishop of Ostia), whom Francis I. nominated in 1526 as abbot commend-atory, and were upheld by the pope in continuing to elect their own abbots, yet their efforts were fruitless, and Du Bellay was succeeded by a series of titular abbots, under whose nominal rule the estates of the abbey were impov-erished, the buildings suffered to fall into nearly total ruin, and the conduct of the monks became a public scandal. In fact, the community was broken up, the dismantled monastic buildings were abandoned to a few domestics and their families, and the scattered Trappists seldom reas-sembled save for hunting parties and similar amusements. Such was the condition of things when a reformer arose in the person of one of those very abbots commendatory who had been the ruin of the institute.
Armand Jean Bouthillier de Ranee, second son of Denis Bouthillier de Ranee and Charlotte Joly his wife, was born in Paris on January 9, 1626. By his father's side he was sprung from a patrician family of Breton origin long settled in Normandy; by his mother's he was connected with powerful members of the official hierarchy. His near kindred were wealthy, titled, and highly placed in the magistracy, the army, and the dignities of the church ; while the fact that Cardinal Richelieu was one of his sponsors and gave him his own fore-names sufficiently attests the political influence just then at their disposal. The child showed early tokens of considerable abilities, and was intrusted by his father to accomplished tutors, under whom he made rapid progress. He was originally intended to enter the order of the Knights of Malta, but the death of his elder brother in 1637, after a long illness, changed his father's plans, and the child (who had been tonsured in 1635 by way of precaution against such a contingency) was at once put in possession of the various benefices which had been secured for his elder; so that, while still under eleven years of age, he was canon of Notre Dame de Paris, abbot of La Trappe, of Notre Dame du Val, and of St Symphorian of Beauvais, and prior of Boulogne, near Chambord, and of St Clementin, in Poitou. In 1642 he was sent to the College d'Harcourt, where he began the usual course of philosophy, but addicted himself almost at once to the then popular study of judicial astro-logy, which he soon forsook for the cognate delusion of alchemy. Nevertheless, he distinguished himself in the more accredited studies of the college, and graduated as M.A. in 1644. It was then usual for Parisian students in theology to attend the course of lectures delivered at the Sorbonne, but De Ranee preferred to return home and pursue his theological studies under private instruction, He was ordained deacon in 1648, and, being in the hey-day of youth, with high spirits and popular manners, fell readily into the dissipations of the time, leading a very irregular life, yet not so as to forfeit the goodwill of even his stricter acquaintance. He was ordained priest in 1651, but made no alteration in his habits, and yet so far kept up his studies that, when examined in 1652 for his licence as bachelor in theology, he came out at the head of the candidates, while the famous Bossuet ranked only as third. In 1653 he lost his father, who bequeathed property to him which doubled his already large income, and in 1654 he graduated as doctor of divinity, when his uncle, the archbishop of Tours, made him one of his archdeacons, hinting that this preferment would be merely the prelim-inary of a mitre. He never so much as pretended to discharge the duties of his new office, but spent his time amusing himself at his chateau of Véretz ; in despite of which his uncle nominated hinv as deputy from the diocese of Tours to the general assembly of the French clergy convoked by the king in 1655 to discuss the Jansenist controversy. The chief matter of interest in this connexion is that he was one of the minority of 65 doctors of the Sorbonne who refused to vote, with the majority of 127, a censure upon the Jansenist leader Arnauld, though he took part later against that school. The sudden death of the duchess of Rohan-Montbazon, with whom he was intimate, and whose relations with him were the subject of much hostile comment, is said to have been the first great shock which began the process of change in his views of life and duty. A story, which was first given currency in an anonymous account of his con-version published at Cologne in 1668, much heightens this by alleging that De Rancé arrived at the duchess's house unaware of her death, and went direct to her apartment without being warned by the servants, only to find her head lying apart from her decapitated body, having been cut off because the coffin was too short and there was no time to procure another. The truth of this story (itself containing several improbable incidents) was promptly denied by Maupeou, the earliest of De Ranee's biogra-phers, and has been rejected by Bayle and St Simon, though accepted by La Harpe and Voltaire. What is certain is that the alteration in bis habits nearly synchronizes with the death of Madame de Montbazon, and that the years 1657, 1658, and 1659 were mainly spent in solitary studies or in visits to the monasteries of which he was titular head, varied by conferences with eminent ecclesi-astics whose advice he sought, while in 1660 the death of the duke of Orleans, whose chief almoner he was, appears to have given the final direction to his thoughts, though it was not for some years that he carried out his new plans to the full. His first resolution was to sell his patrimony and resign his benefices, and in 1662 he actually sold his chateau of Véretz, made over two man-sions in Paris to the hôtel-dieu, and obtained permission to transfer all his abbeys except Boulogne and La Trappe to resident heads chosen by himself. His canonry of Notre Dame had been resigned so far back as 1653 because of some difficulty about residence. After making provision for family claims, and retaining a comparatively small sum for the repair of Boulogne and La Trappe, he distributed the remainder of his property to the poor. In 1662 he visited La Trappe, which he found in a deplorable condi-tion, and the few resident monks so indisposed to listen to his projects of reform that they threatened to murder him and throw his body into the abbey ponds. In his turn he threatened them with the king's direct interfer-ence, and such was the terror of Louis XIV.'s name that they at once submitted, and consented to retire upon the payment of a moderate pension ; whereupon De Rancé filled their places in 1663 with monks of the strict Cistercian observance, and carefully repaired the monastic buildings there and at Boulogne. In that same year he finally decided to enter the monastic life, and began his noviciate at the Cistercian abbey of Perseigne in Maine, assuming, on his profession in 1664, the actual headship of the abbey of La Trappe, whose nominal abbot he had been for nearly thirty years. Associating himself with other personages who desired to revive the Cistercian dis-cipline, he made two journeys to Rome to obtain papal sanction for their plans, and after considerable delay a brief was procured from Alexander VII. authorizing the abbot of Citeaux, as general of the Cistercians, to hold a grand chapter of the order to discuss the proposed reforms, which actually did meet in 1667. But De Ranee's ideas went much beyond the mere re-establishment of the strict observance ; and, though he judged some details of the original rule unsuited to his own clay, and blended with it some particulars borrowed from the Benedictine rule, yet he was so far from diminishing its general austerity that he added to the protracted fasts, the total abstinence from flesh-meat, fish, eggs, and wine, the laborious manual occupations, the hard beds, and the severe asceticism, even in the church services, which made part of the original rule, also the obligation of perpetual silence, save at prayers (to which eleven hours daily are devoted), and save also the " Memento mori " with which the Trappists greet each other on first meeting, which is the distinguishing feature of La Trappe, a rule from which none are dispensed save the abbot and the guest-master, as obliged to hold some degree of intercourse with outsiders ; and he further or-dained that each monk should spend some time each evening digging his own grave, and should sleep on straw in his coffin for a bed. These austerities, though cheerfully embraced by the monks of La Trappe, and attracting enthusiasts from without, were far from being approved generally, even in the Cistercian order itself, and, when a decree was issued by the council of state in 1675 giving the abbot of Citeaux absolute authority over all Cistercians of the strict observance, De Rancé took alarm, and, think-ing it possible that an attempt might be made to mitigate the severities he had introduced (particularly as the mor-tality amongst the members of his society had been very large, and was currently attributed to insufficient nutriment), induced them to renew their vows and to pledge themselves against the admission of any relaxations. Nor was he content with opposing this kind of resistance to the bishops, abbots, and others who remonstrated with him upon the subject, but he also took up his pen in defence of his views, and published in 1683 his treatise De la Sainteté et des Devoirs de la Vie Monastique, which involved him in much controversy, notably with the learned Benedictine Mabillon, who replied to him in his well-known work Traité des Etudes Monastiques, published in 1691. Advancing years and unremitting asceticism told even on the strong constitution of De Rancé, and he found himself unable to take his share of the manual labours of the house, or even to be present in chapter, so that in 1695 he felt obliged to resign the abbacy, and pro-cured the nomination of the prior Zosimus to succeed him, but he died before the arrival of the bulls for his instal-lation, and Dom Francis-Armand was substituted in his room, and inducted into office in 1696. He proved a failure as a ruler, and La Trappe broke up into two fac-tions during his headship, some holding to him and others to De Rancé, till the new abbot resigned in a fit of disgust of which he soon repented, but could not succeed in recalling his abdication. Dom Jacques de la Tour, a man in sympathy with De Rancé, was then nominated by the crown, and while he was still abbot De Rancé died, on October 20, 1700, in the seventy-fifth year of his age.
De Rancé was a tolerably copious author, though most of his writings were little more than occasional pamphlets suggested by the controversies in which he was engaged, short devotional treatises, and notices of deceased members of his community, but his reputation for ability and scholar-ship was never contested. He was a successful admini-strator, and, though the extreme severity of his institute resulted in the failure of fully six-sevenths of the postu-lants who presented themselves, he gathered round him during his government of the abbey no fewer than three hundred ascetics, French, Belgians, Germans, Italians, and Irishmen, one-third of whom were drawn from less austere communities or from the ranks of the parochial clergy and candidates for the priesthood. Of lay outsiders who joined him, the largest proportion consisted of rural artisans and labourers, and of soldiers, from officer to private (a class for which La Trappe has always continued to have attrac-tions), with a small sprinkling of the legal profession ; while two physicians and a single tradesman complete the tale of those who persevered out of the two thousand or so who presented themselves. No daughter houses were founded from La Trappe during De Ranch's life, for, though he was ready enough to send some of his monks for a time or even permanently to revive the Cistercian discipline in other monasteries, he was opposed on principle to every scheme which tended to drain the resources of La Trappe itself, and it was not till 1705 that the first offshoot of the Trappists was planted at Buon-Solazzo, near Florence, at the solicitation of Cosmo III., grand-duke of Tuscany.
No remarkable events occurred in connexion with La Trappe till the French Revolution, when the order was included in the general suppression of monastic societies by the Constituent Assembly in 1790. Even then the high character borne by La Trappe, and honourably distin-guishing it from too many monasteries at that time, seemed likely to exempt it from the common fate, and great efforts were made to obtain its exclusion from the operation of the decree. A petition addressed by the Trappists to the National Assembly was referred to the council-general of the department of the Orne at Alencon, which reported against it to the ecclesiastical committee of the assembly, though admitting that all the local municipalities which they had consulted were in favour of sparing the abbey. Dom Augustin (Louis Henri L'Estrange), at that time master of the novices, foreseeing the result of the inquiry, went to Switzerland to provide a refuge for the brethren, and obtained permission from the authorities of canton Freiburg to take possession of Val-Sainte, an unoccupied Cistercian monastery, and to bring no more than twenty-five persons thither. This necessitated leaving more than a hundred at La Trappe to await the coming storm, which burst upon Trinity Sunday, June 3, 1792, when com-missioners seized all the movable goods scheduled in their inventory, and compelled the inmates to disperse. Some betook themselves to Soleure; a few retired singly into private dwellings ; but various groups set out together to found colonies in Spain, Germany, England, and Canada ; while the earlier Swiss and Tyrolese houses were compelled to break up and seek refuge elsewhere from the French invaders. But amidst all difficulties and discouragements the order not merely maintained itself, but grew and strengthened, and in 1808 ventured to plant anew two houses in France itself. This^ same year, however, saw the division of the order into two congregations, because the Trappists of Darfeld, under their prior Eugene de Prade, resisted what they considered to be the excessive demands made upon them by the abbot of the order, that very L'Estrange who had led out the colony of Val-Sainte (and who had been constituted its head, and that of the whole society, by a brief of Pius VI. in 1794), and the dispute was appealed to Rome, with the result that in June 1808 judgment was given against L'Estrange, and Darfeld was erected into an independent abbey under De Prade as abbot, and subjected to the jurisdiction of the bishop of Munster. Nearly every Trappist house at this date was within Napoleon's dominions, and, as the order sided with the pope against the emperor, the latter expelled its monks from all monasteries in the empire, and imprisoned not a few of them. With his fall they revived again, and ob-tained permission to return to France, whither between 1814 and 1825 they drifted back from most of their places of exile, though 1450 were expelled anew in 1880 under the operation of the Ferry laws. La Trappe itself was repurchased by L'Eatrange, and became once more the mother house, while there are fifteen other French mon-asteries of the order, four Belgian, two English (Mount St Bernard, Leicestershire, and Stape Hill, Dorset), two in Ireland, one each in Germany, Savoy, and Algiers, two in Italy, two (Gethsemane in Kentucky and New Melleray in Iowa) in the United States, and one originally settled in Pennsylvania, but now at Tracadie in Nova Scotia. An order of Trappistine nuns was founded by Dom Augustin in 1827, and has nine French houses and one English. The total numbers are computed at 3000 members of both sexes.
The bibliography relating to De Raneé and the Trappists is
copious, and the following list is not exhaustive. Savary (Bishop
of Séez), Imago R. P. Dom. Arm. Joan, le Bouthillier de Raneé,
Abbatis de Trappa, 1701 ; Maupeou, Vie de M. l'Abbé de la Trappe,
Paris, 1702 ; Marsollier, Vie de V Abbé Boidhillier de Raneé, Paris,
1702; Le Nain (brother of Tillemont), Vie de Le Boidhillier de
/lancé, Abbé et Réformateur de la Trappe, Rouen, 1715; Inguimbert,
Genuinus Character D. Arm. Joannis Buttilieri Rancasi, Rome,
1718; Charles Butler, "Life of De Raneé," Miscellanies, vol. iii,
London, 1817 ; Dubois, Histoire de V Abbé De Raneé et de sa Réforme,
"2 vols., Paris, 1866; Félibicn, Description de la Trappe, Paris,
1672; Helyot and Badiche, Histoire des Ordres Religieux, art. "La
Trappe," Paris, 1859 ; Wetzer and Welte, Kirchcnlexicon, art."Trap-
pisten," Freiburg, 1849. (R. F. L.)











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