1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Premonstratensians

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PREMONSTRATENSIANS, also called Norbertines, and in England White Canons, from the colour of the habit: an order of Augustinian Canons founded in 1120 by St Norbert, afterwards archbishop of Magdeburg. He had made various efforts to introduce a strict form of canonical life in various communities of canons in Germany; in 1120 he was working in the diocese of Laon, and there in a desert place, called Prémontré, in Aisne, he and thirteen companions established a monastery to be the cradle of a new order. They were canons regular and followed the so-called Rule of St Augustine (see Augustinians), but with supplementary statutes that made the life one of great austerity. St Norbert was a friend of St Bernard of Clairvaux—and he was largely influenced by the Cistercian ideals as to both the manner of life and the government of his order. But as the Premonstratensians were not monks but canons regular, their work was preaching and the exercise of the pastoral office, and they served a large number of parishes incorporated in their monasteries. The order was founded in 1120; in 1126, when it received papal approbation, there were nine houses; and others were established in quick succession throughout western Europe, so that at the middle of the 14th century there are said to have been over 1300 monasteries of men and 400 of women. The Premonstratensians played a predominant part in the conversion of the Wends and the Christianizing and civilizing of the territories about the Elbe and the Oder. In time mitigations and relaxations crept in, and these gave rise to reforms and semi-independent congregations within the order. The Premonstratensians came into England (c. 1143) first at Newhouse in Lincoln, and before the dissolution under Henry VIII. there were 35 houses. At the beginning of the 19th century the order had been almost exterminated, only eight houses surviving, all in the Austrian dominions. There are now some 20 monasteries and 1000 canons, who serve numerous parishes; and there are two or three small houses in England. The strength of the order now lies in Belgium, where at Tongerloo is a great Premonstratensian abbey that still maintains a semblance of its medieval state.

Helyot, Histoire des ordres réligieux (1714), ii. chs. 23-26; Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1907), ii. § 56; articles in Wetzer u. Welte Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.) and Herzog Realencyklopädie (3rd ed.). The best special study is F. Winter, Die Prämonstratenser des 12. Jahrh. und ihre Bedeutung für das nordöstliche Deutschland (1865).

(E. C. B.)