1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trappists

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TRAPPISTS, Cistercian monks of the reform instituted by Armand J. le B. de Rancé (q.v.), abbot of La Trappe, 1664. La Trappe was a Cistercian abbey near Soligny, in the diocese of Sées, in Normandy, founded 1140. It suffered grievously from the English wars and from commendatory abbots, so that towards 1650 the community was reduced to half a dozen monks who had long ceased to comply with the obligations of their state, and were an open scandal to the neighbourhood. Armand Jean de Rancé became commendatory abbot at the age of ten, 1636; and on his conversion from a worldly life he began to interest himself in his abbey and conceived the project of restoring the monastic life therein, 1662. With this object he visited La Trappe, but the monks were recalcitrant and threatened his life; through the intervention of Louis XIV. he was able to pension them off; they were replaced by a community of Cistercians of the strict observance, and the monastic buildings, which had fallen into ruin, were repaired at de Rancé's expense. He himself then entered the novitiate in one of the reformed Cistercian abbeys, and on his profession he came to La Trappe as regular abbot, 1664. But he desired a return to the full programme of the primitive Cistercians. His influence with Louis XIV. and with the court of Rome secured him a free hand in carrying out changes without trammel from the Cistercian superiors, who looked askance at the project; and he was able to persuade his community to adopt a manner of life beyond the original Cistercian practice, and far beyond St Benedict's rule. Thus they abstained wholly from wine and fish, and rarely ate eggs; on certain days they had only bread and water, and on two days in the year they went barefooted; and they slept in their day clothes: these practices are in contradiction to what St Benedict allowed. On the other hand manual labour occupied only 3½ hours, but the church services 7—herein reversing St Benedict's apportioning of the time. In short, the Trappist regime is probably the most penitential that has ever had any permanence in the Western Church. Yet it attracted vocations in such numbers that de Rancé had 300 monks under him. Through age and ill health he resigned his abbacy in 1695, and died five years later.

During the 18th century La Trappe continued faithful to de Rancé's ideas, but the observance spread only into two monasteries in Italy. It was the dispersal of the community at the French Revolution that turned the Trappists into a congregation in the Cistercian order and finally into a separate order. Dom Augustine de Lestrange, the novice-master at the time of the suppression in 1790, kept twenty of the monks together and obtained permission for them to settle at Val-Sainte in Fribourg, Switzerland. Here they made their life still stricter than that of La Trappe, and postulants flocked to them in such numbers that in two years' time colonies went forth to establish Trappist monasteries in England, Belgium, Piedmont, Spain and Canada; and in 1794 Dom Augustine was named by the Holy See Father Abbot of all these foundations, thus formed into a congregation. In 1817 they returned to La Trappe, many new foundations were made, and by Dom Augustine's death in 1827 there were in all some seven hundred Trappist monks. In the course of the century three or four congregations arose—a Belgian, an Italian, and two in France—each with a vicar subject to the general of the Cistercians. In 1892 these congregations were united into a single Order of Reformed Cistercians, or of Strict Observance, with an abbot-general resident in Rome and independent of the general of the Cistercians of the Common Observance. In 1898 the Trappists recovered possession of Citeaux, the mother-house of the Cistercians, secularized since the Revolution, and it was declared by Rome to be the head and mother house of the Reformed Cistercians, who thus were recognized as the authentic representatives of the primitive Cistercian movement.

The Trappists are a thriving and vigorous order. In 1905 they had 58 monasteries with 1300 professed choir monks and 1700 lay brothers. At the time of the recent expulsions (1903) they had twenty houses in France, and they have two or three in all the countries of western Europe, including England (Mount St Bernard, near Leicester) and Ireland (Mount Mellery in Waterford and Roscrea); also in the United States and in Canada. Besides they have a house in China, with over fifty Chinese monks; one each in Japan, Asia Minor, Palestine, Bosnia and Dalmatia, and four in various parts of Africa. The abbey of Mariannhill in Natal is devoted to the christianizing and civilizing of the Kaffirs; there are numerous stations with elementary schools and chapels, and at the abbey is a high school and printing-press for books in the Zulu and Basuto languages. In heathen countries the Trappists now give themselves up to missionary work and the task of civilizing the natives.

The first Trappist nunnery was the abbey of Les Clairet, near Chartres, which de Rancé persuaded to adopt his reforms. Dom Augustine de Lestrange established another in 1796, and now there are fifteen with 350 choir nuns and 500 lay sisters. One is in England at Stapehill, near Wimborne, founded in 1802. The manner of life of the nuns is almost the same as that of the monks.

See the Lives of de Rancé. A minute account of the observance is in de Rancé's Réglemens de la Trappe (1701). The beginning of the reform is told by Helyot, Histoire des ordres religieux (1718), vol. vi. ch. 1; the developments under Dom Augustine de Lestrange are described in the supplementary matter in Migne's Dictionnaire des ordres religieux (1858). The whole subject is well treated by Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1907), vol. i. § 48; and in Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.), and Herzog, Realencyklopädie (3rd ed.). A realistic and sympathetic picture of Trappist life is the redeeming feature of J. Huysman's En route.

(E. C. B.)