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A Benedictine order founded at Cîteaux in 1098 by Robert of Molesme,* it emphasized poverty, simplicity, and eremitical solitude. Approved by Paschal II in 1100, they were unlike other reformed Benedictine monasteries, rejecting all feudal incomes and basing their economy on the monks' labor assisted by lay brothers. Liturgy was simplified together with church vestments and furnishings; their habit was white or gray under a black scapular. Expansion was early and rapid, due mostly to Bernard,* founder and abbot of Clairvaux (1115), who was responsible for organizing sixty-five new houses in France and abroad, making more than 300 by his death (1153); by 1200 there were over 500 throughout Europe. With Bernard, concerns were widened much beyond contemplation to crusades, missionaries, and pastoral concern for surrounding population.

General decline came in the fifteenth century, assisted by the Reformation and civil wars. Reform followed in the sixteenth century, not from Cîteaux but within congregations, notably the Feuillants* and Common and Strict Observance communities which were, however, dissolved entirely by the French Revolution. After the Bourbon restoration, the Strict Observance was revived by former members of La Trappe (Trappists*), insisting on contemplation, while the Common Observance took to teaching and pastoral duties. In 1892 both became completely separate, though fully Cistercian, and each continues widely established.

A.A. King, Cîteaux and Her Elder Daughters (1954); C. Bock, Les Codifications du droit cistercien (1955); L. Bouyer, The Cistercian Heritage (tr. E. Livingstone, 1958).