Images of abbot and monastic community in the thought of Aelred of Rievaulx

Daniel Marcel La Corte, Fordham University


Many scholars have studied the life and thought of Aelred of Rievaulx in an attempt to explain his popularity and influence. These studies of Aelred present him as a lenient abbot who dispensed or departed from the traditional Cistercian interpretation of the Rule and led his community in a radically different manner than did other Cistercian abbots. However, to say that Aelred relaxed the discipline of the Cistercian community or that he was a lenient or permissive abbot is inaccurate. Well noted Aelred's pastoral abilities and concern may be, few scholars have investigated Aelred's own understanding of his abbatial role. Aelred's understanding of his duty and responsibility as abbot, as well as the seriousness with which he viewed his abbatial position, inform his words on the Cistercian interpretation of the monastic life. This neglected area of Aelred's thought constitutes the essence of this dissertation. In order to place Aelred's understanding of his abbatial duty in historical context, the dissertation first traces the role of the Rule and the images of the abbot in the Benedictine monastic tradition. This historical analysis begins with a consideration of the images of the abbot contained in the Rule of St. Benedict itself and their subsequent development through the Carolingian and post-Carolingian reform periods, the Cluniac reformation, and the rise of the Cistercian era. Since the monastic life focuses on the re-formation of the human person, an analysis of Aelred's anthropology, illustrating his understanding of the soul's need for re-formation, provides the foundation for his view of the monastic life. Furthermore, Aelred's teachings come from his monastic world view and his duties as an abbot; therefore, the present study includes an investigation of Aelred's view of the Rule itself and his understanding of his abbatial role. Finally, Aelred's depiction of abbatial images contained in the Rule and his attempt to act according to these images demonstrates that Aelred was an orthodox Cistercian abbot firmly rooted in the mainstream of the monastic tradition.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|Religion|Literature|Middle Ages|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

La Corte, Daniel Marcel, "Images of abbot and monastic community in the thought of Aelred of Rievaulx" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825846.