chapter  2
28 Pages

Sanctity and Rebuke: the Relationship between Bernard’s Apologia and Peter’s Letter 28

The correspondence between Peter the Venerable and Bernard of Clairvaux opens with Peter’s letter 28.1 Comprising a lengthy treatise, which extends over some fifty printed pages, this letter mounts an aggressive defence of traditional Cluniac practices, presented as a response to Cistercian criticisms relating to lax interpretation of the Rule of St Benedict, the cornerstone of western monasticism.2 At the same time, it can be seen to conform to epistolary expectations through the device of a ‘personal’ frame, which addresses itself directly to Bernard, and which entwines the language of mystic friendship with that of Christian brotherhood.3 The substance of the letter has attracted critical attention, both in relation to its depiction of growing hostility between Cluniacs and Cistercians,4 and to the points

1 Peter, letter 28, Letters, I, pp. 52-101. Sections of the letter are to be found translated in S. R. Maitland, The Dark Ages, a series of essays, London, 1844, pp. 373-81; 387-93; 395-7. 2 Composed some time in the first half of the sixth century AD, the Regula sets out a detailed plan for the organisation of a fully coenobitical monastic community. Manuscripts can be classified into three types, an ‘interpolated’ text, current from the sixth century, a ‘pure’ text, preserved in the region of Monte Cassino, and a ‘mixed’ text, current from the eighth century. Constable draws attention to variants in Peter’s citations which can be related to manuscripts emanating from Monte Cassino (Constable, Letters, II, p. 40). The edition followed here, as cited by Constable, is that of Hanslik (Benedicti Regula, ed. R. Hanslik, CSEL, 75, Vienna, 1960). 3 At the end of the letter, Peter seems to draw attention to its ambiguous status through an opposition which transforms an apology for excessive length into a justification: Haec tibi frater carissime epistolarem brevitatem rerum necessitate supergressus scripsi ..., ‘I have written this to you, dearest brother, contravening epistolary brevity through the coercion of the subject-matter ...’ (letter 28, p. 101). 4 Bredero, Cluny et Cîteaux, pp. 122-3. See also E. Vacandard, Vie de St Bernard, abbé de Clairvaux, 2 vols, Paris, 1927, I, pp. 99-134; W. Williams, ‘Peter the Venerable, a letter to St Bernard’, Downside Review 56 (1938), 344-53; Dom D. Knowles, ‘Cistercians and Cluniacs: the controversy between St Bernard and Peter the Venerable’, Friends of Dr. Williams’ Library Ninth Lecture, London, 1955, reprinted in The historian and character and other essays, Cambridge, 1963, pp. 50-75. Peter ends the letter with the following somewhat cryptic statement: Nam praeter austeritatem verborum, quae ad partium latentem simultatem designandam posui, reliqua omnia ut edita sunt intellexi, ‘For apart from the harshness of the words, which I have set down to represent the lurking animosity of (a) faction(s), I have understood/ meant the rest as it has been brought forth’ (letter 28, p. 101).