Spiritual Warriors in Citadels of Faith: Martial Rhetoric and Monastic Masculinity in the Long Twelfth Century

  • Katherine Allen Smith
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


When Robert of Châtillon fled the rigors of the Cistercian Order for the comparative comforts of Cluny, his kinsman and former mentor Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) composed an open letter of reproach intended to demonstrate the superiority of the Cistercian way of life to the errant monk as well as the leaders of his new Order.1 Writing to Robert at his new home, Bernard spoke not merely as a monastic superior to an apostate but as a military commander to a soldier, and as one man to another. Bernard insists that in leaving Clairvaux, Robert has deserted his army of fellow monks in the midst of a great battle, exchanging ‘the arms of fighting men’ for ‘comforts for the weak’, namely soft clothing and abundant food, and leaving himself open to accusations of cowardice and weakness. It is Robert’s sworn duty, Bernard reminds him, to return and fight beside his brothers in arms, the monks of Clairvaux:

Arise, soldier of Christ (miles Christi), arise! Shake off the dust and return to the battle from which you fled… Do you think that because you fled the line of battle you will escape the enemies’ clutches? The enemy pursues you more eagerly when you flee than he would one who fought back, and more daringly ambushes you from behind than he would oppose you to your face. Are you safe, now you have thrown down your arms, and are sleeping away the morning, even at that hour when Christ rose again? Do you not know that without arms you are more timid and less intimidating to your enemies? A host of soldiers is besieging the house, and you are sleeping? They are already climbing the walls, destroying the barriers, charging through the rear gates. Would you not be safer with others than alone? Would you not be safer armed in camp than lying naked in bed? Go, take up arms, and flee to your fellow soldiers (commilitones) whom you deserted by running away.2


Religious Life Twelfth Century Religious Woman Masculine Quality Monastic Community 
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© Katherine Allen Smith 2010

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  • Katherine Allen Smith

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