|Peter and the Cluniacs|
Few things about Peter de Montboissier, called the Venerable, are simple, but let us start with those. He was dedicated to God at birth and placed in the monastery at Cluny when he was a child. He took his vows at seventeen, became a prior and professor when he was twenty, and at thirty, he became the abbot of Cluny, and thus the de jure autocrat of more than 2000 Cluniac houses. He imposed some reforms and took the Order to the peak of its influence and prestige. He wrote a lot of books, was an influential statesman on the international European stage, and took care of Peter Abelard after his twin setbacks.
|Busted! Abelard and Heloise|
[If Abelard's unfamiliar, the short story is that he was a brilliant, well-connected theologian who wrote a heretical book and knocked up a Canon's niece Heloise, whom he happened to be tutoring. Although they married secretly, her family castrated Abelard; she then was sent to a convent with their son Astrolabe. Peter the Venerable took Abelard in, reconciled him with the Church brass, and even granted him posthumous absolution. He also worked to get young Astrolabe a decent job with the Church. I think I should write more about Abelard and Heloise next April on his dies mortalis; they may not be canonized elsewhere, but that's all the more reason to celebrate them here.]
|The Arms of Cluny|
Peter the Venerable died on Christmas Day, 1154, after preaching a homily and celebrating Mass. He was accorded sainthood by popular acclaim and by the Cluniac monks, and though he has never been formally canonized, Pope Pius IX confirmed his cultus in 1862.
Okay, now for the more complicated things.
The Jews -- I've read that he defended Jews, which would be an impressive thing in the twelfth century. He also wrote a book called Adversus Iudeorum inveteratam duritiem, i.e. Against the Inveterate Obstinacy of the Jews. As near as I can tell, he did not believe in conversion by either legislation or terror, but rather by discourse and disputation. Enlightened? By twelfth century standards, I'd say he's a beacon of tolerance and pluralism. But by twenty-first century standards, calling someone else's faith "inveterate obstinacy" is pretty bigoted.
The Muslims -- Again, we have centuries of separation, and again, I have Chesterton whispering in my ear that if a thing was true at one time, it is true for all time. That's the nature of real truth. So if tolerance, acceptance, and pluralism are truly virtuous in our time, they ought to have been virtuous in the 1100s. Peter the Venerable spent some time in Spain, where he met Muslims and commissioned a Latin translation of the Qur’an. He then distributed copies of the Qur'an throughout Europe, urging bishops and Crusaders to read it, and even requiring Cluniac monks to read it. Of course he also labeled Islam a Christian heresy and wrote two books on the subject: Summa totius heresis Saracenorum (The Summary of the Entire Heresy of the Saracens) and Liber contra sectam sive heresim Saracenorum (The Refutation of the Sect or Heresy of the Saracens).
|Don't mess with the B!|
The Benedictines -- The early Benedictines had organized their monasteries into self-sustaining agricultural communities, driven by the motto "Orare est laborare, laborare est orare" (to pray is to work, to work is to pray). By the time Peter the Venerable became the abbot of Cluny, the monks had become professional prayers, delegating the laborare side of the equation to tenant-serfs so they could concentrate on the orare side. This expansion of the labor pool (serfs were easily acquired in the medieval era, if you had the right connections to the throne) allowed them to eat very well, to wear the best linen and silk vestments, and to furnish their altars with silver and gold rather than wood or earthenware. I won't fault Peter for that, even if Saint Bernard of Clairvaux did. That devout Cistercian led a charge against the Cluniacs, saying that they had become soft and corrupt. Peter's response was a two-pronged counter-attack: he reformed the Order while also defending its organization and privileges as outside the purview of other Benedictines. He and Bernard sparred for a while, but also corresponded on good terms as equals, perhaps even friends. Bernard gave him the title Venerable, which surely suggests amity, but the Cistercians never stopped criticizing their Cluniac brethren, which eventually led to their elevation and Cluny's decline. In his reform, he did what he could to hang on to Cluny's position, but he was on the wrong side of both virtue and wisdom on that one.
His Feast -- Apparently, he wanted to die on Christmas, which is formally called the Feast of the Incarnation, because he wanted his death obscured by a major Christian holiday. Since feast days were a well-established practice by his time, he was appropriately humble in praying for this; presumably, he always included the proper acknowledgement that God's will, not Peter's, should be done. It is somewhat ironic therefore that the hagiographers moved his feast to December 29, where it does not conflict with Christmas.
Pope Benedict XVI -- The Holy Father himself is a controversial fellow, so if he delivers a homily about someone, that person is likely to also get an extra helping of scrutiny. Peter the Venerable got this portion on October 14, 2009, when the Pope delivered a sermon in praise of him. The text is available here.