Church and society in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: eastern influence on western monasticism - the case of Stephen of Muret
The rise of the new religious orders of the eleventh and twelfth centuries has been ascribed to a variety of factors, and we are still largely in the process of determining the relationship of the changes in monasticism to the society, economy and spirituality of the period. Certain assumptions, however, still tend to underly our thinking on the rise of the new orders - the best known of these being the theory which equates their emergence with a revolt against the decadence of traditional Benedictinism. This thesis seeks to demonstrate, by way of introduction, that this idea cannot be sustained, either in its own terms or in the light of recent work. The major part of the thesis is concerned with the question of the existence of eastern (and in particular Italo-Greek) influence on western monasticism, a theory which has been given additional credibility by recent work on the Life of Stephen of Muret, the founder of the Order of Grandmont. Stephen, a native of the Auvergne, is supposed to have visited southern Italy in his youth and spent several years with an archbishop of Benevento who was an ardent admirer of a group of Calabrian religious who lived lives of great austerity. Inspired by their way of life, Stephen obtained permission to found an order and, returning to France, established himself as a hermit in the Limousin where he lived for about fifty years, eventually with a few disciples who formed the nucleus of the future Order of Grandmont. The second part of this thesis re-examines the evidence of the Life and its recent re-habilitation and seeks to demonstrate that neither the evidence nor its apparent confirmation by a succession of historians can be upheld as reliable. Part Three examines not only the circumstances of the composition of the Life but also the religious life of the Limousin and the earliest expression of Grandmontine spirituality which indicate the relationship of the order not to some remote exemplar, but to the society and spirituality of France in the twelfth century, finally suggesting the difficulties and contradictions inherent in any theory of Byzantine influence on western monastic movements at this period.