Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Late Antique-Medieval Studies

Reader 1

Kenneth B. Wolf

Reader 2

Jordan Kirk

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Rights Information

© 2014 Daniel J. Martin


One of the great paradoxes of the medieval period is the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1225), in which monks of the Cistercian Order took an active and violent role in campaigning against the heretics of the Languedoc. Why, and how, did this order officially devoted to prayer and contemplation become one of the prime orchestrators of one of medieval Europe’s most gruesome affairs? This thesis seeks to answer that question, not by looking at the crusading Cistercians themselves, but at their predecessor Bernard of Clairvaux, who—I will argue—made the Albigensian Crusade possible by making it permissible for monks to intervene in the world outside the cloister. The logic of this thesis is as follows. Bernard of Clairvaux lived in a world in which monastics had a certain spiritual authority that granted them special privileges over ecclesiastics (Chapter II). The Cistercian Order itself, even before Bernard became their prime mover and shaker, used these privileges to cultivate contacts beyond monastic borders (Chapter IV), and once Bernard became a prominent abbot himself, his desire to do good and criticisms of the outside world (Chapter VI) led him to intervene in various endeavors (Chapter V). These interventions drew backlash from other monastics and ecclesiastics, which then required justification in order to reconcile the vita passiva and Bernard’s active lifestyle (Chapter VII). These justifications, along with Bernard’s justifications of violence (Chapter VIII), came to more broadly characterize the Cistercian Order as a whole (Chapters I, IV), and thus the ideological material to justify monastic holy war was all present in eloquently defended and rapturously accepted form by the time Henry of Clairvaux took a castle during his 1281 preaching mission turned mini-crusade (Chapter IX). With all of this built into the Cistercian DNA, Arnaud Amaury found it very easy to lead a crusade in 1212. Could he have done this without Bernard’s example paving the way and ingraining such lessons in Cistercian thought? It is my contention that he could not have.


This thesis is a study of the causes of the Albigensian Crusade, but very little of its research has to do with the crusade itself. Instead, this thesis examines the life, works, and legacy of Bernard of Clairvaux, who died over fifty years before the Crusade began. This may seem like an illogical course of research for treating the Albigensian Crusade, but it is my contention that part of what made the Crusade possible was the active role of the Cistercian Order in exercising papal authority in the Languedoc. Explaining the Albigensian Crusade therefore means explaining how the Cistercian Order became so enmeshed in secular, political affairs in the first place, and the key to unraveling this mystery is Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was the consummate Cistercian, and he lived during the Order's infancy, when much of its identity was still being formed. Looking at Bernard's life and works allows us to reconstruct the process of Cistercian transformation from passive and contemplative to vigorous and active, and there we find the root cause of Cistercian involvement in the Languedoc, and by extension the Albigensian Crusade.