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Definition of Monastic Terms

Abbey: The word “abbey” means “House of the Father” who is the abbot, a word derived from the Aramaic “abba” meaning “Father.” An abbey is a monastery where monks live who have an abbot as leader or in the case of a women’s community an abbess as leader.

Benedictine: A member of a monastic community founded at Monte Cassino, Italy, by St. Benedict of Nursia about 530 C.E. who follows the rule of Benedict.

Cistercian: The name Cistercian comes from Cistercium, the Latin word for Citeaux, the place in Burgundy, France, where the Order began in 1098. Due to the forces of history the Cistercian life has diversified. The Cistercian Family is now comprised of several Orders and Congregations, the two main ones being the Cistercian Order (OCist) and the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO).

Monastery: A monastery is a dwelling place of monks or nuns who live a communal life. The members seek union with God, through Jesus Christ, in community. The community’s work is to be a prayerful presence in an otherwise turbulent world. In the West, the term is generally reserved for Benedictines.

Monasticism: Monasticism or “monkhood” is a religious way of life devoted to seeking union with God by living a communal life within a monastery/abbey. Males pursuing a monastic life are generally called monks while female monastics are called nuns.

Oblate: An Oblate is a lay or clerical person, single or married who is formally associated with a particular Benedictine monastery. The Oblate seeks to live a life in harmony with the spirit of St. Benedict as revealed in the Rule of St. Benedict and its contemporary expression.

St. Benedict of Nursia: St. Benedict was not the founder of Christian monasticism, since he lived two and a half to three centuries after its beginnings in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor. He became a monk as a young man and thereafter learned the tradition by associating with monks and reading the monastic literature. He was caught up in the monastic movement but ended by channeling the stream into new and fruitful ways. This is evident in the Rule which he wrote for monasteries and which was and is still used in many monasteries and convents around the world. From osb.org, read more here.

Rule of Benedict: A Rule for monks written by St Benedict in the 500’s C.E. in which he teaches about basic monastic values such as humility, silence and obedience as well as providing directives for daily living. While he gives specifics, he also gives much discretion to the abbot (leader). His writings remain relevant yet today.

Trappist: The name Trappist comes from the monastery of La Trappe in Normandy, France. It was there that an important reform took place in the 17th century under the leadership of Abbot de Rancé. Although La Trappe was only one of many monasteries that took part in the Strict Observance movement, the reputation of its outspoken abbot and the enduring success of his reform attracted much attention. It was thanks to the leadership of a monk of La Trappe, Dom Augustin de Lestrange, that Trappist life was able to reestablish itself after the French Revolution. In 1892, monasteries associated with La Trappe united into what is now the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO). Although Trappist is no longer the official title, it continues to be used out of indebtedness to those who preserved the key values for succeeding generations.